Twins Ryan and Matthew Murray are an American curiosity. Creepily identical — in both looks and lifestyle — the two are prolific tattoo artists and co-owners of Black Veil Tattoo studio in their hometown of Salem, Massachusetts. Check out their Instagram, and you’ll see that Salem’s witchy history has a heavy influence on their art; they’re known for gothic, haunting black ink pieces with a bent toward the supernatural. In other words: The Murray twins are the perfect artists for an exclusive, Halloween-focused DIY Docs feature. Keep scrolling to read more about their background, and the inspiration behind each of their customized 1490s.
Introduce yourselves. Tell us who you are, what you do, and where you’re from.
We are identical twins Ryan and Matthew Murray of the Black Veil in Salem Massachusetts. We’re tattoo artists and painters centralizing and drawing influence from Victorian-era macabre as well from the history and practice of witchcraft.
Tell us about your background in tattoo artistry. We hear that Matt was Ryan’s apprentice. How was that experience?
Ever since we were children we’ve always had a fascination and shared a passion for drawing/painting and all other forms of art. Ryan began his tattooing career in 2009, meanwhile, Matthew attended classes as a film major at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, but soon joined the industry, apprenticing with Ryan during his time at Mass Art. The Black Veil opened its doors in April of 2012, with works self-described as “black and grey for the grim hearted”.
You two grew up in Salem. It clearly informs your art. Were there ever other themes that arose in your work, or was it always supernatural and macabre-focused?
We’ve always found ourselves drawn to the darker aspects of life, death and the macabre. For us, there have always been elements of immense beauty to be found there, which always seemed to wrap us up and hold us close. Our artwork is very heavily influenced by the death and mourning etiquette of Victorian New England, as well as the energy and history of our home: Salem, Massachusetts. Our illustrations manifest a deep fascination for capturing a glimpse through the keyhole of a veil between two worlds.
How do your styles differ?
Over time, our styles and skills have organically grown and developed together. We love to learn and feed off of each others’ techniques as well as concepts and ideas — the consistency is something that we’ve always consciously strived for as children, and that’s carried over into our adult careers. Through this, it’s become very difficult for others to distinguish whose artwork belongs to whom. In all of our work, we both share our matching black widow spider signature as well, representing the cycle of life and death, a creative force weaving a web of fate through a life of solitude.
Tell us about your inspiration for the designs you both created for the Vegan 1490.
Ryan’s inspiration for his vegan 1490s was his love of bats; these tiny guardians of the night represent rebirth and intuition and fall nothing short of amazing. Bats also are a powerful symbol, representing journey and travel, which makes this particular pair the perfect adornments for guiding you wherever the path may lead.
Matt’s inspiration for his vegan footwear is an ode to our home, bearing the notorious Salem Witch house on the toe cap, and a witch bearing a waning crescent moon, which represents the very start of a new beginning. On the other side we have the crow — an intermediary between life and death. At one time, a common belief was that after death, a crow carried your soul to the land of the dead.
Name your top five horror films of all time.
These are some of the movies that are the most aesthetically pleasing to us in the realm of horror.
Ever seen a ghost?
Yes, we very much believe in ghosts. When a person passes over from the world of the living, it’s very possible that traces of energy and impressions during emotional or traumatic events can be projected in the form of energy, “recorded” onto rocks and other items, and “replayed” under certain conditions.
Tell us about your first pair of Dr. Martens.
During high school we both wore the same pair of Dr. Martens — since childhood, we’ve dressed alike. Not much has changed since then. They were 1460 in Smooth; we must have been about 17 years old and both wore them every day for years! We outgrew those, and they’re long gone, but ever since we have owned a few other styles, including the vegan 1490s (which are our absolute favorites).