Clint "Hot Rod" Sletten
When I first met “Hot Rod” he was broken down on the road of life. Thumb out looking for a lift, “Any direction other than here,” he said. Not accustom to picking up strangers, I felt uneasy as he dropped into the front seat. In a previous time, he was known as Clint. Clint Sletten from Illinois. Freelance artist who detoured into the abyss after a brief start at Iowa State University. Clint soon became known as “Hot Rod” when he found himself entangled in the electric tentacles of a Spaulding Chrome special tattoo machine in a dingy shithole east of town.
Custom paint work, pin striping, air brushing, graphic design and hot rodding are some of this man’s personal achievements along his distorted path. “It’s not for the weak,” he says, “I’ve seen this business come from back alley scratchers to the reality show artists, dripping with drama and piss-poor work.”
True grinders like him are rare these days. Self-made at 19, he went on from Iowa to Georgia where he met some of the most influential artists in the wretched industry. Moving back to the corn fields of Iowa, he took the next step and opened his first tattoo studio.
He cracked a weary smile as we drove down memory lane, “I should have stayed in college,” while talking of sights and adventures that would make a Billy goat puke. “And I was thinking ‘Yep, this is it, I’ve had a good run but this is check out time,’” with a glazed look in his eye he added, “I’ve taken the nine count but have always gotten up before the bell.”
Our encounter was by chance. Or was it… Anywhere but here was his destination, but where had he been? Through all his ups and downs he’d managed to pull it all together enough to have a family. At least for a moment. The smile fades as he talks of the outcome of his greatest failure. “But,” he says as his smile returned, “My son is the greatest achievement I’ll ever know!”
Since 2000, they’ve been the best of friends. “No way,” he says, “No way he’ll work in this cutthroat business! He’ll be off to college soon…” “What then?” I asked with an uncertainty of what this man could possibly say next. He looks out of the window as we pass an off ramp and smirks.
Had he been there before? 25 years in the trenches he’s apprenticed several great artists and still works between his shops, The Asylum in Ames, Hot Rod’s Tattoo in Newton, and Sovereign Tattoo in Johnston.
“I’m gonna get back on the road,” he said before losing consciousness to the Gin on his breath. In a daze, he regains himself and spins a tale of fortune and fame and great loss. A barrage of rambling that was not for the faint of heart. He was truly a unique man. A true pirate of the industry.
One of the last. Mesmerized by his relentless ranting, I asked, “Was it all worth it?” “I’ll have the Surf ‘n Turf…” He replied… Getting back on the road, I left him at a dirty, blue roofed hotel. Tools of his trade in a backpack and nothing but an unsure future he traveled on. Back to his beginnings. A pirate sailing the seas of creativity. If you’re fortunate you may just catch him at a convention center near you!