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Chris Nuñez Talks Ink Masters, Tattoos, and Human Canvasses

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Like tattoos? Get your single needle guns, sharpened guitar strings, and professional gear ready for Ink Masters, a new tattoo reality competition series where contestants battle for $100,000.

We caught up with judge Chris Nuñez, who was on Miami Ink, about why Ink Masters is better, truer to the game, and how he makes people cry when their work sucks. Here's what he had to say.

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New Times: You started out as a kid doing graffiti, right? What was your tag? What side of town did you grow up on?
Chris Nuñez

: I used to write Ink, I was livin' up in Broward. I used to run with Fosty and Praise, OSP. We did the whole Merry Xmas Miami on the back of the South Florida Arts Center back in, like, 1987, and it ran for like eight or 10 years. You can even see it in the

Miami Herald


When you were 18 you took off to Brazil and then Europe learning from different tattooers right?
Yeah, I went to Brazil, stayed there five years, then traveled through Europe. I worked with Mauricio Teodoro, Luke Atkinson in Stuttgart, Claus Fuhrmann in Vienna...the list goes on and on.

Name five tattoo masters.
I dont have a top five. There's a bunch of guys that do different things that are all up there. A lot of the biz right now is a mix of old and new. It all kind of blew up after Miami Ink and now there's kids doin' tattoos like they been tattooing twenty years.

Do you expect any backlash from the tattoo community?
Tattoos are not just for gangsters, criminals, and bad guys anymore. It's opened up to families, meanings, and people opening up to me in the shop and making me listen to their life story. It's seen as a rockstar lifestyle and turned a lot of kids into wanting to do it. There's always going to be haters, but the people are going to love it.

So you just gonna take the check?
Always take the check brother. I'm there to work. At the end of the day the only one who's gonna pay your tab is you.

How does this show appeal to you as a tattooer?
I love the new show 'cause it's us calling the work like we see it. I don't get involved in the personal lives and drama. It's just a straight up show about art in real time. What always bothered me about the other shows is they make it look like you can do a back piece in six hours. [During Miami Ink] We'd all wear the same clothes when we shot so it looked like all the work was done the same day. Ink Masters is real time tattooing with high stakes.

What's different or better about this tattoo show than all the others?
It's more about tattooing. People are sick of seeing everybody crying in the shop, that's been

done. This is about the art.

You ever have to tell people they suck?
We really get poppin' on the panel. I'm a tattooer just like they are. We judge them on what they give us. If the lines are shit, we call 'em like we see 'em.  I also have to come back and do this for a living. If the people that I grow up with see the show, and I'm not truthful, they're gonna say "What are you scared?"

Did you make anybody cry?
A couple of girls broke down, and a couple of times we were kind of funny to where all you could do was laugh or cry. I realize they have to go back home and tattoo for a living, but they signed up knowing what they were in for.

How do they get the people on the show that get tattooed?
They call them human canvasses. They sign up to get free tattoos, and it's just a luck of the draw whether they get a good one or not. Personally, I'd rather pay for it than gamble on some shit that's on me forever, but we shot in Jersey, so there was no shortage of volunteers.

Anybody end up with terrible tattoos?
Let's just say that some contestants were weaker and they got weaned out right away. But there was some real talent on there as well, and some people got a couple thousand buck tattoos for free.

Any special guests from the old school?
Yeah, we had Jack Rudy come on as a guest judge. He's a real pioneer with that single needle, cholo, black and grey work. He came for portrait day. Guys like that who had already been in for 15, 20 years when I was kid, that's when the show gets a nod from tattooers. This is more of a tattooers' tattoo show.

Did all the artist contestants live in some house on some Real World type shit?
Yeah, but we judges didn't look in on their environment so I don't know how that went down. I can tell you we filmed in a real short time, they were putting in, like, 12-hour days and then drawing all night for the next day so I'm sure that it got heated in there, and that some people helped each other out.

What does Dave Navarro bring to the table?
He's a rock star, a celebrity who has gotten tattooed all over the world.

There's a challenge where they have to go and tattoo dead pigs hanging upside down in a meat locker. Did you ever have to do anything like that when you got in the business?
I did a real apprenticeship, and we didn't come up like that. You tattooed people...vets, and cooks, and dudes that just got out of prison.

What was the first tattoo you ever did?
I tattooed Mikey from Lulu's who was a chef on South Beach back in 1991. I did a Hanya on his stomach. I got to take my time with it, and it came out better than tattoos number 7 -100 where I would have to do like a perfectly drawn star behind some girl's ear.

What do you have coming up in Miami?
I'm tattooing by appointment out of Luis Sagato's shop, Origins Tattoo, in the News Lounge complex on 55th and Biscayne, by Andiamo pizza. He's like a second dad to me. I'm also working in New York, LA, and Texas, and hoping to open Handcrafted Miami, my new project, in the Midtown area after the new year.

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