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Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas—A Kind Kind of a Town

Text and photos by Dawn Rosa Cole

By day, Las Vegas looks like a tweeker got hold of a bedazzler. By night she beams into outer space, demanding the attention of the entire universe.

Vegas sign

Las Vegas, Nevada, Sin City USA. Built in one of the harshest deserts in the United States, Vegas demonstrates the fragility of the human skin and the power of man to overcome nature. she is a dynamic city with an element of danger written into her DNA. She doesn’t run on a calendar or clock but offers a vague lure of satisfaction and a questionable promise of secrecy to all her visitors and inhabitants. Vegas guarantees that some will win, but most will lose. “For losers,” Hunter S. Thompson wrote, “Las Vegas is the meanest town on earth.” Who, then, are the winners? Who knows not the meanest of the town, but the kindest? She’ll spit you out as a loser and feed you a formula of failure or she’ll show you she’s not the meanest town at all—but the kindest. Behind the illusion, behind the corporate illusion, Vegas offers her citizens the freedom to make real choices, the opportunity to create a vibrant culture, and the chance to be soulful and authentic. The real secret of Vegas lies in her communities of real people navigating the urban sprawl, the road construction and mini-malls. These are the true citizens of Las Vegas: the store owners, restauranteurs, clothing designers, plumbers, electricians, airline personnel, travel agents, cab drivers and, of course, the tattoo artists. They are the heartbeat of the desert.  more...

Mario Barth's Biggest Tattoo Show on Earth

By Bob Baxter with photographs by Bernard Clark

In the spring of last year, I heard that Mario Barth—tattoo artist, innovator, inventor, promoter, documentarian, manufacturer, marketing maven and entrepreneur extraordinaire—was producing an event dubbed, without a hint of overstatement, “The Biggest Tattoo Show on Earth.” Held in October at the super-prestigious Mandalay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, it was an event Barth and his minions said would be the most spectacular and humongous ever held on the entire planet in last four thousand years. I couldn‘t wait to go.

Ever since the Dutchman Henk Schiffmacher (a.k.a. Hanky Panky) dropped out of the international tattoo scene and Ed Hardy began to focus less on the tattoo world as a whole and more in his personal business ventures, the tattoo community has been, basically, leaderless. Those whose relationship with tattooing, either as an artist or a collector, has only blossomed in the last five years or so, won‘t know what it was like when these two knowledgeable and charismatic leaders were on the scene. So, after Schiffmacher began to drift away from tattooing and turn to painting and Hardy was involved in marketing a seemingly infinite line of goods from tennis shoes to T-shirts, an enormous void was created. And there was no one to fill it. Sure, some younger tattooists thought that making a lot of noise about themselves would give them a claim to the throne, but they just didn‘t have the credibility or handle on the facts of the Dutchman, nor the raw aesthetic and genius for innovation of Mr. Hardy.

In stepped Mario Barth. more...

Simi Valley , California

JoJo Ackermann—American Made Tattoo

By Bob Baxter with photographs by Bernard Clark

You’ve got your Gobi Desert. You’ve got your Kalahari and you’ve got your Sahara. You’ve got the Nefud—the one that Lawrence of Arabia crossed to come up behind and attack the Turks at Aqaba in 1917—and then you’ve got California’s historic Mojave. Twenty-two thousand square miles of high-desert sand, rusty car bodies, abandoned ghost towns and Joshua trees. Oh, yeah, and Jojo Ackermann’s America Made Tattoo. It’s out there by the side of a two-lane blacktop a few miles from where Jesus lost his shoes.

An unlikely location, to be sure. Especially at eleven o’clock on a weekday morning. But no matter. Jojo’s devoted clients drive from as far away as three hours to join in on a photo shoot capturing his remarkable artwork. Not a lot out there in Rosamond. Tumbleweeds mainly. Nothing there but an absolutely beautiful tattoo shop—a museum of sorts—and an artist in residence with a heart as big as the Mojave itself. Jojo Ackermann is one of the good guys, and he worked hard for it. He didn’t step out of a prestigious art school with a motor board on his head and a tattoo machine in his hand. No. In fact, it was like a day in the desert: grueling.

“The first tattoo I remember was on my uncle Dave,” recalls Jojo. “He was a Green Beret paratrooper. He had a skull and a parachute on his forearm. My dad had a lot of clothes left over, some army fatigues and stuff, and we would play war out in the backyard. I’d take a green marker and try to draw that paratrooper tattoo on my forearm. I always thought my dad was the tough guy. I thought it made you a better soldier to have a tattoo. more...

