Artists you should know: Chris, Deanna and Mez of Tattoo Bogaloo
The reason why the sitcom Cheers became so popular was not, contrary to popular belief, Frasier’s sexy, sexy, sexy voice, but rather because it provided audiences with a fictional place where they could feel at home. This is one of the things that makes or breaks a business, and it’s what Tattoo Boogaloo has managed to pull off. Here, customers feel at home and the staff are like family (within reason, of course; you can’t get drunk on eggnog and pass out on the table and pretend it’s just what family does).
When you walk into Tattoo Boogaloo, the little brick and neon-green tattoo shop that sits at the top of North Beach,you not only feel at home, but your eyeballs are bombarded with amazing art. What makes this weird is that the artists there are so successful (and for good reason) that they could easily be aloof and yet, no, they are rad as hell. The three owners (Mez Love, Chris Henry, and Deanna Wardin) along with resident tattoo artist Katie Grinstead Zeitler are, as well as promoting their art, constantly participating in shenanigans and ways to improve their communities across the States.
Out of the three owners, two of them (Chris and Deanna) are from Colorado, while the other one (Mez) hails from the snowy, inaccessible, dreamily left wing peaks of Quebec, Canada. While working together in Colorado, they decided to come to San Francisco pushed by their common aversion to snow. They all “took a trip together, and fell in love with it” and they built “Tattoo Boogaloo from the ground up.”
They explain that the tattoo community in the Bay is “much more supportive than Northern Colorado” but that “it’s also very competitive.” However, the community of artists will actually refer people to other shops for the benefit of the customer. Deanna explains: “It seems that we all care about making sure people get the best tattoo, so if that means referring them to another artist, or another shop, we will absolutely do that.” None of them had experience owning a business before, but they made sure to ask around about what best practices were. Turns out, for all of you wanting to open a tattoo shop, it’s like making sure you have enough needles to tattoo with.
As regardsbto the funky name, Deanna laughs “You can thank Mez for this one, and the 80’s breakdancing movie ‘Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo’.”
What contributes to the uniqueness of the business is the artists’ participation in projects outside of the world of tattooing. For one, Deanna, Chris, and previous resident artist Kyle Porter are responsible for the mural on the Bamboo Hut tiki lounge in North Beach. If you get tattooed there, you may start to associate folk music with intense tattoo pain – this is because the music that plays there is reminiscent of the strong Colorado folk scene. In fact, the shop is also host to several, for lack of a better word, hootenannies (or is hodown better?). Mez Love plays the banjo and Tattoo Boogaloo has been a venue for amazing bands like the bluegrass tunes of Deep Chatham and the American Gothic stylings of Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. The Calamity Cubes made an appearance, too. To give you an idea of what a Tattoo Boogaloo show can be like, Deanna says: “Kody Oh playing his stand up base over his head, Joey wailing on his banjo like no banjo has been played before, and Brook’s powerhouse of a voice, and (the) stomp of his boot. It felt like the whole shop would fall in, and even if it did, at that moment we would have all been ok with that.”
Another curious thing about the shop is Deanna and Chris’ participation in Gishwes. For the uninitiated, Gishwes is an acronym that stands for the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World has Ever Seen, and it is a surreal, silly, boundary-breaking and reality-challenging long-distance annual scavenger hunt. The hot angel from the TV series supernatural basically decided he wanted to change the world for the better in the most ridiculous way he could, kind of like a worldwide Cacophony Society prank with hugs and pictures and a prize at the end. Gishwes does stuff like break the Guinness World Record for Most Global Hugs (108,121) and for committed charitable Acts of Kindness (93,376), but is also responsible for its participants delivering thousands of items to the homeless and completely furnishing the home of a wounded veteran.
