Arcade and bar. Movie theater and restaurant. Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Combining two great business ideas into one super-storefront is a worthy idea. How about an art gallery and a tattoo shop? That's the vision that has come to life for Amanda and J.R. Linton, who opened Ink and Pistons Tattoo in West Palm Beach a little more than a year ago.
Amanda and J.R. both grew up in South Florida, he in Margate and she in Boynton Beach. After dabbling in everything from comic books to web design, J.R. discovered tattooing almost a decade ago, then became one of the best-known inkers in the area. Amanda has curated local events like Stitch Rock, an indie craft bazaar, and the monthly art shows at Howley's Restaurant in West Palm. They've been married for five happily tattooed years. J.R. has his fair share of permanent artwork, including a partial sleeve and some chest tattoos, but Amanda does him one better. She has one full sleeve and is working on another, filling in the blanks by keeping up her two main themes. She likes things "equal parts cute and dark," rocking cupcakes and hearts as well as a sugar-skull panda and Victorian lady.
Referring to Ink and Pistons, Amanda says, "With J.R. keeping long, late hours tattooing and me focusing on my business with all the shows, we were like 'Why don't we do this together?' "
Ink and Pistons is a truly sensory experience. Open the door on busy South Dixie Highway and walk into the funky tattoo shop. You'll find four stations where artists work late into the night. Stroll past the live art and into the gallery. Vibrant paintings and sculptures immediately grab your attention. This is the spot you take your cool cousins when they visit to prove that your town kicks ass. It's a place where counter and culture collide to bring you the art scene you crave with the edge you need. If other art galleries have made you feel like an outcast, this one will make you feel like you fit right in. Amanda knows what she's doing when a piece makes it into her gallery, and lucky for you, there is plenty of eye candy to prove it.
The gallery features mostly the work of local artists, but some are from outside the Sunshine State. Monthly gallery openings are held for each exhibit and give attendees a chance to eat, drink, and speak with the artists. The next gallery opening, "The Tattooed Canvas," is scheduled for August 3 and includes work exclusively by tattoo artists. That's right, tattooers' canvases extend beyond the human body. "The Tattooed Canvas" will give more than 30 artists a chance to display their goods in a gallery made for them. A feast for your eyes as well as your stomach, the opening will feature a bevy of sweet treats by newly launched Tequesta bakery the Twisted Whisk.
So while everyone at the opening will get something to eat, the real question is: Who is more of a starving artist? The guy who slaves away all day creating works of art on various body parts or the dude in his studio all alone painting his soul onto canvas? Amanda has an idea: "Because tattooing is very popular and experiencing more of a boom than it has previously, it's probably one of the better-paying art fields right now. If you look at the hourly rate of what a tattoo artist makes as opposed to trying to cram all the hours that you put into a painting and put a dollar figure on that, it's probably better for a tattoo artist."
One artist whose work is on display at "The Tattooed Canvas" is 38-year-old Jamie Ryscik, of Handcrafted in Miami. He is what you might refer to as a natural. "Growing up, I looked up to an uncle who happened to have a bunch of tattoos, so I was always looking at them all wide-eyed and interested. I got my first tattoo when I was 15, and it was uphill from there." Ryscik's love for tattoos quickly turned to painting, but tattooing has remained his biggest inspiration. So which medium does he feel more comfortable in? Ryscik admits that "being taken seriously with any style of art is extremely difficult." But he also knows when a good thing is in front of him, like "The Tattooed Canvas." "It's an amazing gallery and shop that J.R. and Amanda have put together. Any artist in their right mind should want to be part of a show there."
Also displaying work during the show is Michael Pucciarelli, AKA Pooch, owner of Altered State tattoo shop in Lake Worth. Pooch's style of art is also heavily influenced by his 19 years of tattooing. "I have been creating a lot of Japanese-inspired tattoo art lately on the computer. I'm inspired by the prints of Japanese Ukiyo-e artist Kuniyoshi, which was the original inspiration for Japanese tattoos." A tattoo artist and painter in his own right, Pooch has something to say about your chances of being taken seriously in any art world: "It's not so hard if you are creating art that can stand on its own regardless of tattooing. The problem is that tattooing isn't taken as seriously, so that can be limiting."
So what happens first, the tattooing or the art? According to Pooch, it's the same as the chicken and the egg. "Some tattooists move on to painting, and some painters move on to tattooing."
Now, we know inkers can make art, but is it good? Amanda promises Pooch's paintings are "phenomenal" and even has one in her own collection. Her original Pooch features a Victorian girl riding in a biomechanical car.
Amanda pledges the opening will reflect the tattoo industry as well as feature pieces you would never know were done by a tattoo artist. "I think it is a natural assumption that a tattoo artist also paints or draws. That's not necessarily always the case, but I think it goes hand in hand."
She reached out to local tattoo shops to put this show together, a sign that the tattoo scene in South Florida might be small but it is also tight-knit and supportive. What's exciting about this, and every gallery opening at Ink and Pistons, is that everyone is invited — no tattoo necessary for admission. But even if you'll never be in the market for permanent ink, the vibe at an Ink and Pistons opening might shake you up.
Says J.R.: "It's somewhat of a spectacle whenever someone isn't used to the tattooing thing and they are coming here just for the show. Someone is normally getting tattooed, so they get to peek over and see what is going on in the shop."
The lesson here is that they are called "tattoo artists" for a reason. When creating is your profession, it permeates all facets of your life. Pooch sums it up honestly and with feeling: "I am thankful to be able to create art on, and for, people for a living. There is nothing I would rather be doing."