Living and Loving in the Extreme
July 2018 Issue
by Nina Greenplate
Photography by Liam Mangino
Love yourself! Express yourself! It’s the message of our times. Loving the skin you’re in can give way to a more satisfying outlook and peaceful existence. And who wouldn’t want that?
Of course, some are further along on this particular enlightenment pathway. Take former islander, Gavin Daly, for instance. Now, he makes it look downright easy, living radically, in an enviable contentment. He’s known professionally and in social circles as Knarly Gav, and he more than lives up to this moniker.
Born in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Gavin grew up on Hilton Head and graduated in 1991 from Hilton Head High where he was voted Most Talented. He attended South Carolina’s Governor’s School for the Arts at Furman University, and went on to study trombone performance at USC. A self-proclaimed Rad Dude, Gavin is a professional tattoo artist, a passionate musician, and an extreme surfer and skateboarder.
“I’m not afraid to be myself,” Gavin says. “You’ve got to believe in yourself, as cliché as that might sound.” Today he lives full-time in the city that never sleeps: New York. Located in an area known for fantastic creativity, Knarly’s studio on the East River is the perfect backdrop for his li
fe. Artistry runs deep for Gavin. His parents, Mike and Marilyn, share a joy and prowess for music, crossing many genres and influences. They were both self-taught musicians and fine examples for Gavin and his older brother, Jevon.
“In my teens, I had a clear dream,” he recalls. “I prayed to be successful; to be an instrument for the joy of others. I wanted God to put me to work, if I was worthy.” It was between the ages of 13 and 18 when Gavin played on the island with The Big Band Live, led by the great Ray Cummings. The experience was amazing, but Gavin ended up leaving when he was told he would have to shave and cut his hair. True to self, today he’s comfortable with his knee-length dreadlocks, occasionally worn wrapped atop his head. This too is the perfect headdress for his competitive surfing and skateboarding passions! A bit of an island wild child, he and his brother used to promote the latest fads and trends, standing outside of friends’ skate and surf businesses, selling and sometimes demonstrating the activities they loved.
His father and brother currently play bass, banjo and harmonica in Hilton Head’s well-known bluegrass band, Lowcountry Boil. When in town, Knarly will hop up on stage and join in the experience. Marilyn, his late mother, remains a steady and loving inspiration. She was a gifted singer, performing in many Lowcountry venues. “Her voice literally changed people,” he recalls. “My mom has a legacy here. She was incredible.” She sang Joplin, Dylan, the great ones, with a richness rarely emulated. There was a time when he and Jevon dove into the world of serious weightlifting. With Marilyn being of Italian heritage, Gavin remembers how she’d have spaghetti ready for them after their workouts. “Mom would make us huge amounts of carbs, serious, delicious pastas. Perfect!” He laughs. “She was amazing. One of a kind.”
At 25, soon after her passing, Gavin moved to New York City. He tells of playing the autoharp on the streets of Times Square, and how he was discovered again and again for his talented energy and genuine likability.
Knarly Gav is humble in his name-dropping, breezing through a few; Mary J. Blige, Teena Marie, Murder, Inc., Mario Winans; even singing for the Russian Consulate on multiple occasions! In 2001, Gavin performed trombone with the New York Philharmonic.
At 33, he took a tattoo apprenticeship, and worked tirelessly through inevitable ups and downs. “This town is filled with the career-minded, whether fashion, film or music,” Knarly says. Art is life for Gavin, and has brought enthusiasm for his creations to the level of recognition on the busy New York City streets. His book of business is now jammed. Whether he’s in LA, Denver, San Francisco or home, 12-hour days are not unusual. Without an ounce of conceit, Gavin says, “It’s a competitive environment, and when you become successful, competitors don’t necessarily like you. And that’s fine. My clients love my work, and I love them. That’s all that matters to me.”
Knarly Gav’s signature is love, mainly for animals and healthy living. “My brand is over the top!” he states. “It’s message-based.” He’s a proud vegan and the message of ‘not killing animals’ is front-and-center. “Much of my tattoo work is animals and fruit.” They’re unique, vibrantly colored, whimsical, and careful etched. A crimson colored watermelon (very southern!) bitten into by a crazy cool cat, is signature. A divine, three-headed, four-eyed woman’s face is asked for most often.
“I am very proud of who I am. I’ve grown into this person I like, because God has blessed me,” he says. “I am not trying to be someone else.”
Gavin is living his dream. Righteous!