As mentioned before, each artist at Tattoo Boogaloo more or less centers on a different style: Deanna is known for the groundbreaking wave of watercolor tattoos, Mez is a master of the incredibly difficult portrait tattoo, and Chris’ style, while harder to pinpoint, wavers around a nostalgic style, featuring the sea, animals, nature, a testament to old tattoos but facing forward to new influences. Also, he likes Star Wars.
Deanna spent the majority of her life in Colorado, growing up in Colorado Springs. She went to college o study graphic design and printmaking. It all started while she was in school: “I went to get my septum pierced (against the wishes of my parents of course), where I was then handed an application to become a piercer.” This is the same shop that Mez, Katie, and Chris all worked at, learning how to tattoo from Mez.
Rae: “How long have you been tattooing for, and how did you get into watercolor tattoos?
Deanna: “I always fudge this up… started piercing when I was 19, started my tattoo apprenticeship when I was 22, and I am 31 now. Well it all started because I fixed up a really poorly done watercolor tattoo. She posted the before and after, and ever since that one, it was pretty much all I’ve been asked to do. Watercolor tattoos chose me!”
R: “Can you tell me a little about Breaking Frames?”
D: “So, Breaking Frames is a project that my Friend Kristen Yoder and I created. Kristen is a teacher at the Renaissance Academy in West Baltimore, MD. Last year, at a particularly trying time, in which the school lost three students to violence in three months, we began talking about what we could do to help. We came up with Breaking Frames, of which concept was to try and break down the stereotypes of these students. Often times, people will talk about certain demographics of people, without talking to them. So, the students wrote essays about what kind of stereotypes they face as black youth in Baltimore, and also how they are breaking those stereotypes. The essays were sent off to artists from all over the country, along with a photograph, and artists made a work of art for that student. The original artwork was auctioned off (actually, it will be auctioned off until December 11th) and prints were made for the students to keep.” It’s to be noted that Breaking Frames even got its own Washington Post article, and that all the artists involved with Tattoo Boogaloo participated: Mez, Katie, Chris, tattoo artist Kyle Porter and Stevie Varin, the shop’s apprentice.
R: “What other side projects are you working on?”
D: “[…] organizing Breaking Frames was my largest recent side project, but I did actually paint a piece for the show. I enjoy painting, my favorite is to paint on wood panels. My other side project is a dark childrens/art book that I am working on. I wrote it last year and am illustrating it by sculpting the characters, building the scenes, and photographing them. I am having a blast working on this project. It’s hard to balance everything time wise, but I get stir crazy if i’m not creating.”
Chris was born and raised in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and has been tattooing for almost 16 years.
He never knew he wanted to be a tattoo artist: “I was actually quite content waiting tables and playing in a shitty punk rock band. I got into tattooing in 2001 all because I broke my leg after one of my little drunken punk rocky shows.”
But there’s a twist! Chris and Deanna are actually married, although when Deanna first arrived at the shop in Colorado where they would meet Chris was off living on a boat. Yes, he actually lived on a boat. I thought that was mega cool, too. Chris explains: “I was offered basically to live on a boat and give scuba charters in the Bahamas. So I did that for about eight months.”
R: “Why the sea? Was it the land-lockedness of Colorado that drove you to it?”
C: “I’m extremely fascinated by the sea. My father and grandpa lived in Florida,where I would spend my summers. My grandfather had a 45 foot sailboat that we always went on. My dad got me certified for scuba when I was 14 and that’s how it started. I did live on a boat, for 8 months that we took from Tampa Florida to the Abaco islands in the Bahamas. I learned way to much about real pirates. I’m not nearly as evil. If I was a pirate,it was more like a Disney version. Also,it’s where real aliens and monsters and other magical creatures actually exist.”
Chris’ style is situated somewhere between old American, nautical, whimsical, nature-themed, and non-defined.
R: “One could infer that you’re more fascinated by the past of tattooing than by the future. Is there some truth to that?”
