Down the rabbit hole
White Rabbit is a little bit different to other tattoo studios,” says Lusi Alexander. Based in West Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges, White Rabbit Ink is situated at the end of a winding bush-lined driveway. The name comes from husband Ace’s grandfather who was a famous magician in the 1950s. The pair breed giant white rabbits and love the evocative imagery inspired by Alice in Wonderland, The Matrix and anything that inspires alchemy and enchantment.
Lusi smiles, “It’s pretty tranquil, and there’s no noise pollution or anything. We’ve got our own microclimate out here— it tends to shower quite a bit. We’ve got these windows in the studio, so you feel like you’re in a bush submarine—surrounded by nature, with rain falling on the roof... It’s a very different experience.”
Lusi and her husband, fellow tattoo artist Ace Alexander, created White Rabbit, “so we could hang out and do stuff we like to do, which is create art, basically,” she explains.
The studio, which doubles as their home, was formerly based in and around Auckland City. After moving four times in four years they finally escaped the Big Smoke and settled in Henderson Valley. The location also provides an escape for their clients, too. “Driving out here makes you feel like you’re getting away, even for half a day,” Lusi says.
Getting away from the city not only gives Lusi and her husband the space to focus on their own creativity but it also lets them focus on the collaborative and creative process of working with their clients.
Each tattoo created by White Rabbit is a one-off—nothing is copied, and every design is unique and meaningful. “We only tattoo something once, then we throw away the design or give it to the person we’ve tattooed it on,” Lusi explains. Furthermore, they don’t charge by the hour, but by the tattoo. This gives them the ability to take their time ensuring each design that leaves their studio is a true piece of art.
Lusi’s childhood was polar opposite to the artistic lifestyle she has now created for herself. “I could write a book about my life,” she says. “It’s a bit sad, it’s a bit intense, but I’m so proud of where I am now.” She describes her childhood as “suppressed”, and says it was characterised by a patriarchal religion where women were expected to get married and have babies.
For Lusi, the pressure to conform made her mentally and physically ill. “I’m genuinely a really creative person, and to stop somebody from doing that—I think it damages your soul a little bit,” she explains.
Lusi’s diagnosis with Stage II ovarian cancer at the age of just 26 was a turning point for her. It was the catalyst she needed to do something she always wanted to do—get a tattoo. “When you’re faced with your own mortality, it becomes a bit more real and intense,and nothing else matters,” she says. “I was like, ‘You know what? I may die, so I’m gonna do something I want to do.” So she did. Lusi sneaked out and got her first tattoo by artist Ace Alexander, who eventually became her husband.
At the studio and their home, it’s clear to see that art is life for the pair and their children—it’s everywhere. “Art just oozes out of both of us, whether we like it or not, so it tends to dribble on the walls, and on the floor...” Lusi believes the artistry of tattooing goes hand in hand with barbering, as both are a very personal form of creative self-expression. “So many studios have a barber in their shop, like a side thing,” she explains. “It’s about imagery, or body mods—it’s in the same realm. A lot of barbers are heavily tattooed. Sometimes more than the tattoo artists!”
Similar to the modern barbers, the tattoo industry has evolved a lot, she muses. “People should realise it has changed rather than just grouping us into the old-school ‘sailor and prostitute’ era, where they used melted-down jandals or whatever for ink.”
This change is evident in White Rabbit’s newest venture: tattoo retreats. Clients have the chance to escape their day-to-day life and stay at the studio for a few days. “Being able to show up the day before, chill out and unwind in the bush... You’re hanging out with us as people, which makes us less scary!” Travellers coming through for tattoos from overseas can stay in the retreat with all their meals provided for, enjoy the outdoor wood-fired hot tub, and get tattooed the next day.
It’s also for people who want to get 2-3 days in a row of tattooing completed. Lusi says, “It strips away any falseness and forces people to be present and in the moment with us, which we love.”
Lusi and Ace’s sincere desire to connect with people is perhaps the most compelling reason for White Rabbit’s success. “We’re genuinely trying to be passionate about our craft, and put ourselves 100% into each individual piece.
“I think people get that, and they feel it when they come in. Once somebody comes in, generally they come back, and want that experience again. They can feel the passion, and how much effort we put into it.”
From that first tattoo, Lusi says she was hooked on the experience—“the art, the meaning, the whole thing that went along with tattooing,” she says. And for the first time, she was around someone—her future husband—who allowed her to be herself without any expectations.
Lusi soon made the choice to separate herself from her family and religion, and explore her long-buried creativity. And at Ace’s urging, she picked up tattoo needles and started practising on oranges, bananas, pig skin—and eventually, on Ace himself. “So I ended up tattooing him, which is quite intense for your first tattoo!” she laughs.
“White Rabbit has been an expression of myself, my genuine self, which I think has been accepted well. As an artist, I think the hardest thing for you to do is to expose who you really are, which is what all artists do—you put your whole being into a piece, and when it gets received well, it’s nice,” Lusi says.