Jay Walker, at the age of 10, pierced his own nose with a safety pin — something the owner of Portland’s Black Hole Body Piercing & Tattoo adamantly advises people not to do. “Leave it to the professionals like me, please!” he insists.
This early interest in altering his body led him to establish a successful career in body art, earning the title as owner of the oldest piercing shop in Portland. In 1994, a series of serendipitous events led to the original storefront on NE Glisan and 29th in the Kerns neighborhood. A surge of interest in piercing during the ‘90s led to the opening of a second location in 2001 on the other side of the Willamette, in the old downtown Beaverton area.
Sitting down with Jay Walker at Two Strokes Coffee Co. in North Portland, he does not come across as someone who has built his business on piercing and tattooing people. He has no immediately visible tattoos, and only sports a simple silver nose ring and three lobe piercings on each ear. When I remarked on his seemingly straitlaced appearance, he pulled open his shirt to reveal a chest completely covered in tattoos. This juxtaposition of mainstream and fringe culture struck me about Jay Walker. He tells me about the history of body modification, piercing, lower lip stretching and neck lengthening before seamlessly transitioning to explain the different types of clitoral piercings.
Pausing a second to take a breath, he discusses how The Metropolitan Museum of Art incorrectly labeled antique jewelry as necklaces, when they were in fact enormous ear hoop inserts, a result of ear lobe stretching. He takes a defining stance on not piercing the ears of babies, then transitions to a disturbing story of a man who brought a woman into his shop for a genital piercing. Walker refused to pierce the woman, because the man would not allow the woman to speak for herself and give her consent for the procedure.
Walker’s opinion on people who pierce professionally and see themselves as artists is a fine line to debate, he states. Is piercing the ears of a 12-year-old for the first time an artistic endeavor? He would say no. However, planning a series of piercings and accounting for an individual’s body and preferences is absolutely a form of artistic expression, he argues. The term “curator” is well known in the art gallery world as someone who selects and places pieces of art in a gallery or museum; a “piercing curator” does the same thing, advising long-term clients as to where they should pierce their body, how they should pierce and what they should wear to accentuate those piercings.
Walker believes the modern mainstream popularity of piercing was bolstered by Portland’s strong LGBTQIA community, as well as the current culture of female empowerment. He recalls women who’ve come into his shop alone to get pierced for the first time, stating that their husband wouldn’t let them before, but now that they’d ditched their husbands, they were psyched to get their sexy on.
Walker’s extensive knowledge and willingness to counsel clients makes him a unique resource in the body art community. He encourages people to pierce what they want, transforming their bodies to attain their individual vision of beauty. Some of his clients have a goal to stretch their ear lobes to such a size that they can insert epoxy-coated butterflies in their ears —Walker knows how to achieve that goal patiently and safely.
At the end of our interview, I was blown away by the amount of knowledge Walker shared over 60 minutes of coffee. He’s committed to hiring dedicated employees who share his vision and ethics, who are “nice and non-judgmental.” Whether you want to pierce the hood of your naughty bits or take your grandma in to get her ears pierced for the first time, head to Black Hole Body Piercing & Tattoo on either side of the river — you’ll come away with a new perspective on body art and some awesome alterations to your physique.
Here are a few piercing definitions to study before heading to a shop — speak the lingo like a rockstar!
TAPER: A thin tool skinnier at one end that assists the piercer in the gentle installation of jewelry, either new or healed.
BUMP: Raised tissue around a piercing caused by either physical or chemical irritation. These can typically be solved by proper troubleshooting.
FREE-HAND: A piercing procedure done with little to no tools, with the goal being as little waste and client discomfort as possible.
CURATED: An aesthetically placed series of piercings meant to accentuate the individual’s anatomy.
BIOCOMPATIBLE: Materials that have been tested and proven for optimal healing within the human body. These include specific grades of steel, titanium, niobium, glass and gold.