C: “I really like traditional tattoos! (I) especially like American traditional, which actually isn’t that old when you look at the time line of how long tattooing has been around. I really struggle with what to call my style. I’m definitely not a true traditionalist. I think I just am interested in the history of tattooing. And I just feel there are techniques that were done by the grandfathers of Americanized tattooing that should be preserved, at least in my own work. I think I’m more interested in using it as a foundation for my designs and then try to build off of it.
Also, did I mention he likes Star Wars? (I should probably disclose, at this point, that so do I).
Mez Love (I know, aww) was born in Québec, and moved to Colorado when she was 11; she started tattooing right away. “Somehow, I got it in my head from a young age that I’d be a tattooer eventually, so didn’t bother with none of them fancy higher education schools,” she laughs. She eventually started working at Tainted Hearts, where she met Chris and Katie. When asked how long she had been tattooing, she retorted, joking “Started in 1998. In January, that’ll be 19 years. I’m old.”
She specializes in portraits: she even has suggestions for things that she wants to tattoo on you. If you’re lucky enough to be friends with her on Facebook, she has not one, but two albums with suggestions of portraits she wants to do, complete with Pippi Longstockings, Alfred Mucha’s model, Punky Brewster, Ralph Steadman, Bill Murray, and of course, several photos of Steve Martin holding cats.
Rae: If I’m not mistaken, portraits are one of the more difficult types of tattoos to do. How did you get into it, and why?!
Mez: I guess that depends on your definition of “difficulty.” Long before tattooing, as a little kid, I was fascinated by portrait photography. National Geographic and the like. So it’s just what I loved. When I got more serious about art into my teenage years, I drew and painted faces. When I started tattooing, I wanted my endgame to be that I mostly tattooed portraits. If you asked me to do a simple infinity symbol or a star outline, that’s when I’d get nervous ha ha… it’s just not how my brain works, and it’s just not my skill set. Give me any photo to replicate and I’m in my comfort zone.
R: Portraits are generally of people that meant something to the client (not always, but sometimes). Any particular emotional stories that stand out?
M: There was a young girl that I tattooed around 2007 or so who left a pretty big impression on us all. She was a sweetheart. I did a portrait of her father on one shoulder, and another that were based on some drawings her mom did on the opposite arm. She was also pierced or tattooed by nearly all of my coworkers. She really wanted to be a tattoo artist one day. A couple of years after tattooing her, we got the devastating news that she had ended a long battle with depression by taking her own life. Totally tragic. Her parents, who had made it quite clear in the past that were no fans of tattooing, decided to honor their daughters love of tattoos and if portraiture by getting a portrait of her. The father chose a photo that showcased her tattoo of him, the mother flipped the image of her to show the tattooed arm honoring her mother. It was weird and emotional to say the least, to be a part of that. A huge and humbling honor to memorialize a woman I knew and really liked on her parents.
R: “How long have you been playing the banjo?”
M: “About four years now? But I don’t play enough. My boyfriend and I have have been talking about starting a Black Sabbath cover band where he plays bass and I play banjo. The working title for the project is ‘Big and Horny’ because we clearly take ourselves seriously.”
Referring to her and her group of coworkers, Deanna explains that they “were each other’s saviors in that small cow town; now,we have all been working together [for] well over a decade.” Deanna, Mez, Chris moved to San Francisco (later joined by Katie) with five cats and a dog in June of 2010. By July of the same year, the shop was magically up and running. Deanna reminisces: “We had pretty humble beginnings sharing mayo and Cheeto sandwiches, because that’s what we had.”
Rae: When I was a little kid, I remember looking at tattoo magazines and loving it. I really wanted a Silvester the cat tattoo…later, as a pre-teen, I wanted a kanji. What was the first tattoo you ever wanted to get? And did you get it?
Deanna: Haha, I didn’t really have aspirations to get tattooed at first. I loved the art, I thought they were beautiful, but wasn’t invested in it (at least not while I was still piercing). Everyone at the shop jab at me saying things like: “I can’t believe you work in a tattoo shop, and don’t have a tattoo” I always laughed, then one day Mez was like, if I draw you up something, will you get it tattooed right now?” And I said “Yeah!” Everyone was super surprised, so later that day I had a little red rose tattooed on the side of my chest. Haha.
