Steve Haworth

Steve Haworth with meat cleaver

Steve Haworth posing with a meat cleaver somewhere in Mexico.

SC: What can you say that your profession is?
SH: My profession...I'm an artist in many different mediums. I think what we're referring to here is three dimensional modifications. I've worked in metal, glass, ceramics and wood. My favorite medium is flesh, metal, and wood.

So how did you become involved in the work that you do now?
I was born and raised in a family that manufactured medical instrumentation and would spend many summers working at my fathers machine shop. As I got older, I went to college and took courses in metallurgy and other topics that were necessary for medical device design. In '85 or '86 we sold our manufacturing company, which produced mainly eye surgery instrumentation and some medical instrumentation for plastic surgery. The company that we sold it to dumped the plastic surgery division. A lot of these companies that I was producing for under the company asked me to continue producing for them. I went back into production of strictly medical instrumentation for plastic surgery and other forms of body augmentation. I worked very closely with quite a few plastic surgeons on what was then cutting edge technology. I would go in and help come up with concepts for new instrumentation. In '89 I started producing body jewelry. Within three months, the body jewelry sales started to outdo my medical sales. It was at about this point in time that I knew I was in the wrong business. Plus, the world of body modification and the people that I meet in that world are far more interesting than any of the saps in the medical industry.

So what are all of the different body modifications you have performed, and what do they involve?
Well, I used to do body piercing. I pierced for a little over 7 years, and one thing that I'vet always been a firm believer in is, if you're going to be a piercer, be a piercer. Donate all of your effort to your art form and then you will be able to give your customer the best possible piercing you can give them. I think the same thing about tattooing. You'll never meet a big name, well known tattoo artist who does piercing. The reason tattoo artists have big names is because all they do is tattooing. The same thing goes for piercers. All of your really well known piercers; all they do is piercings. They don't dabble in anything else; they give every body their all. That's why I completely stopped doing piercing when I started doing three dimensional modifications. That way I could channel all my energy and all my efforts into that particular medium. So I don't have too much to comment on the piercing end of it. I've been out of it for about two years now. That field advances constantly, so I'm way behind in the times as far as that goes.


Thenigma with 5th generation Teflon horns.


Tell us about your method of branding.
Well, I've always wanted to have a branding on my own body, and I was just not happy with standard strike branding. I played around with strike branding for a couple of years. I was not satisfied with the effects. I had remembered some work that had been done in a plastic surgery procedure that I had witnessed. I got to see the results, and decided to experiment with a cautery laser unit. So I located one. They're kind of pricey so I had to save up to get it. I picked it up and bought about fifty dollars worth of pork jowl. I practiced on pork jowl for about two or three weeks. I have a lot of friends who put a lot of faith in me who were wanting to be my guinea pigs. The first brand that I ever did still to this day looks really nice and I'm very happy with it. I'm really pleased with the results from the cautery laser.

You said that you practiced on pork jell?
Pork jowl. It's the part of the pig that's off the jaw, and the skin is almost the same as people's.

What was the first brand that you did?
The first brand that I did was on an ear lobe. It was a very small, very fine symbol on an earlobe, (SC:Wow...)it came out beautiful.

So, could you tell us a little about the 3-D modification?
Ever since I started working with the plastic surgery equipment for body modification (even before I had gotten into the world of piercing and body augmentation) I had wanted to take that field and apply it to something that was against the societal norm. My whole art form revolves around extreme individualism. I have always been fascinated by people who take themselves to a state of individualism that is clearly against the societal norm. I've always admired that, and going into the modification of the flesh—being able to give somebody the ability to achieve that extreme individuality—has always been a passion for me.

What's the most common body modification that you do?
It seems to be 3-D work, either in the back of the wrist, the back of the hand, and the center of the chest; these are the most common areas that I work on. The forearm would be the second most common area, and then the forehead is the least common, which is also my favorite.

When you say 3-D body modification, you're referring to the insertion of metal or Teflon into the subcutaneous layer of the skin?
Yeah, the 3-D modification is were I make a small opening, make a subcutaneous channel, and place either the implant grade stainless piece or implant grade Teflon in the channel. This creates a three dimensional design pattern of raised area on the skin.

