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Tattoos Losing Rebel Status Is a Good Thing

Meaning trumps badassed-ness when it comes to ink art.

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My neighbor Joe, a longtime driver for Tastykake, isn’t a fan of tattoos. “I don’t get it,” he says. “They look cluttered and used to be for tough guys. Now, I don’t know.”

Joe is in his mid-50s and, maybe not surprisingly, doesn’t have any ink himself—and that’s despite his wife and two daughters having already gone under the needle for their own mother-daughter-sister set.

He’s right about one thing, though: Tattoos aren’t just for tough guys anymore. Nowadays, you’ll find inked-up skin across all economic, age, social, religious, gender and racial groups in North America. A recent Harris poll indicated that around 21 percent of U.S. adults have at least one tattoo. But is that a bad thing?

If you’ve been reading the latest anti-tattoo rants from the online media—à la Slate and, hell, even The Philly Post—you might think so.

Tattoos have become “mundane” they say, they’ve been separated from their badass past as flags for convicts and rebels and have consequently lost all relevant meaning. Too ubiquitous, too overdone, too tacky. The mainstream killed what only the rebel could understand (and this coming from people who don’t even have tattoos).

But tattoos have been around for about 5,000 years and in that time they have hardly been the exclusive domain of criminals and rebels. Throughout their existence, tattoos have been associated with growth, acceptance, spirituality and community—especially in non-Western cultures. It wasn’t until the mid-20th-century that tattoos, thanks largely to the popular culture of the time, became associated primarily with the rebel elements of society in the eyes of middle-class America.

And the apparent tattooed masses definitely don’t agree with that association. While 50 percent of non-tattooed respondents to the Harris poll said that tattoos make a person more rebellious, some 72 percent of tattooed respondents said that their tattoos have no bearing on their rebelliousness.

Regardless, say critics, with their connection to the nation’s underbelly being severed more each day, tattoos are little more than a bad decision waiting to happen. So many people have them, the argument goes, that the elements of individuality and exclusivity have been forever removed. You can’t have something that everyone else has and expect it to be unique. Right?

For Paul Berge, 33, the electrical engineer and tattooed webmaster behind pro-tattoo blog TheTattooedEngineer, that stance doesn’t make much sense.

“Just because everyone has art in their house doesn’t mean you shouldn’t as long as it means something to you,” he says.

Surely people aren’t, in fits of hipster rage, denouncing and tossing out their paintings, sculptures and photos because “too many people have them.”

That seems to be the crux of the discussion, the point that critics can’t or won’t or don’t care to get past: Tattoos are highly personal messages designed not to appease the viewer, but to complete the wearer. They’re art. Not just in the gallery sense—although they are that, too, with exhibitions popping up throughout the country more and more—but in the individual, emotional sense.

Take, for example, Berge’s tattoo, which he had done just shy of his 31st birthday. Covering his shoulder and upper arm, Berge’s piece, based on an ancient Japanese legend, depicts a koi fish swimming its way up a river to become a dragon. The tattoo was inspired by Berge’s divorce from his high-school sweetheart after roughly seven years of marriage.

“What started as a painful and difficult situation forced me to adapt and become a better and stronger person,” he says. “That is what my tattoo symbolizes.”

So, a cathartic process of a few hours (25 in Berge’s case, actually) of mild physical discomfort and conversation, with the intention of alleviating pain, not increasing it.

Tattoos aren’t an outward sign of personality disorder, they’re not done with inflicting pain in mind—”Why not just use a tattoo machine with no ink? You could go over the same area as many times as you wanted and still get the same amount of pain,” muses Berge—and they certainly aren’t meaningless because the unsavory stigma surrounding them has begun to recede.

What we’re seeing is most probably a return to tattooing’s roots as an art form dedicated to personal and cultural expression that is open to all interested parties, a massive advancement from the popular 20th-century view of tattoos as signs of danger and violence. And of course, as with any change, you’ll have the naysayers urging us to forget, to make the other side crazy and wrong.

