SACRED HEART TATTOO—ATLANTA GEORGIA
By Bob Baxter with photographs by Bernard Clark
Tony Olivas is one of tattooing’s most-revered black-and-gray artists. Gaining a foundation from single-needle pioneers Jack Rudy, Brian Everett and Freddy Negrete, Olivas’s main shop, Sacred Heart, in the Little Five Points area of Atlanta, reminded us of a ski lodge with its high-peaked ceilings and smokin’ barbeque grill on the porch overlooking the tree-lined street below. It was quite a gathering, with chicken and ribs on the grill, lots of friends and family and customers coming through the door with fabulous tattoo art to photograph.
Many of Tony’s artists have been with him for the better part of a decade. Tony himself has been tattooing for thirty years, and just two years ago formed a partnership with his shop mates, making it a true family affair. Tony began tattooing, poking by hand, when he was fifteen in Arizona. His older brother, Henry, ultimately presented him with a homemade machine, which Tony used for about ten years. And then Tony relocated to Dixieland Tattoo, working with the late Adam West in Panama City Beach, Florida. Tony then went to work at Ancient Art with Jerry Reiger and J.D. Crowe in Virginia for a couple years and then opened his own shop, Ancient Art (Crowe let Tony use the name), located in Stone Mountain, Virginia. Then, almost two years to the date, Olivas came up with Sacred Heart, which he has operated in Atlanta for fourteen years. Tony now owns five shops in Georgia, one at Little 5 Points (the flagship Location), Norcross, Centerville, Warner Robins and Austell.
“My older brother got me into tattooing,” Olivas told me. “His godfather, Fernando, Uncle Theo I called him, was in the Navy and heavily tattooed. He was on the cruiser U.S.S. Indianapolis that was hit by two torpedoes from a Japanese submarine and went down midway between Guam and Leyte Gulf during World War II. He was one of the survivors, with the sharks and all that. So when I was young, I heard his stories saw his tattoos. That’s how I really got turned onto it. My brother, Henry, said, ‘You can always draw,’ so I started tattooing on my buddies by hand.
Mary Gardner asks Larry Brogan the Big 10 Questions, from July 2009.
By Mary Gardner
Touched by fate, Larry Brogan, a Chicago southsider, born November 27th,1969 shares his Sagittarian birthday with such legends as Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Lee. An artist since he could pick up a crayon, Larry has pushed himself to create exciting, artistic images, receiving academic honors after graduating from both the School of Airbrush Arts and art school in Joliet, Illinois.
“I can’t say I chose tattooing. Rather, it chose me,” reminisces Brogan. “I started tattooing part-time, when friends pushed me to tattoo them. I was still a diesel mechanic, working hard to pay the mortgage on my first house. It took me a while to realize that I could make a living as a tattoo artist.” Nineteen years later, Larry maintains a fresh, optimistic view of the industry. “The single most important change in the tattoo profession, as I see it,” says Brogan, “is the sheer quality of the artists. Twenty years ago, you could count the great tattoo artists on a couple of hands. Now you need a whole phone book to keep track of the greats, and there are tons of artists still coming at you who don’t put themselves on the Internet or allow themselves to be interviewed by tattoo magazines. After four or five years of tattooing, these young men and women with their amazing artistic abilities are at the top of the A List. It is truly a tattoo renaissance, and I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of it.”
To see the rest of the story, more photos and the Big 10 Questions, click HERE and go to TATTOO GOODIES.
Just posted on my www.tattooroadtrip.com website…. a story about the early days and a Tip of the Week about portrait tattoos!
Bob Baxter’s TATTOO TALK
In my very first Editor’s Comment way back in May of 1997, I told about a hotel that I regularly visited in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In my excitement to involve friends in my new adventure, I called to book reservations for a two-day stay and an on-site photo shoot of local tattooed people. When I explained my intent, the manager suggested I book accommodations elsewhere. “We’d rather not have tattooed people on the premises,” she said.
