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.
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.
Most locals will admit Las Vegas is not what it used to be in the days when the fabled Rat Pack was performing “Luck Be a Lady.” Some say those were the best days of Vegas and only scraps of her spangled past remain in the glittery gulch called The Strip. But the community of Vegas tattoo artists and philanthropists insists upon bringing authentic viva to Vegas. Proud of their city and the culture they are creating, these artists, these winners, have created the kindest town in the very shadow of what many consider the meanest. These Las Vegans know how to win in this city and they love it. It’s people like tattoo artists Robert Pho, Dave Logue, Dirk Vermin, Kent Kelley, Shannon Bundy and Riley Baxter who are winning, and they’re doing it away from the glitter, in places like PussyKat Tattoo, Massive Tattoo and Stay True. These winners know Las Vegas’s best kept secrets, because they are one of her best kept secrets.
Meeting with these philanthropic artists of the flesh and unveiling their secrets to a soulful life showed me a completely different side of Las Vegas. Talking to and getting to know them was to witness their down-to-earth wisdom and kindness. These citizens love their city and they show it in their tattoos and the way they talk, as if they have really found paradise.
Yes, Vegas spins a powerful web of illusion. Yet if you take it for what it is, are aware of yourself and your surroundings and get your nose out of that brochure, you’ll find there are some great things to do, benevolent people to meet and, yes, some truly amazing artists. Who know? Maybe you, too, could turn up a winner in this kind kind of town.
ROBERT PHO—SKIN DESIGN
A tattoo artist since 1989, Robert Pho opened the first Skin Design in North Carolina in 1999. He moved to Las Vegas in 2004 to be closer to family, bringing Skin Design with him to the central city. Pho’s art adorns the walls of the studio, which boasts a big-city feel in its comfortable, inviting space. Pho earned his reputation through his quality black-and-gray, fineline, realistic portraiture and rendering. His loyal following comes from both the Las Vegas area and, because of his convention appearances, around the world.
Before starting a piece, Pho says he pays special attention to a client’s whole body composition and puts a great deal of time into planning and placement. A portrait of a woman on the telephone looked so realistic it was almost three-dimensional.
Pho loves tattooing in Vegas because of the diversity of the clientele and their modern tastes. He says the market is very competitive and that Vegas has hit a mainstream high with people opening parlors who know nothing about tattooing. “When that happens,” he says, “it’s no longer about the quality of the art anymore.” This worries him because it indicates that tattooing has become way too commercial. He warns others not to fall into the hype and advises people seeking tattoos to really examine the work of the artists before committing to a piece. “Just because a shop is on the Strip does not mean a better tattoo,” insists Pho. “What it does mean is more money for the mass marketing machine.”
Because of Pho’s commitment to the other artists on the Las Vegas scene, he helped connect Tattoo Road Trip with artists for this feature, but we were not able to contact all of them. As he says, “There are many more artists in Las Vegas doing amazing work beyond the main drag.”
SKIN DESIGN TATTOO
5645 South Eastern Avenue
Las Vegas, Nevada 89119
Phone: (702) 739-9946