With shows like TLC's "Miami Ink" getting more and more airtime, it's easy to discern how body art, once representational of a counterculture of 'troublemakers,' has progressively become more mainstream. "Miami Ink" has opened the tattoo parlor's doors and has allowed fans and critics alike a sneak-peek into what it takes to master the (tattoo) gun.
"Tattooing isn't as taboo as it used to be," said Sean Kirkpatrick, sole tattoo artist at Purple Haze, located off Versailles Road. "It's almost unusual [for a person] not to have a tattoo." Kirkpatrick has been with Purple Haze for almost a year but has been tattooing for the past 11. He learned the trade as a teenager on the streets of his hometown in San Diego, Calif.
"Tattooing has always fascinated me," said Kirkpatrick who got his first tattoo at the age of 17. "I think growing up in Mexican neighborhoods, it just kind of went with it. Everybody had tattoos and everybody wanted a tattoo man...It's fascinating because you're putting artwork on people." He was so infatuated that he made his first tattoo gun using a small motor, guitar string, and a toothbrush, and used his good-natured buddies as guinea pigs. "The first tattoo I did was supposed to be a scorpion...but it looked like a lobster," he laughed.
Kirkpatrick has always had an eye for art and can remember drawing up sketches as a kid. Although many tattoo artists use what he calls 'flash art' or pre-drawn stencils, many of his pieces are freehand originals.
"A lot of my customers are return-clients and they know what I'm capable of, so I do a lot of freehand work for them," he said. "I don't really like working with color; it kind of cartoons it. I prefer to use black and gray-it's just my personal preference. My clientele is mainly the black community and black and gray tend to show up better. I've been doing this for so long that it's what people know me for."
Kirkpatrick has worked on all sorts of tattoo designs, ranging from small designs that only take a few minutes to collages that take several days or more, depending on the detailing desired. Depending on what the customer wants, Kirkpatrick will use a sharpie marker to sketch or freehand the design to the skin in order to match the tattoo to the person's unique contour. "I've had to fix a lot of [other artists'] tattoos," he said of his years as an artist. "I believe that if you can't draw on paper, why are you doing it on skin? There are a lot of good artists in Lexington, a lot of good talent here, but there's also a lot of artists who simply don't have the eye for it, and it's a shame. You can just grab someone off the street that doesn't know a thing about tattooing, and put them in the chair and they can start messing people up."
Between fixing botched jobs to tatting first-timers and old-timers, Kirkpatrick said no one could walk through the doors and surprise him. "I get a good variation of people. I get a lot of first-timers, but then the addiction kicks in and they come back. Then I had a woman in her 70s who absolutely loved tattoos. I've seen it all."
"It is the coolest job in town; you get paid for hurting people," he laughed. "And you get to meet all sorts of interesting people, that's the best part."