Apple Valley , California

Jamie Schene and Nikko Hurtado—Ignition Tattoo

By Bob Baxter with photographs by Bernard Clark

Back when I was in high school, my old friend Gary Moyer and I used to drive to Apple Valley to burn out the carbon in his dad’s 1955 Austin Healey Le Mans. The roads were relatively traffic free, back then, and one could push the little top-down, red-and-black, louvered-hood-with-brown-leather-straps sports car well over a hundred in that dry, desert air. Today, when we pulled into Apple Valley, we encountered some significant urban sprawl. Street after street of housing projects, strip malls and manufacturing sites have made this a vibrant community and an important home base for people with jobs within the greater San Bernardino County. As of 2006, the population was estimated to be 67,507. This bustling burg is ten miles east of neighboring Victorville, thirty-seven miles south of Barstow and forty-six miles north of San Bernardino through the Cajon Pass. In other words, it’s bustling but remote. When Jamie Schene moved away from nearby Victorville, some eighteen years ago, he swore he’d never come back.

“It’s changed a bit,” he says, “but back in the ’80s, it was not a very progressive place to live and grow up. I was into skateboarding and punk rock and art, and that kind of stuff wasn’t really happening in Apple Valley. And it gets hot here. This last year it got to one hundred twelve, one hundred fourteen degrees for a couple weeks. Initially, I moved to Los Angeles, worked at Von’s market and took a couple of art classes. The Von’s part really sucked. I had gone to L.A. mainly for a change, but I was interested in tattoos. In fact, I asked an artist who worked for Mike Pike’s father, J.R., if he would teach me to tattoo, when I was eighteen, and he said, no. He had just started tattooing himself and didn’t feel it was his place to teach me. more...

Berkeley , California

Karen Roze—Sacred Rose Tattoo

By Bob Baxter with photographs by Bernard Clark

Karen Roze runs a successful tattoo shop in Berkeley, California, the legendary college town just across the bridge from San Francisco. Karen started at the bottom as an apprentice, and even after becoming a shop owner in the City by the Bay, was wise enough know when something works and when it's time to move on. After nearly twenty years of dedication and learning, Karen Roze has gathered together a dozen like-minded artists in a working environment that is far more family-oriented and spiritual than your typical rock-'em sock-'em tattoo parlor. Karen talks more of healing than hurting, and, when you're in the business of pushing ink into people's delicate skin, that's something to admire.

After graduating from the California College of the Arts in 1989 with a degree in painting and print making, Karen had ideas about moving to New York City and becoming a famous painter. "A very lofty idea," she remembers. "But I ended up in an art supply store in downtown San Francisco and it was near Goldfield's Tattoo, so Henry Goldfield would come in, as would Richard Cyr from Pat Martynuik's Picture Machine. They were older guys with tattoos all over their hands and everything. This was between 1989 and '91. I was fascinated, but I didn't have any ink at the time. I just never got around to it. I guess I wasn't confident enough or something. more...



Simi Valley , California

Danielle Oberosler—The Tattoo Room

By Bob Baxter with photographs by Bernard Clark

Having covered countless events and tattoo shops in various major locales around the globe—San Francisco, Tokyo, London, Amsterdam and Los Angeles, to name a few—we thought it might be cool to visit some relatively obscure power shops situated on the outskirts of the big cities, away from the epicenters of population and notoriety. Places like Boise, Idaho, Asheville, North Carolina and Grants Pass, Oregon.

This time, we took the road south from Portland, Oregon to the outlying, desert communities of Southern California—places like Simi Valley, Lancaster, Rosamond, Apple Valley, Riverside and the suburb of Reseda in the San Fernando Valley. Traveling with me in a jam-packed SUV were photographer Bernard Clark, my wife Mary and our dog Jack the Australian Shepherd. We followed up several weeks of planning with an itinerary that included a handful of cherry-picked shops, each one ready and waiting for us with "twelve and not more then twenty-four"of their most beautifully tattooed customers to photograph. Those were the rules. That was the plan. Each shop was a gem and the artists were at the top of their game. The reception that we received (except for two shops that dropped the ball big-time) was consistently gratifying, edifying and fun.

Driving down the Interstate 5 from Portland, we logged a lot of miles and saw a lot of snow-capped mountains, blossoming farmlands, wind-swept orchards, fragrant cattle stockyards and arid deserts dotted with yucca and tumbleweeds. We picked up Bernard in Berkeley (where Mary interviewed Karen Roze for a forthcoming feature on Karen's shop, Sacred Rose on University Avenue). Bernard had flown in from Canada for the project. Jack was tail gunner and I was at the wheel. more...