On Tuesday, Spike’s “Ink Master” will have a Season 4 winner. With the “Ink Master” title, Inked magazine editorial and $100,000 cash prize on the line, it’ll be a battle to the very end -- and according to finalist Matti Hixson, it’s a close race.
The self-taught West Virginia artist, who has 10 years of experience under his belt, is going up against Scott Marshall and Walter “Sausage” Frank when the live finale airs on Spike on Tuesday at 10 p.m. EDT. The three tattoo artists were given a couple of months to complete a 35-hour full back piece, and judges Dave Navarro, Oliver Peck and Chris Nunez will be naming the winner (and ripping them apart) when the final pieces are unveiled in front of a live audience.
Matti Hixson spoke to International Business Times before the finale to discuss this season’s shocking moments – like Kyle Dunbar’s fight – and working with his canvases to get into the final three.
“When I first started the show, I was kind of like wondering how far I would get or I could get,” Hixson explained of his journey into the top three. “But I think after the first challenge I kind of realized how difficult it was going to be. And that’s when I kind of started to worry about if I could make it through. As time went on, I guess I went through the challenges, and was starting to see where everybody laid out and got a little bit of confidence in where I stood in the competition.”
Between difficult canvases and fighting among contestants, the entire fourth season of “Ink Master” has been explosive. And Hixson wasn’t sure what he had gotten himself into when he first joined the show.
“I didn’t know exactly who they were going to put me in the house with. I mean, for all I knew it could have been a handful of ex-cons and crazy people,” he said, laughing. “So I was kind of worried about that.”
Things definitely got crazy, but Hixson managed to stay out of trouble throughout the experience.
“I spent most of my time on set just trying to support everybody when they were flipping out and losing it,” he said, explaining that he wanted to compete with everyone. “I didn’t want people to just leave for no reason, to just give into the pressure and leave.”
“Ink Master” fans will remember that one of those to give into the pressure and leave was Ashley Bennett. Securing a spot after the convention style challenge in the premiere, she packed up and left in episode 2 when she had a meltdown before the judges had a chance to critique her tattoo.
“Ashley just leaving for no reason off the bat in the beginning kind of threw us all off,” Hixson told IBT of her surprise departure. “And to have Kyle get tossed out for fighting; that was another thing that nobody could have expected.”
Kyle Dunbar’s exit from the show was one of the most-talked about moments from the season. Butting heads with Chris Nunez week after week, he finally called Nunez out in episode 8 for his harsh critiques against his work. After a little “mad-dogging” and some pushing, Dunbar ended up getting sent home for trying to fight the judge.
“If anything I think it got watered down,” Hixson dished on the Dunbar vs. Nunez fight. “I mean from what they could show it’s like a fraction of what actually goes on in the whole episode.”
According to the finalist, the episode took about three days to film. And with three days of critiquing, Dunbar’s pressure “just popped the top.”
But that wasn’t the elimination that shocked Hixson the most. Like Sausage, the surprising elimination of the season came just last week when Halo was sent home.
“That was a hard one to wrap your brain around because at that point we were all really strong artists and we didn’t want to see anybody go,” Hixson said of Halo’s departure. “Nobody wanted to see any of the people go. But to stay and watch a good artist go is a lot more pressure, I think, because you have to kind of not only do your best job, but also prove that you belong there.”
The tattoo artist continued that he was surprised when the judges called his name, and after a moment of silence revealed that he’d be staying.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he explained. “I was kind of in shock over it, but then to have to watch Halo leave like that wasn’t fun at all.”
Hixson got into the final three fair and square by winning challenges and completing clean work. But his teaming up with Marshall can’t be ignored.
“People didn’t like the fact that we were trying to work together to both get into the final three,” he dished on his friendship with the fellow finalist, “which I thought was a pretty smart thing to do.”
And while he credits Marshall in helping him avoid some of the worst canvases, Hixson also believes that a canvas is what you make it.
“The way I dealt with people, I don’t think I would have triggered those canvases into being jerks,” the artist explained of his client interactions. “I think a lot of the reason people felt their canvases were difficult was because as soon as they came in there the artist was trying to change their mind, their ideas and all that stuff. And what I did instead was what I do at work every day – try to take their ideas and make the best of them; rather than change it to something that I think was what the judges were looking for. People came in there also to get artwork on their body they can enjoy.”
And that’s something that Hixson kept in mind when working on his final tattoo. While the tattoo artist wouldn’t reveal too much about the 35-hour back piece or his canvas, he did say that he tends to “get along with pretty much anybody.”
“Once you find a common level you can relate to somebody on it’s pretty easy,” he revealed on making connections with canvases.
With Halo out of the competition, Hixson is up against Sausage and Marshall in the Season 4 finale. But the finalist doesn’t believe that one is more of a threat than the other.
“I think both of these guys are my competition,” he said of going into the finale on Tuesday. “It’s a toss-up between who has got their strengths in this area or that area; if they’re going to play off of them. It’s just kind of super close playing field. It’s not exactly level but it’s very close.”
You can watch Matti Hixson in the Season 4 finale of “Ink Master” when it airs live on Spike on Tuesday at 10 p.m. EDT.