What's the wildest modification that you've done?
The wildest modification that I've done to date is on a man from Japan. I can't pronounce his full name, but the first four letters are h-e-r-o, so we call him Hero. He originally got four 3/8" diameter beads on each side of his forehead. These were half cut Teflon beads. He flew back out from Japan wanting to increase the size, so we went in, removed the 3/8" and stepped him up to half inch. That was the next progression that was available to us through Teflon and they're huge, and his fore head , it is so incredible. It's difficult to explain, and I hate to use this terminology, but it looked like he had walked off a Star Trek set. I mean it's so incredible, it's so alienistic and its, um... I love it!

"Hero" with multiple modifications

"Hero" with multiple modifications, tattoos and piercings.


You had mentioned using coral as bone implants...
Yeah, the medical industry uses coral for restructuring bones. They'll take a chunk of this special type of coral that's been cut to a specific shape and they'll wire it to the bone. I don't know if this is the exact way to explain it, but the molecular make up of the dead coral is the same molecular make up as dead human calcium. Since calcium itself does not have any specific DNA structure, so to speak, the body does not recognize the coral as a foreign object. It recognizes the coral as its own human bone, which somehow died, so the body's only recourse is to repair that. The body proceeds to grow a series of blood vessels that go in through the coral and within one year, the body will slowly deposit living calcium within the coral and remove the inert calcium out of the body. You slowly urinate it out over the course of a year. What it does is it replaces the coral with living human bone. So the theory is, for instance, like on Thenigma, we're going to remove his fifth generation Teflon horns, and install fifth generation coral. Now up to this point the only factor that has inhibited this from happening has been the cost. In order to obtain medical grade coral , it's looking like it will be about a thousand dollars per horn.

Yeah. Its not very cost effective. So that's where it stands at the moment for coral.

What's the most off-the-wall implant that you've done?
Well it's really interesting. I went to a studio in Philadelphia to do some work. This guy had called me up and asked if I could install an implant... in the shape of Texas!

Fresh branding

A fresh "brand" created with a cautery scalpel.


Oh my god...
So at first I thought I had was, you know, does this trivialize what I'm doing at all and after thinking about it ... If this person is that passionate about his home state then by all means I don't see any reason not to do the piece. So we had asked him to send a drawing of it at the size that he wanted. He sent us a drawing and it was large enough to be feasible. We had it made out of solid Teflon, and did the installation. There's actually photographs of it on the internet, in BME magazine, and it turned out to be a very nice piece

Most artists usually have a statement about there work, and what there intent is in what there doing. What could you say that yours is?
Extreme individualism! Having the ability to help people express there own form of individualism. My whole drive behind what I do... when I did Thenigma's horns the first time around, and when I did Mr. Lifto the first time around, they said to me, "Thanks Steve, you've made our dreams come true," and I was so happy that I was able to do that.

Can you make a comparison between what you do and what Fakir Musifar does?
I've met Fakir Musifar once and he's a wonderful, wonderful man. As far as a comparison...everything that Fakir is about in body modification is very spiritual. Contrary to some people's beliefs, I am VERY spiritual in my own world of body modification. The only difference is that I'm very private about my spirituality, I usual don't share it with other people and if I do, it's on a small scale basis. I'd say that where his works in modifying the body are for very spiritual reasons, my work revolves around extreme individuality. Not to coin that phrase again, but just the ability to modify one's body in a manner that sets themselves apart from society.

Healed branding

Healed brand.


Whether it be for spiritual or other reasons?
Right.. whether it be for spiritual reasons or the need to be unique. There was a girl in Las Vegas, Nevada. She was born with an extra vertebra and she asked me if it was actually possible to lengthen her arms because having the extra vertebra made her arms appear slightly shorter than normal. (She knew that this was outside of my realm, which I can say it absolutely is.) In my opinion, her arms being slightly shorter than normal was a blessing where as most people strive to be unique and different with the societal norm, she was born that way. I felt she was born with a gift rather than a hindrance. I guess nobody had told her that and she suddenly looked at herself in a whole new light. Rather than being insecure about herself most of her life, she suddenly came to the realization of how incredibly special she truly was.