The second example involved a photographer who did fabulous, dream-sequence photos. I though that her lush, hand-painted prints would establish a different look to the magazine, and offer an enterprising photographer like herself the perfect venue for experimentation. “Send me see a copy of your publication,” she told me. I did, and, a few days letter, got a note, saying, simply, “Not for me.”
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We have revamped the Tattoo Road Trip website homepage to make it easier for you to understand and navigate. Each graphic is a button that, when you click it, takes you to lots and lots of reviews, stories, columns, tattoo photos and sponsor websites. Please check out www.tattooraodtrip.com… and be sure to visit my dog Jack at “Green Things to Buy” (he barks!). You’ll be glad you did.
TAR HEEL TATS BY RODNEY RAINES
By Bob Baxter, Photos by Bernard Clark
As a continuation of our North Carolina road trip, Bernard, Mary and I drove due west from Asheville on the 40 and then south on the 77. After a couple of days driving through the lush, fall landscape, visiting R.J. and Dottie and the shops of Jay Chastain, California Ralph and Mario Bell, it was time for the jaunt to Charlotte and Rodney Raines. When we arrived, the shop, Ace Tattoo, a transformed craftsman home on a quiet, tree-lined street just off the main boulevard, had already attracted a crowd. Road weary but excited, we arrived a couple clicks late. No problem. Rodney welcomed us, helped us stash our gear and, seeing we were bleary-eyed and hungry, made a great suggestion: “Let’s have lunch.”
It was very comfortable talking with Rodney. He has that special brand of Southern hospitality combined with the laid-back demeanor of someone who is clearly confident about who he is and his standing in the tattoo world. His shop reflects his personal magnetism and an obvious skill for organization. The setup was clean and efficient, the people who work for him know what they are doing and they all welcomed us as if it were their private home.
Now, remember, R.J. and Dottie told all the shops on our road trip to limit themselves to a dozen or so people. This would give Bernard a couple of unhurried hours to take photographs. To be honest, after two or three hours in a car and four days or so back in Asheville, shooting more people than that can be a real drag. It’s simply exhausting, especially if the work waiting for us is ho-hum. I’ll tell you now, Rodney’s work is anything but ho-hum. So, when we got back from lunch there was quite a mob. I’d estimate thirty or forty people. But, once the shooting started, we couldn’t wait to see the next and the next and the next Rodney Raines tattoo. His sense of design, his use of color and the skill with which he transfers his personal creative energy onto his client’s skin is in a league with the very artists he idolizes. No doubt about it, Rodney Raines joins an ever increasing cadre of tattooists who have big city skills but prefer the relative simplicity and comfort of a small town. In the past, in order to survive and grow, one had to work in San Francisco or Los Angeles or San Diego. Nowadays, the old adage of location, location, location simply doesn’t apply. Perhaps because the residents of these relatively out-of-the way cities have gained a clearer understanding of just what makes great tattoo art. Most certainly, when it comes to Charlotte, Rodney Raines has played a major role in that education.
While Bernard was working his way through the list and Mary was escorting client after client into the improvised photo studio just off the lobby, Rodney and I disappeared into one of his clean, efficient rooms with a view, just off the hallway. No sooner had I clicked on the tape recorder than I discovered Rodney to be extremely articulate and clear about his life and his relationship to tattoo art and artists. I started out by asking how many years he’d been tattooing.
“About ten and a half,” said Raines. “I started in March of ’97.”
BB: What made you want to start tattooing?
RR: It just seemed like where I needed to go. I worked with my dad doing manual labor, but I graduated from Landers University in Greenwood, North, Carolina. My degree is in visual arts, painting and photography. I studied a little bit of everything. Because of that training, I have a camera with me at all times, just in case there’s an image I want to capture.
BB: What were you first influences?
