Pins and Needles
Albuquerque tattoo artists unite
The way Noel Ortiz gushes about the tattoo culture in Albuquerque, you’d think his body was covered in ink.
In fact, Ortiz brandishes only one tattoo. But even though he lacks a lot of personal experience under the needle, Ortiz’ love for the tattoo industry in the Duke City runs deep. “Most tattoo shops I’ve been to have been very energetic,” Ortiz says. “Once you walk in, there’s a buzz of artistic expression, bright colors and music. There’s a level of energy there that makes you feel excited.”
Ortiz says the tattoo parlors in Albuquerque deserve more exposure and recognition. With this in mind, the self-proclaimed “infamous Atomic Cantina door guy” organized the Pins and Needles Tour. The four-day-long affair offers a chance to see what happens when six of the city’s tattoo shops work together. As far as Ortiz knows, his event marks the first time tattoo shops in Albuquerque have joined forces.
The event launches with a meet-and-greet at Atomic Cantina with artists from all six shops. Potential clients can peruse samples of artists’ work and make appointments to get inked. The meet-and-greet also gives tattoo shop workers and owners a chance to network and share ideas. Star Tattoo owner Chris Partain says he’s constantly getting new ideas from people in the industry. “I always like feeding off of other artists’ styles of tattooing,” Partain says. “I’m constantly picking up pieces here and there from people I like. I think it’s cool on a local level to be able to share ideas.”
The “Pins” portion of the project consists of seven bowling pins painted by artists from the participating tattoo shops. They will be bestowed as raffle prizes on the final day of the event, also taking place at Atomic.
Raffle participants visit the six shops and figure out which pin(s) they like best. Ortiz says tour participants can familiarize themselves with the various shops and get an idea of what each parlor has to offer. “My hope is that people will come in and say, I heard you guys are a part of the Pins and Needles Tour—what’s your shop all about?” Ortiz says.
Partain says Albuquerque boasts both a surfeit of talented artists and plenty of residents eager to put them to work. The industry veteran of nearly 20 years says Albuquerque’s tattoo scene can hold its own against bigger cities. “People come from Los Angeles and other larger markets and are surprised to see how many shops are staying open in this city,” Partain asserts. “Who would have thought that Albuquerque of all places would be a tattoo Mecca?”
Ortiz struggles to explain why Albuquerque’s scene is burgeoning, but he says it helps that tattoos now enjoy mainstream acceptance. “Ten years ago, if you had a tattoo, you were kind of different,” Ortiz says. “Nowadays, if you don’t have one, you’re looked at as being kind of weird.”
“Bueno” Gallegos, an apprentice at Redlight Tattoo, says the tour should help prospective customers feel relaxed about the tattoo process. “Maybe it will help people that don’t know too much about tattooing,” Gallegos says. “It gives them a chance to realize that artists are pretty much like everyday, normal people.”
Ortiz says his tour should erase any doubts that Albuquerque deserves even more attention from artists and ink-junkies across the country. “I hope this show puts us on the map so that, in the future, there will be no question as to whether the talent exists here,” Ortiz says. “I know it’s here.”
There are a lot more than six tattoo shops in the city, but Ortiz says he chose the parlors with artists he’s familiar with. Next year, Ortiz says he hopes to get more shops in on the action. “These individuals come into the Atomic Cantina often, and I developed a rapport with them,” Ortiz explains. “In the future, my goal is to make it a lot bigger.”