Mez: Oh man.. the first tattoo I ALMOST got was a fucking Guns and Roses logo on my chest. I was 12, and a friend of a friend ordered a shitty tattoo set up from the back of some magazine. I’m so glad that never happened. My first tattoo wasn’t a WHOLE lot better. I was fifteen and using my sisters ID in Montreal, and I got got a Celtic cross. Cause it was 1995, and that’s just what people got, I guess. Even though I was an atheist and not particularly attracted to any Irish heritage. That one is about have way through the laser treatment now.
Chris: I wanted this Gaelic symbol around my belly button. So I stole my brother’s ID and went to a tattoo shop called Bound by Design in Denver.
R: What is the most ridiculous tattoo you have ever done, or have ever turned away?
D: Well the greatest thing I have ever drawn, at least subject matter wise, was an entire back piece that had a sloth holding a crossbow ridding a panda, with his battle buddy, a koala holding a battle ax riding a camel or lama I can’t remember, but they were battling a two headed robot that’s heads were of Nancy and Ronald Regan. Haha It was epic, I had tattooed the guy before, but 20 minutes into outlining it, he said it was too painful, and tapped out. The only time someone has ever done that to me. So now he just has a rock and an ax on him haha.
M: That has become an increasingly difficult question to answer. When your primary audience is nerd of all walks of life, preposterous becomes pretty normal. I’ll attach a picture of the tattoo that made me laugh the most. I mean, really laugh, throughout the entire process. At one point during the tattoo, he started laughing so hard we had to take a break… when he could finally talk again, I asked him what was so funny… and he said “I’ve just never seen someone concentrate so hard on something so stupid.” And I love it. I love doing silly or stupid tattoos. I think we take ourselves way too seriously, and having something on your body that just makes people laugh… I dunno. I think that’s awesome.
C: I turn away really horrible ideas all the time. I think the weirdest tattoo I’ve done was a sleeve based on old Mayan art. It had babies eating other babies ?.
R: What’s your favorite tattoo?
D: I’d have to say my favorite tattoo is one that isn’t quite done yet […] it’s a full sleeve that goes onto [a customer’s] chest, and also bits of the design are on his ribs. He gave me total and complete freedom, I had him make me a list of things that he likes, and that was all, I picked and chose as I saw fit, and It’s turning out really cool, it has flowers from carnivorous plants, and a lightbulb, and geometric elements, and watercolor… it’s super fun. Also the collaborations Mez and I have been doing have been some of my favorite. It’s really cool to work with another artist, you can do things that neither of you could do on your own, but together, magic happens. Mez and I have a few more in the works, one that is a burrito, pizza and french fry food fight sleeve… I’m not even kidding, I’m so excited. And Chris and I are about to start our first collaboration, it’s been a long time coming, we finally found the perfect piece for it.
C: I don’t really have a favorite one. If it’s nautical oceany type stuff or starwars themed tattoos then those tend to be my favorites.
M: Hmmm… that’s dough a difficult question to answer. I think if I had to chose, of late, this pretty gypsy lady:
On the 21st of January, for Inauguration Day, Tattoo Boogaloo is holding a fundraiser for the non-profit ACLU (the American Civil Liberties Union). The details have yet to be released (but they will be SOON!) but since I am a fancy pantsy reporter I got the scoop or whatever people say. Mez explains: “We will be doing simple equality, LGBT, and anti-fascist tattoos all day for suggested donations, and every penny will be sent to ACLU. We have a couple artists from outside our shop who may be donating other artwork or prints, someone who may be donating baked goods, and possibly someone who will be matching donations up to a certain amount.”
So there you have it, folks: tattoos, social justice, and baked goods.