RR: Most of the people I hung out with were tattooed, so it was just a natural progression. I already had some tattoo work on me and friends in Atlanta that were in the business. But I didn’t go about it in the best possible way. I didn’t have a real formal apprenticeship, so I tattooed on fruit until it bored me to tears, and then, after I made sure everything was sterile, I started working on my friends at night and on the weekends. I didn’t have the advantage of a close-by mentor, someone to watch over my shoulder and advise me. Shay Cannon helped me get my equipment and Phil Colvin was there with more technical advice. Shay worked with a guy named Rob Brahmer down in Miami, and Rob owned a shop in Hendersonville. So, I showed them some pictures and they put me on the schedule. I was living in Greenville, South Carolina, and, at the time, tattooing in Greenville was illegal. I stayed there for seven months and then I moved to Randy Herring’s shop in Gastonia, another border town with a massive amount of business. We were doing ten or twelve tattoos a day. I worked for him two years. I wasn’t getting paid very much, but I was glad to be learning.
BB: Were you able to do any custom tattoos?
RR: Yes, as it happened. Most of what we did all day was pork chop work. But I’d go home at night and draw, hoping that someone would want to get tattooed. I didn’t have a family to support, so I could commit everything to it. I completely saturated my life with tattooing. My technical abilities were moving ahead pretty quick, since I was tattooing every day, lots of tattoos.
RR: Books and magazines. But, at the time, there weren’t many books around. Maybe fifteen. A few Ed Hardy and Horiyoshi books. Now there are fifteen books coming out a week. Then the first Sailor Jerry book came out. This was pre-Internet time, so you couldn’t go online and look at anyone’s portfolio. You’d go to conventions and look at artist’s books and try to get tattooed. Each tattoo I’d get would greatly influence my next tattoo. I’d try shading it this way and lining it that way.
BB: What kind of things did you notice, when you were tattooed by someone who knew what they were doing?
RR: Everything, from customer relations to how to be polite and prepared. Those kinds of things really made an impact on me. I’d consider what part of the tattoo experience I enjoyed and what part I didn’t enjoy, and carried that on in my work. That was painful, efficient and fast compared to painful, slow and dirty.
BB: Who was doing your work?
RR: The first work that I got that really influenced me was when Dave Waugh tattooed my right forearm. It wasn’t like getting tattooed at a convention or by your friends. I had been looking at his flash for years and admiring his work in magazine articles. So, I sat in his chair for eight hours and watched how he shaded and lined. It was like the veil was lifted. I learned so much. It was also my first major forearm work. Not only did I pay attention to his tattooing but how it healed and aged. I looked at drawings that I was sure wouldn’t fit on my arm become tattoos that fit on my arm perfectly. I learned about shape and size. This was a crucial stage for me, because I learned to ask better questions. It wasn’t so much that I was asking questions at every turn, but more that I was cognizant of every second. I even remember what I ate the day Dave tattooed me.
Next, I was tattooed by Joe Capobianco. It was a totally different experience. Dave was meticulous with a very detailed drawing and went through it in a very systematic way. When Joe tattooed my left arm, he lined the whole thing out and it was a more fluid experience. It was less planning and just going at it. In four and a half hours I had a full-arm tattoo. It was a graceful experience. It was like the tattoo had been there all the time, but we just hadn’t seen it. It was the first time I had been tattooed with a fifteen mag. It was intimidating to me to not only get a tattoo like that but also doing a tattoo like that. It was really fast. I began to try different tools and different machines. I was working with Rex Barnes and Chris Stewart, guys who were hungry to learn and try new techniques. After I got the color work done by Capobianco, I started working at Ace in ’99, here in Charlotte. I started working with Colin LaRocque. That was a huge step, because Colin had a real good vocabulary for what he was doing. He dissected why things worked the way things did. We sat around and analyzed what we were doing. He’d see why certain things work, a cause and effect kind of thing. This is going to last longer, because it has this happening, that kind of thing. We had a really good rapport, so I continued to get tattooed by him and he got tattooed by me. My showing up also challenged him. It raised the bar in the shop, because he had to step up and show people he was better than me―’cause he was. And that pushed me harder, too. Then I started to work conventions. It opened me up to greater work, being exposed to different artists. I felt I was accepted into part of an international family. I do about a dozen show a year now.
