You see them everywhere. A woman walking down a suburban street with a leopard skin tattoo covering her calf; a man on the train with a skulls and roses tattoo “sleeve” decorating his entire arm; a woman on line at the grocery store donning a tribal design on her shoulder.
“Everybody and their mother now has a tattoo,” says Edward “Ox” Occhipinti, owner of Jinx Proof Tattoo and Body Piercing at 7 Midland Avenue in Montclair. On any given day, a gang member, cop or soccer mom may come into his shop, looking to get a tattoo. Occhipinti has been in the tattoo business for more than 20 years, has seen tattoos become enormously popular and he is less than thrilled about it.
Thanks to fashion, television and the Internet tattoos have become mainstream, says Occhipinti. With tattoo kits available to anybody on the Internet, he says people who have no tattooing experience are creating inferior designs and increasing health risks.
“Back in the day when you wanted tattoo equipment, you had to go through proper channels and most of the companies that supply tattooers would only sell to you if you were a tattooer in a shop and you needed references and all kinds of stuff,” says the Nutley resident.
“Now you go on Amazon and eBay and buy all kinds of crap from China and Malaysia—a $7.00 tattoo machine that doesn’t have the right geometry. You can buy needles that don’t come sterilized. Kids don’t have sterilizers. They buy a $5.00 bottle of ink, whereas I make my own ink and it costs me $30.00 to make 8 ounces of ink.
“People don’t know what they’re doing. Besides scarring up people, they’re spreading diseases. You’ve got kids and whoever else tattooing out of their basements of their house. They don’t have proper sterilization—they don’t know the chain of sterilization. They’re messing people up. Health departments—the state—that is who they should be on; not the actual real tattooers who put in their time and made their bones.”
“They should be going after people who just opened up shop in the last year, going after people working out of their houses, spreading diseases everywhere,” Occhipinti continues. “Let the real tattooers police themselves because we’ve been fine without regulations for years. We’re doing well and not been giving people communicable diseases—we weren’t spreading hepatitis; we weren’t spreading MRSA; we weren’t spreading staph.”
Meanwhile, he says, half the time he sees a kid who has an infection because he got tattooed by his friend’s friend’s mother’s friend’s ex-boyfriend who rides a Harley (and works) out of the basement.
Occhipinto says the real tattooists are trained (he spent two and half years as an apprentice with a seasoned tattoo artist before he was allowed to work on somebody), may be registered with the Alliance of Professional Tattooists and have higher standards than government agencies.
His shop passes inspection by Montclair’s health department every year, he states. He also uses an independent company that conducts monthly spore testing on Jinx’s autoclaves (a device that sterilizes equipment). Occhipinti says he runs a daily spore test every time he uses his autoclave, as well.
According to Sue Portuese, director and health officer of Montclair’s Health and Human Services Department, she has not received complaints about people getting tattoos illegally. She also states in a email to Baristanet, “There have not been any investigations into illegal and/or unlicensed tattoo establishments because the department is not aware of any.”
Morgan Reed, José Chalarca and Chris Kast, tattoo artists at Powerhouse Tattoo Company, the other licensed tattoo shop in Montclair located at 545 Bloomfield Avenue, also see “basement” tattoos created by kits.
“The kits aren’t anything new,” says Kast, who has worked as a tattooer for 2 years. “Huck Spaulding and Paul Rogers were selling tattoo kits for a really long time.”
“People are gonna do whatever they’re gonna do,” says Reed, who has been in the business for 10 years. “It’s obviously a bad idea. You don’t want to get a tattoo at somebody’s house—how are you going to keep that clean?”
Reed, who worked at his uncle’s tattoo shop in West Tennessee as an apprentice for a year, says Powerhouse tattooers wash their hands after doing “anything”; change their gloves “a hundred times a day”; autoclave and ultrasonic and scrub everything. “It’s something you have to be conscious about all the time.”
Do Chalarca, Kast and Reed feel tattoos have become so mainstream they have lost their pirate aspect?
“As far as how popular it is right now because of media and social media, it’s a double-edge sword because it benefits us to a certain extent—everyone wants to get tattooed, but everyone wants to become a tattoo artist and they’re not willing to put in the time to get a proper apprenticeship—to learn the right way to tattoo,” says Chalarca, who has worked as a tattoo artist for about 8 years. He served as an apprentice for a year and half.
“I guess it depends on your motives (getting tattooed),” comments Reed. “Where you’re coming from; what you get out of it; why you’re doing it. If you wanna be a pirate—then yeah, you would be annoyed that everybody’s grandma has a tattoo. But this is my job—I got bills to pay. I want everyone in town to come get tattooed.”
“A lot of people come in; don’t understand what we’re doing; what tattoos are—the whole art side,” says Reed. “They treat it like they’re buying a t-shirt more or less; I want it; I want it right now. They don’t respect the whole art side—that can be an annoyance. But again, that’s the time we live in; it’s not 20 years ago when it was a pirate thing. It’s on T.V. now; everybody sees what’s going on—it’s just the way it is. Either you can adjust to it, be a part of it. Or you can be pissed off about it. I don’t mind it all—it’s my job.”
So what kind of tattoos do people want?
“Infinity symbols, triangles,” says Kast. “Whatever is the flavor of the week thanks to Pinterest and Google.”
“Everything goes in cycles,” comments Occhipinti. “Right now at the moment, it seems to be geometry-type of designs like mandalas and stipple work, shading like that. Whatever happens to be on Pinterest or the Internet at the time. We’ll go a week here where all we’ll do is infinity signs because that’s the number one tattoo on Pinterest. Then the next week it’s awareness ribbons. Lately, arrows have been really popular among women. Then the next month it’s paragraphs on your ribs.”
He also gets a steady stream of requests for gang tattoos (Montclair has a big population of Blood gang sects, according to Occhipinti), colors, certain street names where gang members or gang member wannabes are located, tear drops, swastikas and SS bolts, which he refuses to do.