Maybe we, the tattooed (I have three myself), are wrong. Maybe we’ll regret our decisions, laser off our pricey ink and don Ed Hardy t-shirts to remember our decorated pasts. But one thing’s for sure: The tattooed won’t abandon their personal expressions at the behest of a bunch of inkless writers, mainly because we aren’t really concerned with what other people think about our tattoos. We wouldn’t have gotten the work done in the first place if we had been.

Can’t you tell by looking?


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Local business owner Jaysin Stallard and his crew at Slingin’ Ink in Evarts kicked off the year by celebrating two decades worth of service. Stallard, who has been tattooing roughly 24 years, said 2020 marks 20 years since he opened his shop in Harlan County.

“I originally wanted to be a computer animator and make video games. I actually went and studied at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh after I got my associate (degree) from Southeast,” Stallard said. “Mom always said I was easy to buy for as long as I had pencils and paper.”

He added like “any kid in the ‘90s,” he did a few “homemade” tattoos with a RC motor, coffee straw and needle.

“It’s silly, but ya know what, we did it,” he said laughing. “I realized with the computer animation stuff, I was basically going to be locked in a cubical all the time, by myself, but anyone that knows me knows I’m a talker. You can’t talk to the walls too much before going insane, so I decided to find something I really dig.”

For Stallard, tattooing ended up being an art he practices daily after learning how to do it properly by becoming an apprentice at a local tattoo parlor in Pittsburgh — celebrating roughly 24 years of tattooing today.

“I ain’t going to lie, but when I opened this place up, it was supposed to be a temporary deal,” he said. “I was going to open a shop in a town where I know a few people and could get better about running it on my own and then move along.”

However, Stallard said with the rise of the opioid epidemic, he ended up staying in Harlan far longer than he anticipated by facing the crisis firsthand.

“I, unfortunately, got caught up with that. It did two things: kept me here and stifled my growth in this industry,” he said, adding it was the worst five years of his life. “So, after a few years of running a decent business, I was wasting more on dope, but some way, somehow, I was able to keep the doors open and the electric on and do things.”

Stallard said in 2005 he was able to begin combating his addiction and work on his sobriety, adding his business was not as great as when he first opened, “as it shouldn’t have been.”

“Everybody knew about how I was, but I fought very, very hard. Around 2008, business was getting a little better and then by 2012 I really started doing great,” he said. “I just kept my head up above water and did everything I had to do to stay away from the nonsense and keep focus on my business. And it paid off.”

Stallard said although there are a few people who still have doubts about his sobriety, the community has been supportive of him both through his business and personally.

“It’s been amazing. I have a great team with me now. Leslie, she is my piercer and my right hand. She really is the one I depend on to help keep things going because we stay so busy, which I’m grateful for that,” Stallard said.

Stallard said he would like to do more than tattooing in the future. He added he loves his community and he hopes he can do more to help the local people in the future.

“Honestly, in another 20 years, I have another adventure I’m hoping to start within the next few years. Right now, I’m going to have a few apartment rentals after I take over the land from the owner,” he said. “Hopefully, if I’m still able to, I hate to say it, but I hope I’ll still be tattooing at 60. I really do. If my back and hands and knees hold out, I’d like to still be doing it.”

Stallard said he has another business idea he would like to pursue in the future, if possible, and he hopes to be able to announce it in the coming years.

“Right now, I look back on tattoos I did 20 years ago, and I’m thinking those are rough looking. I hope 20 years from now, I can look back and say these are good but I’m better now. I want to improve,” he said.

Stallard said he also enjoys being a part of the Evarts City Council and hopes to continue being a part of the community in some capacity.

“If I can still be a part of the council and still be a part of this community, I’ll be happy,” he said. “I love our town, I really do. I know people talk about ‘oh, the coal mines are gone’ but there are other things than just that. All we need, is quit telling our kids to get out of here.

“I get there’s not the best around here, but we can’t keep giving the best and brightest away because then we really won’t have a future. Let them go get education and bring it back so we can grow as a community. We need that experience here.”

Stallard said he is blessed by his business and being able to succeed in having it in one of the most poverty-stricken areas.

“I want to try to get to a point where I can give back and do something for the people that’s helped me so much, which are the local people and I love them for that,” he said.