RR: My scope has grown. I have been able to educate my clients into wanting larger work like full backpieces and full legs and arms. Even full suits. I typically do two tattoos a day. That kind of schedule allows me to communicate better with my clients and they stay with me and want larger and larger pieces, but I’m thirty-four, and it’s time to push myself a little harder and move out of my comfort zone. I still paint and do some illustrations and graphic work. I tattoo six days a week. I’m still really hungry for it, and the more I travel the more exposed I am to better and better artists. I come back home with more heroes that when I left.
BB: How is the business changing?
RR: The work is bigger. People like Filip Leu and Shige are only doing full bodysuits. They can be picky about the work they want to do. They work with such fluidity. Not just starting with a dragon and adding some water and, now, how about an octopus? No more patchwork sleeves. It’s not good enough. The public is lucky, because the artists are improving at an amazing rate. Communication is better. The Internet and conventions make things just fly. It’s easier to climb the ladder, because so much is written out for you.
BB: Do you think it’s good that artists’ work is so easily seen? Some don’t like that.
RR: I understand. Mike Roper, his tattoos are almost impossible to see pics of, because his work is completely unpublished. It keeps his work his. And his clients, they don’t have to wonder if their backpiece is going to end up as somebody else’s backpiece. I think there is something really nice about that. I have posted work on my site before, and the client asked me to remove it. I was glad to remove it, immediately, as soon as I got the email. But I do like the communication. I like to view other things. I personally cannot get enough reference material. That’s what I spend my money on, books. And anything visual. I catalog images in folders and keep good track of my clients’ artwork, so that I have easy access to it. And I like to get references from multiple sources. When I get ready to tattoo a tiger, I don’t refer to tattoos of tigers. I look at pics of real tigers in the wild. I know plenty of tattooers, most of them young, that don’t have any respect for reference materials. They don’t even have a book collection.
BB: How does the current excitement over tattooing help or hinder the fine art aspect of it? I mean, like the TV shows.
RR: The TV shows are bringing an awareness to what we do. And there are some talented artists doing good work. Maybe not up to their potential, but the TV shows want every tattoo to be attached to a testimonial. And with it comes a lot of drama. It doesn’t represent an accurate day in the life of a tattoo artist. There isn’t the give and take of the collaboration to make the tattoo happen. The artists on the show are approached by the client, they do a sketch and eleven minutes later the person is walking out the door. It’s skewing the vision of the person who wants to get a tattoo. They come into the shop and don’t understand that’s not how it’s going to be. It’s going to be a month before they get an appointment and it’s going to be a ten-hour session. The TV shows are definitely painting a distorted picture of what we do.
RR: You know, I didn’t get into it because there was a buzz to it. I came from a state where it wasn’t legal. I didn’t see any good tattoos around me. The people that did have tattoos had something homemade, something that didn’t need to be tattooed by someone who didn’t need to be tattooing to begin with. It wasn’t such a romantic thing. I wasn’t a part of anything, because it didn’t exist around me. I wasn’t interested in tattooing illegally. I just wanted to learn to do it well. Art has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My earliest memory is of my parents trying to shut me up in church by handing me a pencil, so I could draw pictures of my father’s tractor. They could see that this calmed me down. When I graduated from college, I had a degree and no idea what I wanted to do. I just knew I would make a living doing something artistic. I thought that, perhaps, I might be discovered as a painter. I considered silk screening. I just knew I’d be making art. I’m very happy to be a tattoo artist, to know that I can go to any continent and make art. I feel like I have brothers everywhere. It’s like no other business I can think of. I think musicians must know this feeling. The traveling, the ability to put on shows. I think that tattoo artists are brought together by the fact that what we do is still somewhat subversive. Especially here in the South. Many people still look at us like we’re the devil’s spawn. It’s just made it more important for us all to be a family. If we don’t stand together, we stand alone.
