Art & Design


Face to Face with “The Face”

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When the door opens at the home of Tony “The Face” Cronin, former bodyguard to Mark “Chopper” Reed, I don’t mind admitting feeling a tad nervous. The man behind the screen door’s entire face and head is obscured by tattoos. Beside him protectively stands a white and tan pit bull.

As soon as I’m inside, however, my pulse returns to normal; both Tony and Duke the dog are disarmingly warm and welcoming – as is Jenny, Tony’s partner.

Appearing at the first Melbourne Tattoo and Body Art Expo running at the Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre from Friday 16 to Sunday 18 September, The Face is a startling self-made creation whose tough exterior belies a sensitive soul.

“Jenny was holding my hand when I had [my eyelids] done,” he admits. “I think I just about broke all of her fingers at one stage,” he laughs.

For Tony, tattooing is all about transformation. “I wanted to change myself and start again,” he says. “Probably the emotional side was because I didn’t like my childhood and the way I grew up. It was shit. It was aggressive.”

The experience of getting a tattoo is spiritual for him. “There’s a Maori tradition – and I firmly believe in it – that every time you get tattooed, anywhere but especially the face, you walk out and start again. It’s like a life-changing experience. A new stage.”

Tony’s love affair with the needle and ink started when he was just a little tacker in East Bentleigh. He’d get his first tattoo – a skull with wings and the number 13 in the middle – when he was just thirteen years old under Flinders Street bridge by deceased Melbourne tattoo legend Dicky Reynolds. His face project didn’t begin until 2000 however and remains a work in progress.

“I just kept going every week,” he says. “I couldn’t stop halfway or I’d look like a dickhead. So ya gotta keep going. And it did look funny for a while because I had a bit down here, I had my nose done and nothing over here. I look at old photos and boy they look funny, you know.”

On his time as Chopper’s bodyguard and chauffeur, he modestly declines to make much of it. When I ask if they ever found themselves in a few sticky situations, he simply shrugs nonchalantly – “A couple times. We’re good mates; we have lunch and stuff. He falls asleep on me sometimes,” he laughs. “Naw, we’re still good friends.”

As we’re wrapping up, I joke that he’ll have to find something else to do when he finally runs out of space to ink. He laughs. “Oh I got a few years left I reckon. There’s still a few gaps. I dunno…then just re-colour. But I’ll be glad to finish.”

The Tattoo and Body Art Expo
16 Sept – 18 Sept
Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre

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