The Metamorphosis of Rich K
By Koko Oloko
‘I found that family finds you, you don’t necessarily find your family. Just like your biological family is chosen for you, so is your spiritual family and they will find you in this world.’
It’s not every day that someone crosses your path who you instantly feel a strong connection with, but that’s what happened when I met local business owner Rich K.
Our encounter began two years ago when we were standing in front of the late White Elephant Café on Choumert road, the part that is often referred to as ‘Little Nigeria’ because of the mini market stores and shops selling Nigerian produce.
Rich K is the proud owner of K-Ink tattoo parlour. I say proud because where Rich K is today, and what it took for him to get there is something we all need to hear. A transformation so big that he describes it as a metamorphosis. It shows us all that no matter where you start in life you can build your life into something beautiful that you are proud of.
Rich left the family home at 15 and found himself homeless. As you can imagine, as a homeless teenager Rich dipped into a different life than what he has now, he lived in ‘crack’ houses and ran with gangs. And that’s all we will say about that, because what is more important, is where he is now.
How Rich K came to own a tattoo parlour with the name K-Ink was nothing short of him undertaking a sequence of different professions such as being a performance artist. His full name being Richard Kightley, but not sounding like a name given to a serious performance artist; Rich quickly shortened it to how he is recognised today. At the end of each performance, Rich K would get tattooed with words from the audience. This was the beginning of his fascination for tattoos and what they meant to him. ‘Tattoos for me were the only thing that made sense’.
But, the name for the tattoo studio would come after he found himself working for a local events enterprise in Peckham.
‘Whilst running limes over to the bar when I was working at the Bussey Building, where I had been working for 9 years, and reaching the point where I wanted to find my own way you know, but didn’t really know how to do it. I was thinking about the time when I was a performance artist and what followed each performance I did. I remember thinking, I need to get this idea off the ground, but it needs to pop. I saw a gap in the market in Peckham, where there weren’t any tattoo studios representing the kind of work I wanted to see coming out of tattoo studios; which was strong, solid, contemporary, black work. I wanted the name of the studio to encompass all of that.
The name had to represent many things; a ‘safe space’ for example. It had to also indicate that it would touch on the more obscure side of things, whilst giving a little bit of something that people like, but not what is already out there. So, when suddenly the name ‘K-Ink’ came in to my head. I screamed out the word KINK and dropped the whole box of limes, which went everywhere. And that’s basically how the name of the tattoo studio came about.’
Rich opened K-Ink on a bit of a wish and a prayer and works harder and longer than he did before but like he says ‘I’m running something that’s been literally my dream. The life I have created for myself makes me happy to be alive, which hasn’t always been the case.’
Having lived in Peckham for 19 years, he has seen and experienced, some good and some not so good, Rich is more sure than ever that you have to treat everyone on a level, and that is the vibe he is bringing to K-ink in Copeland Park. That’s why K-Ink is a safe-space studio where all artwork is respectful to different groups and where a lot of different groups who may have traditionally been ostracized from society are welcome.
‘I treat everybody on the same level always, there is never any change to that for me. I’ve always tried to live my life with complete love, it’s very hard to constantly do it, it has vulnerabilities. But, it’s how I am, it’s how I try to project myself.
The positivity Rich and his artists are putting out there is coming back to them, with a list of guest artists waiting to work at K-Ink and a strong presence in the community, where Rich is already talking about expanding.
‘We house guest artists from all over the world and we work with a strong team of resident artists, we have shown that K-Ink works and it is constant; it generates a lot of love and energy. We are looking for more space to champion emerging artists and give them exposure, enabling us to be able to offer artists on our waiting lists a quicker turnaround for opportunities. That’s why we are looking to expand, we are looking to expand everything that K-Ink represents, in the community, for the artists, for the safe space, for the haven, for tapping into undiscovered potential; it would encompass all of that.’
And in full circle, Rich supports vulnerable young people in and around Peckham by giving them a platform as a way to express themselves through art. Rich uses his story somewhat to encourage and inspire his young mentees to know that even if you’ve experienced something hard and ugly, they can transform it into something beautiful and share it with those around them.
Rich will be looking for a place to display his young artists work in the coming months, so watch this space.