BB: I know there is a special camaraderie among the more talented, world-renowned tattoo artists. With that in mind, do you include up-and-coming people and moderately talented tattooers in your peer group?
RR: There’s a hierarchy to it, for sure. There is a huge respect level for those who consistently turn out great product. There is another respect level for those who have been doing it for a long time. I may not particularly like a certain person’s work, but I have something to learn from anyone who has longevity in the business. After all, they paved the way for us to do this. It’s important that I make contact, talk with these great tattooists, and, at the very least, there’s some story or piece of advice that will help me be a better artist or a better person.
Now, there’s a welcome surprise: Southern hospitality, incredible talent and respect. An unbeatable combination from the fabulous, the one, the only Rodney Raines. What an unforgettable trip. What beautiful weather. What a picture-book state. Thank you, artists. Thank you, North Carolina.
In the words of the great Willie Nelson: “We can’t wait to get on the road again.”
1312 Thomas Avenue
Charlotte, North Carolina
In case you don’t know… there is a new Miss Contact Us Girl on our tattooroadtrip.com website. A bio, too! Here’s some extra photos for your viewing pleasure. The question is… do you want to see more tattooed pinups?
SO MUCH TO SEE ON THE WEBSITE!
Feature Stories, History, Tattoo Crossword Puzzle, The Pizz, Tips & Tricks from the Artists…
Destinations (North, East, South, West, Alaska/Hawaii)… and soooo much more!
In case you don’t know… we have an animated Tattoo Crossword Puzzle (by Myles Mellor) on the www.tattooroadtrip.com homepage. By “animated,” we mean… you can type in the answers on your keyboard, while a clock is running that times how fast you get all the answers. You can also stop and start your session… and come back to it later. Very cool. There is also an Archive of all the past puzzles. Check it out. It’s all about tattoos, medium/hard difficulty and a real good test of your tattoo knowledge. Great fun for a rainy day.
NEW COLUMNS UPDATED ON OUR TATTOOROADTRIP.COM WEBSITE!
1. LARRY BROGAN’S TRICKS OF THE TRADE: DISPOSABLE TUBES VS. STEEL TUBES
2. HOW TO DRAW WITH DAVID NESTLER: LESSON 5―TEETH
3. LETTERING 101 WITH UNCLE TIM HEITKOTTER: ARCHING
4. TATTOO ART 101 WITH MADAME LAZONGA: THE KING OF SURREALISM
Go to tattooroadtrip.com and click on TIPS & TRICKS FROM THE TATTOO ARTISTS.
The latest episode of TATTOO TALK is posted on the tattooroadtrip.com website.
What are people thinking? I mean, how hard is it to find a good tattoo artist? If you wanted to go out to buy a car, wouldn’t you check out the top automotive magazines, talk to trusted friends about their experiences and visit a couple of reliable dealerships? Why don’t people do that when they are shopping for a tattoo? How hard is it to check the magazines, talk to people with first-class tattoos and visit a few, well-established shops? So how come there are so many poor souls walking around with major garbage on their bodies? Were they drunk? How many photos do I get each day that are labeled “cover-ups”? Cover-ups of what? Cover-ups of lousy work, that’s what. In the last few months, I have seen absolutely beautiful young bodies distorted by misplaced murals that turn sexy, curvaceous backs into an ill-designed billboards defaced with amateurish, off-kilter doodles. Artwork that barely deserves a C-minus in any self-respecting high school art class. All because some wanna-be tattoo artist hasn’t the foggiest idea of balance and design.
Click HERE for more.