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Slingin Ink Tattoos.... Bored Employees

Point Pleasant Beach tattoo shop owner traded paint for ink

Brett Kimmins |  Correspondent

POINT PLEASANT BEACH - In the summer of 1993, Brody Longo got a tattoo of a tribal fish on his leg, and as the door of Slingin' Ink Tattoo shut behind him, he knew he had done the right thing.

“I remember walking out the door,” said Longo, who was 18 at the time. “I got tattooed and as soon as I pushed the door open and walked out of the tattoo place, I had a feeling come over me that I could come back and do it again. It was just a small tattoo that I had done to my leg and from there, the seed was planted, so to speak.”

That seed would eventually grow to taking over that very shop, Slingin' Ink Tattoo, on Arnold Avenue in Point Pleasant Beach.

Tattoos have gone mainstream today, but when Longo started, body art was decidedly less trendy.

“My friends were about two or three years older than me and they were getting their own tattoos done from an acquaintance out of his own house,” said Longo. “It definitely did not have the light that it does now and, in fact, tattooing at that time had a very negative stigma attached to it. It just began as one of those things that was not depicted in a good light, but it would soon open up and get into the general public as the years progressed.”

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At the time he got that tattoo from Slingin' Ink, Longo had been working at odd jobs, including painting houses and buildings.

Longo lived around the block from Slingin' Ink and ended up meeting his future wife, Colleen Broderick, who had also gotten tattoos there. She set up a meeting between Longo and the shop's owner, James Heaney, in September 1993. Heaney and Longo made a deal: Longo would paint the inside of the shop’s walls, and in exchange Heaney would give Longo another tattoo.

The deal worked out. Longo and Heaney hit it off and Longo became a regular at the shop, coming in and getting tattooed more and more.

Joining the shop

Later, when Heaney lost one of his tattoo artists, he contacted Longo, told him his predicament and offered him a job to work as a tattoo artist. Longo happily accepted and went on to learn the craft.

“I had a little bit of previous drawing experience prior to learning how to tattoo,” said Longo. “Once I started working with this medium and learning the designs, it really just channeled my ability and gave me direction. If I didn’t start tattooing, I would not be drawing right now and art would be out of my life.”

After a year of tattooing at Slingin' Ink, Longo was doing so well that he was offered the chance to buy the shop in 1995, which he happily accepted. Heaney had bigger things in mind, so he gave Longo the keys to the kingdom and Longo has been running the shop ever since.

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Different world

During Longo’s early days in the business, he got a lot of his ideas from magazines and from going to tattoo conventions.

“When I was coming up without the internet and just using the designs on the wall, it was a different world. I did not have the reference option of the phone or the web,” said Longo. “I really had to work hard and the only thing I had to build my experience was magazines and a compiled scrapbook of my favorite designs.”

“Many of my ideas came from that that same stuff that I liked and that really inspired me," Longo said. "You really had to put your time in and it wasn’t like now, where everything is sped up with the internet. It took me a good 10 years to get where I am today, compared to now, when it would take the average person about three years.”

Currently, many people are getting design ideas for their tattoos from the website Pinterest.

“Pinterest in one of the biggest tattoo sites around right now,” said Longo. “Basically, people can go onto the site and browse their favorite tattoo design, where they are all grouped and categorized. For example, if someone wants a 'dream catcher' tattoo, they can find pictures of those tattoos posted by random people in the site. It basically a social media site for tattoos.”

The shop is close to the beach, so naturally many of the most popular tattoos for Slingin' Ink focus on fishing and surfing.

“It comes pretty natural for people who live around this area,” said Longo. “We do a lot of nautical, water-themed tattoos and people gravitate pretty heavily toward that style.”

Longo hopes to continue to do what he is currently doing for as long as he possibly can.

“No matter what, I would always come back to this because it’s what keeps me grounded and it comes from the inside,” said Longo. “I can always turn the work part off and do what I do.”


Location: 616 Arnold Ave., Point Pleasant Beach

Phone: 732-295-2582

Hours: 1 to 9 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays; 1 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 1 to 7 p.m. Sundays.



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