The world of tattooing is a unique and interesting one. There are artists from all around the world who flock to this way of life and help others come to appreciate it and the creativity and artwork put into it. Leo Gonzales is a local artist from Albuquerque, New Mexico. He has been in the game professionally for twenty-two years. Though that is not all Leo Gonzales is — he has been an avid oil painter for almost thirty years now.
Oil painting has been something he has kept up with over the decades. Even though he does not have a lot of time to work on his paintings, he manages to put one out here and there and puts them for sale for all those who love creatures, monsters and fantasy types of work. He loves the technical aspect of being an artist and is a true collector of both tattoos and paintings. Gonzales is a big fan of the Japanese style of tattooing, specifically the European-inspired aspect of this signature style. His love and appreciation for the artwork is shown in his knowledge of the classical artists who created styles and techniques now taught in school. This naturally extends to his love of tattoos, with this appreciation for different artists who are considered masters in the fields of Biomechanical and Japanese styles.
Being the owner and operator of Stay Gold Tattoo since its inception in 2004, he is a person here for the love of the medium. Beginning with “scratching” on himself and others, it was not until he moved to Albuquerque his interest sparked toward the path of being a tattooer. He did not begin from a traditional apprenticeship like many others, but he has excelled nonetheless without formal training, despite that the lack of said training is one of his biggest regrets. Danno Sanchez, a fellow local artist, helped in his journey. Danno, at the time, operated Hardware Tattoo. Now in the later years of his career, looking back on the lack of a formal apprenticeship makes him wonder if he would have reached his potential sooner had he been formally trained. Yet the hard way of teaching has helped him develop a love for the world, and to know that this is where he wants and needs to be.
The business of tattooing has not always been this open-door world. Leo talks about how it was a “closed-door” and “tight-lipped” scene back when he first started, meaning the amount of input and help from fellow artists was almost non-existent. That is something that Leo has seen change nowadays, the artist scene going from a closed-off group unwilling to share secrets to more of a sense of “community.” He feels these artists now working together and sharing is what is pushing innovation and learning at a much quicker pace. That being said, Leo still thinks those secrets and ways of tattooing are important, because to him, tattooing is “sacred and held dear” and should not be “earned lightly.”
The change in the scene, to many artists, is something almost bittersweet and double-edged. Though the love and appreciation for tattooing has grown, it is sometimes not reflected in the artists who create the work. Since it has become so saturated and more tattoo collectors are popping up, there are an increase in run-of-the-mill, mediocre tattoo artists who, as Leo says, can make the artwork become watered down. The growth of technology has made it more convenient for artist to create pieces and have the reference material readily available, but he feels that because of this change, the artists lose a bit of something. They lose that sense of research and going the extra mile to create that piece for the client/collector. They no longer have to search through magazines, books or the real world for references they can just get off the Internet. It is something he finds helpful, to be sure, but it feels as if a bit of that magic in the creation process has been lost.
When it comes to the world of traveling in the tattoo community, many artists float around from convention to convention. Leo is not an exception, but feels that his time is better spent at home, in his shop, primarily because it keeps him busy and allows him to make more money than he would traveling. Being a bit of an introvert, he attends conventions sparingly. Though traveling is great for networking and getting artwork out there, it is definitely not one-size-fits-all. His take on conventions is to look for quality, the ones that showcase the artist without involving some gimmick to draw a larger crowd.
When it comes to tattoos and conventions, his opinion is informed by the level of talent present. Waiting around and looking for the best artist to represent what you, as a collector, want, is a big part of what Leo Gonzales tries to put out there to other artists and collectors alike. The thing with Leo is that he wants the art to have the respect it deserves and be represented by those who appreciate it in all aspects. From the creation to the application, both the artist and client need to know what they are wanting, and the trust needs to fall to the artist for the collector to get the best piece they possibly can.
When asked what advice he would give a tattoo collector, he had this to say:
“My biggest piece of advice would be to be discerning. You only have one set of skin and you’ve got the decision to A: cover yourself in mediocre work for the sake of getting tattooed, or B: cover yourself with art that best represents the imagery that speaks loudly to you. So many people walk into a shop and are thinking about how much it’ll cost and ‘can I get in RIGHT NOW?’ To me, my first consideration is ‘what do I want to get tattooed and where?’ Next, ‘who would do the best job possible (both locally or within reasonable travel)?’ The worst thing you can do in my opinion is to ask your friends. Everyone has different sensibilities. It pays to do your research. Visit shops and pour over portfolios. See if anyone’s art speaks to you. Facebook and Instagram are obviously good places to start, but visiting shops allows you to not only see an artist’s portfolio and artwork outside of tattooing, but also to meet the artists and see if the vibe is there (you’re going to be carrying their art and spending some considerable time with them if you decide to go with them). Attend tattoo conventions. If it’s a good convention, you’re bound to find someone who grabs your attention. If the artist that stands out to you is booked out, see about booking an appointment for a later date (even if this means traveling). Some of my favorite tattoos were done on me by traveling across the country for my tattoo appointment, and I was left with the great memory of the trip itself. Don’t settle for mediocre, or worse. Go about it right and wear your tattoos with pride!”