PHOTO: Alex Heffron’s leg was tattoo artist St. MarQ’s canvas at this year’s United Ink No Limits Tattoo Expo at Resorts World Casino NYC in South Ozone Park. Forum Photo by Estrellita Bravo-Valencia
By Alan Krawitz
Ever since 1997, when tattoos were once again made legal in the city following a 36-year ban stemming from an outbreak of Hepatitis B, skin-art culture has been gaining momentum, acceptance and fans throughout the five boroughs and across the country.
That was evident this past weekend as Resorts World Casino New York City in South Ozone Park played host to the United Ink No Limits Tattoo Expo, which brought together top-rated artists, vendors and entertainers, and drew more than 8,000 attendees from Friday through Sunday.
“It’s such a great feeling to have so many talented artists from around the world in one location here in NY where I live,” said United Ink founder “Tattoo” Lou Rubino. “I travel the world to scout artists so that we can bring NY the best tattoo art from around the globe.”
And while the expo did in fact draw international artists, such as the highly touted Oleg Shepelenko, who hails from Russia, there were scores of local artists making their mark at the show.
Natalia Borgia, artist and owner of all-female Beaver Tattoo on Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven, said that the increasing popularity of tattoos with women is due, in part, to shows like United Ink.
“Also, because women can express themselves and there’s no longer any stigma that tattoos are only for bikers or gangsters,” said Borgia, who came to the United States from Poland nearly two decades ago. “You can now get a nice piece of art work, it’s no longer just skulls. Tats are just another thing that makes women pretty—makeup, hair, tattoos.”
Sarah Miller, a fan-favorite who runs Wyld Chyld Tattoo in Pittsburgh and is probably best known for her appearances on the “Ink Master” tattoo competition reality show on Spike TV, agreed that tattoos on women are becoming more the norm now than ever before.
“Tattoos in general are becoming more accepted and that’s evident by how many more women are getting them,” she said, adding that tattoos have become “very personal and very unique.”
Alex Heffron, a U.S. Navy veteran who traveled to Queens from Wilmington, Del., to get his tattoo last weekend, said he came to the show specifically to have St. MarQ, also known as the “Tattoo God” on “Ink Master,” work on him.
“I’m getting a tattoo of my meritorious service medal after 26 years in the Navy,” Heffron said. “Instead of putting this medal on the wall, I’m putting it on my leg.”
Heffron said he has about 18 total tattoos, including three by St. MarQ.
Emily Elegado, also known for her appearances on the “Ink Master,” said that she’s noticed that tattoos are becoming status symbols.
“It’s a luxury thing. If you’re doing really well, you might get a really nice tattoo instead of that nice car. It’s more an art form now,” said Elegado, who works as an artist at Foolish Pride 2 Tattoo in Clearwater, Fla. “Back in the day, tattoos were cheap, haggard, and only the scum of the earth got them; but now, their image has really changed, with lots more soccer moms, doctors and professionals getting inked.”
Jasmine Rodriguez, host of Spike TV’s “Tattoo Nightmares,” has made a career of fixing ink-related mistakes at her legendary spot, Champion Tattoo, in the Bronx.
“People come to us upset – some tattoos are poorly done, yet others are just connected to bad memories,” she said.
Rodriguez also noted that she’s personally witnessed the turnaround for tattoos.
“Tattooing used to be very underground, but now they’re very mainstream and lucrative,” she said. “Large-scale shows like United Ink have really helped to propel the industry.”