Skin deep: tattoo artist Angel Quinonez
Angel Quinonez chose a small space in a complex in the Arts District on Dukes County Avenue in Oak Bluffs to open Amity Custom Ink tattoo studio. Surrounded by Parr Audio, Island Interiors, and jeweler Stefanie Wolf his on the Island, he says. "Everybody here welcomed me," he says. "Like a puzzle piece, I fit in nicely."
The self-taught artist is a Providence native is a whose work has been shown in galleries around Rhode Island and elsewhere, including Treehouse Studio in West Tisbury. He creates sculpture in wood and metal, oil paintings and prints. However, it is his ink-on-skin work that is provides support for the 35-year-old artist.
Mr. Quinonez has a long fascination with tattoo art that began when he was a child living next door to a motorcycle club. By his freshman year at Brown University (he majored in Africana studies) he had acquired a number of tattoos, and decided that he wanted to create them. After learning the art from a local tattoo studio, the artist, who favors doing portraits, apprenticed at a studio in Austin, Texas.
The traditional heavy line of tattoo art has evolved to a more painterly style, according to Mr. Quinonez. "Tattooing has changed from an outsider thing to real art," he says. "Now a lot of people are doing really interesting stuff. They're doing art on people's bodies." He adds, "You'd be surprised at who has tattoos - lawyers, teachers. We've gone beyond judging the book by its cover."
Mr. Quinonez does custom tattoo art as opposed to work done in a flash shop, a place "where you walk in and see something on the wall and say 'I want that.'" He says that a lot of his customers come in not knowing exactly what they want. He describes himself, in these cases, as a tattoo psychologist: "You have to will it out of them. We sit down and discuss what their goals are. It's about coming up with original art and making it happen." He adds, "I try to steer people into making good choices."
In explaining the lure of tattoos, Mr. Quinonez says, "Tattooing has been around since the beginning of civilization. For some people it's a rite of passage, or it's a reward, or a piece of remembrance - a tribute. For a lot, it is vanity, adornment, narcissism." He adds, "It's weird because by getting tattoos you become part of a gang, but it really makes you more of an individual. At the end of the day you decide what you want to tattoo on your body and what it means to you."
New tattoos need to be treated as an open wound, kept clean with mild soap and cool water, and gently patted dry. Healing usually takes seven to 10 days, depending on the size of the tattoo. As it heals, the skin peel, like it was sunburned. People are advised to use an antibiotic ointment two to four times a day for three days, and avoid sun, salt or chlorinated water while their tattoo heals.
Before opening his Oak Bluffs studio, Mr. Quinonez was the visual coordinator and an instructor at The Broad Street Studio Program at AS220, a nonprofit community arts space in Providence. The Broad Street Program puts an emphasis on working with those recently released from the state's juvenile detention facility or in the care of the Department of Children, Youth and Families. When the lack of funding jeopardized his position, he continued mentoring the youngsters, but focused on his tattoo business.
Mr. Quinonez says, "I was a problem kid, but art was my segue. It opened doors for me." Mr. Quinonez talks about getting kids involved in art. For many of them, graffiti and hip-hop culture are the starting point. "It's all connected," he says. "There was graffiti on the Parthenon. You have to bridge the gap between the cool and the traditional. Show them what the connections are. I've taken kids solely interested in graffiti to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and they got excited saying, 'Look at how realistic that hand is.'" He plans to assist with a digital graffiti art show at Featherstone next summer and hopes to reintroduce a silk screening shop there soon.
Mr. Quinonez continues to divide his time between Providence and the Vineyard. Some day he would like to bring his own version of Providence's AS220 non-juried, non-censored art space to the Island. "It's for the community," he says. "It's open to anyone who plays music or makes art." But now he says that his main goal is to find a way to bring youngsters from Providence to the Vineyard to "check out the art here, and nature."
Gwyn McAllister is a regular contributor to The Martha's Vineyard Times.