Tattoo U

Jose Carrera, accused of attempted murder, inked his way to fame.

Today, he has steered clear of the law and his business is thriving. OchoPlacas, named for Calle Ocho, is tucked into a block boasting an auto body shop, a salsa dance studio, a beauty salon, and a couple of hot-sheet in-and-out motels. Inside the 400-square-foot skin parlor, the walls brim with original art by Carrera and his crew: John Vale, Javier Betancourt, Vincent Vasconez, and Leo Valencia. They charge $150 to $200 an hour for their tattoos. Medium-size tattoos require nine to twelve hours of work, often accomplished over three visits.

There's more than just tattoos here, though. 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 cafecito shots while awaiting their turn. "This is gritty and the real Miami here," he says.

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 severed head. Naser discovered OchoPlacas after researching local tattoo parlors on the Internet.

Jose Carrera and friends have inked the likes of rappers Lil Wayne and Birdman.
C. Stiles
Jose Carrera and friends have inked the likes of rappers Lil Wayne and Birdman.
C. Stiles

Recently, Carrera rendered his version of the striking image about the size of a softball on the man's right shoulder. Naser says he had to wait several months, but it was worth it. "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 a 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."

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 mentions.

OchoPlacas' other tattoo artists are also popular with well-known local artists such as Wendy Wischer, who once projected the cycle of the moon on a downtown Miami building and is 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 Gonzalez, 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 laughs. "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 their 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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