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Ink Master's Chris Nuñez on His New Miami Shop, Tatu Baby, and Corporate America

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Chris Nuñez might be Miami's most recognizable ink ambassador. In addition to turns on reality TV blowouts Miami Ink and Ink Master, the tattoo artist recently opened his own surprisingly low-key spot, Handcrafted Miami (3438 N Miami Ave., Miami).

In addition to reppin' the 305's tattoo scene before a national audience, Nunez is looking to showcase tattooing as the art form it really is. His new labor of love is an art gallery and tattoo parlor, and according to Nunez, such a pairing has been a long time coming.

We caught up with Nuñez at his new Midtown haunt and talked corporate pillaging, stress relief, and fellow Miamian and Ink Master star, Tatu Baby.

See also:

- Tatu Baby: Ink Goddess

- Tatu Baby on Yoda, Her Elimination and Being a Worldwide Twitter Trending Topic

Cultist: What sparked the idea of combining a tattoo parlor and studio?

Chris Nuñez: Basically the concept was to create a work space and a gallery space to be able to kind of break the average look of tattoo shops. I just wanted to create a space that was welcoming and inviting and kind of categorized tattooing as the art form that it is.

I always wanted to have a space. As tattooers we always battle the space issue. You always wish you had a little more room to do this and do that, more of a creative work space. This is more of what you would see in an ad agency, a designer's kind of work space. I wanted to set up that kind of work space but offer it to my friends and the people I work with.

Are a lot of tattoo artists also artists in other mediums?

Yeah, absolutely. I think tattooing has kind of hit an almost a Renaissance form of art. You have so many crossover artists; you have so many graffiti artists that became tattoo artists, you have sign painting, classic painting, pop painters, all these different art forms. Even fashion, clothing -- they all kind of fuse. A lot of people have found inspiration from tattoos and have drawn inspiration from tattooers for their personal art. I think tattoos are completely underrated in the fine art world and that's why I wanted to offer this. I wanted to base the mantra of the shop on showing off the talent we have inside our industry.

Last night I went to a sticker show at Tony Goldman's space. It was a cool Miami vibe, the right people came out and showed up. I'm trying to create that vibe here in the art space. I have the location and the love and care I put into the design. The heart and soul of the shop; I feel like this is the place to invite all these artists that have so much to show to come and show.

We're planning to curate at least a bi-monthly show as well as a huge Basel project that for the time being is under wraps. But we're gonna do something major this year for Basel.

If you look at the fashion world, you look at the corporate world, they've raped and pillaged tattooing to no end and no tattoo artists have been compensated. They just rape and pillage. If we put the art form of tattoos and the painting and real style tattoos -- we're really the tastemakers out there. That fuels a lot of people's finances. If we legitimize that as a community, we'll reap the benefits of our own hard labor.

Do you have any of your own art on display?

I do have a big a collage here and stuff, I'm just so busy. I just got back from Milan and Ireland. It's not like the average shop. It took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. It's a hectic workload but it's all worth it. Coupled with that and a small clothing line that we're starting out. We're doing everything guerrilla, we're not really relying on a name. We're trying to do everything more grassroots. We're grinding just like everybody else. It doesn't hurt to have a TV show, but it's not like they're jumping to be like, "Chris, what can we do for you?" We've got to do it ourselves.

So you're in town and tattooing out of the shop?

Oh yeah, this is home. The only time I'm leaving is to film or for business trips. But yeah, I'm here. I realized after all the crazy last five or six years of my life, the thing I love most is just sitting down and doing a tattoo. It's the least stressful thing I can do in my life. If I sit down and work I'm happier than a pig in shit. If I'm spinning my wheels, chasing this and that, doing things for other people, it's awful.

I leave in April and I'm gone all April and May. That's really tough when you launch a new business. The show is a great springboard and platform, it gets that instant credit, but it's tough to leave your baby. It's like your family. When it's you launching it and you have this belief in it, you don't want to turn that over to anybody.

What other artists are working with you out of the shop?

We have a small crew. Jamie Ryscik and we have Twig Sparks, he was originally at Hart and Huntington. He was working in Vegas and he came down to fill the portrait gap. Everybody can do everything but he has portrait vibe. I do a lot of the crazier, more European Jappy stuff and Jamie loves Americana traditional, so we have a really good synergy where everybody does whatever they love. It's fun, I like doing everything. I like to be able to do whatever comes up.

You don't get so bored doing the same shit every day. If you do your style every day, all day, you don't grow as an artist. The way we grew up as tattoo artists 20 years ago was when a client came through the door, you had to do what they wanted. You had to be able to fill that order no matter what. A lot of young kids lose sight of that. They tattoo for a few years and some are great and some are shit, but at the same time they don't learn anything else and they think, I'll open my own studio and be my own guy in three years. That's crazy. But that's another reason why 22 years after I started I finally opened my own shop. I have all kinds of guests from all over the world. I'm super lucky with the opportunities and the relationships we have between the three of us, we have a constant revolving guest crew. The biggest names in tattooing. It's awesome, I feel fortunate.

Did you know Tatu Baby before her turn on Ink Masters?

No I didn't. It's Miami so we see each other's work. Before opening this space I was traveling. I was out of town two weeks out of the month. I was in Ireland, in New York, in California, in Baltimore. Those were my four stops. I kept my head down, did my thing, spent a lot of time overseas and just dove back into it.

What did you think of her turn on the show?

I mean, you know, I'm happy for her. I think she became an overnight sensation and success and that's what that show can do for people. People don't realize the power they have by going out and doing that. Sometimes it's for the better, sometimes it's for the worse. If you carry yourself a certain way, if the crowd loves you; whether you win or lose, you win. If you carry yourself like a retard, people also see that and you'll be tormented for life I'm sure.

Tatu Baby, she came in fourth but she came in stronger than number one. There's a lot to be said for that, so it's good at least for the hometown. It's nice for Miami to shine. I'm not at liberty to really get into much 'cause she's coming back on so I can't really be a cheering section.

What are some tattoo trends in Miami compared to the other cities you've worked in?

I see Miami still playing catch up. I'm hoping that Miami will one day be a tattoo city because we have a gazillion shops. But to find collectors like you find in New York, LA, San Fran, Atlanta -- shit, even Orlando and Tampa. They have a much stronger scene when it comes to the actual tattoo scene and people that collect and know the right names to get tattooed by.

Miami's always been a very transitory city where people come to party and get crazy. They come in on the last day of their vacation with charcoal skin to get tattooed, then take off. I wanted to not open on the beach and open in the city and create a local vibe where we have real clientele, normal neighborhood prices, nothing crazy, and just service the public.

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