There's more than just tattoos here. Colorful Tiki heads lean like silent sentinels from several corners. And Carrera's acrylic paintings of anguished, disembodied heads are eerie and evocative. They suggest he has confronted and exorcized his demons. Outside, Carrera and his cohorts have placed a pair of old-fashioned rocking chairs where patrons share Cuban coffee while awaiting their turn.

Ivan Naser, a soft-spoken 40-year-old software executive who restores antiques as a hobby, got inked by Carrera this past June. He says he saw Caravaggio's painting of Medusa two decades ago at the Uffizi in Florence, Italy. Ever since, he has wanted a tattoo of the gory Gorgon's head. Recently, Carrera rendered a softball-sized version of the striking image on Naser's right shoulder. "Jose has a masterful hand," he says. "As a fine-art aficionado, I was impressed that my tattoo was not so much a reinterpretation and that Jose's keen eye is reflected in his work."

Carrera works with ferocity of purpose. "I've tattooed rappers like Lil Wayne, who likes Basquiat's artwork," he says. "I've worked on him three times and done some background stuff on his shoulders and arms, morphing with other tattoo artists' work."

Carrera went from tagging walls to extraordinary work tattooing professional clientele.
C. Stiles
Carrera went from tagging walls to extraordinary work tattooing professional clientele.

He has also worked on rapper/producer Birdman several times. "I've done some fancy car logos, the Louis Vuitton symbol, and the money sign on Birdman, who's great to work with," Carrera says.

OchoPlacas' other tattoo artists are also popular with well-known South Florida artists such as Wendy Wischer, who's known for her ethereal installations. "John Vale tattooed the planetary orbit of Venus and Mars as they revolve around the sun on my lower back," Wischer explains. "His work is great."

These days, Carrera often spends time with his stepkids, reveling in the role of family man. He credits his ex-girlfriend, Yumila Gonzales, whom he lived with for eight years, and her three children with tamping the wick on his powder keg. "I grew up with a nasty attitude," he says, laughing. "Yumila and my kids have softened me around the edges quite a bit."

On July 23, Carrera and his OchoPlacas crew will host a "305 Day" celebration at the shop, offering $35 tats for folks eager to represent the Big Orange in their own unique fashion. "We are creating small designs featuring images that remind us of our hometown," he says. "It's an opportunity for us to give back to the community."

"Jose has always been a good kid," his father sighs. "But he had to learn his lesson the hard way. He was like a moth, circling the flame and getting closer and closer, until he finally got burned and learned the hard way to turn away."

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