How has the APP reacted to your work?
Well its really interesting...the APP is a wonderful organization and their main motive is to promote good body piercing. I think that the APP has changed a lot since its beginnings. The APP had a lot of bashing to do about my work even though the APP is about piercing. What I do has absolutely nothing to do with piercing. There's absolutely no crossover between body modification and piercing. What I do, you're not going to see piercers doing.

What negative things have been said about your work?
Oh, they just talk about how unethical what I'm doing is and basically treating what I'm doing the way people were treating body piercing ten years ago. Then again, it wasn't all of the APP members by any means... Actually, there are about 10 or 12 APP members who are walking around with my three dimensional modifications on there bodies. Things have changed in the last year or two, so as far as the APP, they no longer have anything against me. I guess their stand point now seems to be that three dimensional art has nothing to do with piercing, so it's not part of their concern .

"Spike-head Joe"

"Spike-head Joe" has 4 screw posts implanted in the subcutaneous layer of skin of his scalp.


what sort of social ramifications have the people who got the modifications had to deal with?
Within the body modification community?

Within and without.
Well, within the body modification community, it seems that for the most part, it has been received with open arms. I have never, ever had a single individual come to me and tell me anything negative or express a negative attitude or feelings about what I do. I know that certain groups have had plenty to say behind my back but as far as greater society, well greater society is having a hard enough time with tattoo's and piercings...what I do to them is so extreme it's almost mind boggling.

How selective are you of who you do work on?
I've only done two implants on people who have had no piercings or tattoos and those implants were specific pieces... they were in places were nobody else was ever going to see. They were for sexual reasons so that's slightly different than a piece that's going to be on the back of the hand, for example. I had a young man who wanted to meet up with me at a Philadelphia tattoo convention. This young man had come from two states away and he had discussed with me over the phone about getting this piece I had not realized that this man had never been pierced or tattooed and he wanted a row of beads running down each forearm. After speaking with him for a couple of minutes I noticed that he had no piercings and no visible tattoos and I asked him if he had any piercings or tattoos and he told me that he didn't have any. I had to explain to him why I wouldn't do any work on him. I'm not going to be the person that's going to commit someone to the lifestyle of modification. Implants heal very quickly, and even though they are very reversible, it's just that, for my own personal reasons, I'm not going to be the one to put them in the position having to deal with society's reaction. I'll let other people take the person to that point in less extreme ways.

Other than the cautery brands and 3-D implants, what other body art have you done or hope to do?
I've done various kinds of genital modification, on both male and female. I've pointed ear cartilage and removed earlobes to give a more elfen ear pointed effect. Using the cautery laser scalpel, I've vaporized holes in the ears for eyelets—mostly in the cartilage which will in most cases heal within two months time, rather than a very large four gauge piercing that which might take a year or longer to heal. There's one or two other forms of art that I'm currently studying and am not going to release anything about them until they're more developed.

So other than people expressing their extreme individualism, do you have any ultimate goals with what you're doing? Not just with your body modification, but in life, what is your ultimate goal?
My ultimate goal...I guess one goal is to let people know that most of their dreams of modifying their bodies in unique ways can come true. Another dream of mine (and this is happening every day and it makes me so happy) is for mainstream acceptance of body modification. I mean piercers nowadays will go "oh god, here comes another college coed with her naval piercing," and they're saying, "well its gone mainstream," but what they don't understand is that when it's gone mainstream, it's gone to the point where the rest of society is accepting the modification of their body. The rest of society is taking control of their own bodies and their own lives, and even if they feel that this navel piercing is on a trivial level, it's still a step in the right direction.


Katzen, Thenigma's wife, had her ears modified by Steve to be more pointed.

Right, it's broadening acceptance...
Exactly. I want our portion of polite society to know that modifying their bodies to make themselves unique is not a bad thing. It could be a wonderful and very rewarding experience; something that they could keep and have with them for the rest of their lives. What can be greater than investing in your own body?

Any last words of wisdom?
Live your lifestyle.


Interview by Chris Meckel and Heather Bowden. Photographs provided by Steve Haworth. 1997.