Words by: Chelsea Green
Photos courtesy of: Derick Montez
How did you get started tattooing?
I’m not to sure, to tell you the truth. I ask myself the same questions from time to time. I was living and working in Albuquerque doing medical care work when I met my good friend Mike Giant through art shows, graffiti and getting tattooed by him and we developed a good friendship. He was part owner of a tattoo shop called Stay Gold at the time and Rebel 8 was just starting to pick up some steam this was around 2006. Mike needed more help around the shop as he was cutting back on tattooing, and one day out of the blue; he asked if I would be interested in apprenticing under him to help out at the shop. It was an opportunity that doesn’t just happen everyday so I jumped on the chance!
Do your New Mexico roots influence your work? What about living in San Francisco?
Oh yea, New Mexico is a wild ass place. It really does still have a Wild West feel. It has a huge Latino and Native American population, and I feel really blessed that I got the chance to grow up in a place that is rooted in so much culture from Low-riders, Spanish weddings, rodeos, powwows, beautiful desert skies, ancient pueblos, gangs, nature, religion, and blue collar hard working people. I would be a totally different person if I didn’t grow up with all these influences. I remember being a kid, about six or seven, going to my grandmother’s house and seeing my uncles’ low-riders outside, and covered in black and grey tattoos with barbed wire, Guadalupe and praying hands. That kind of iconography really sticks with you.
Living in San Francisco definitely influences my work, it’s impossible for it not to. There are so many amazing resources at your fingertips living in the bay, from walking down the streets of Chinatown to grabbing a burrito in the mission; you’re just a bike ride away from so many influential surroundings.
Your occupation allows you to travel pretty often. Where have you gone to tattoo?
I just got back from London about a month ago. I was working at the Family Business, which is Mo Coppoletta’s shop. I really like London and wouldn’t mind ending up in that city at some point. Then in April of this year, the shop I work at, Picture Machine worked at the Rome Tattoo convention. It was a great time, and the first overseas convention the shop has ever done. I pretty much can’t take any type of trip or vacation without lining up a place to tattoo. If I’m not tattooing on a trip, I feel like I’m loosing out on opportunity. It’s a blessing and a curse.
I remember being a kid, about six or seven, going to my grandmother’s house and seeing my uncles’ low-riders outside, and covered in black and grey tattoos with barbed wire, Guadalupe and praying hands. That kind of iconography really sticks with you.
Because you are a painter as well as a tattoo artist, would you consider your tattoo technique to be painterly?
No, not at all. You can draw a tattoo anyway you want, but the application is still the same. You’re pretty restricted in tattooing compared to painting, but I have noticed my painting technique has picked up influences from my tattooing technique.
What mediums do you work with most when you are painting?
I used to have a personal studio that I could paint as large as I wanted. I was using a lot of aerosol and lacquers but since working out of my house, my art had to adapt to the environment. These days I use liquid acrylics and Indian inks.
Tell us about how you got into graffiti.
Just like any other kid at 13 or 14 who was pissed off at school, cops, and anyone of authority. I remember seeing a Huffer magazine that one of my friends picked up from a trip to L.A, and funny enough it was the magazine that Giant had published. It was the first time I saw graffiti outside of the cholo style that was so prominent in Albuquerque, and I was hooked. I was stealing markers, black books, and spray paint from my friends’ dads’ garages anything I could use to get my name up. That was in ’97, Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ98. It wasn’t until 2001, when I started painting OWN, that it all clicked and came together with me and I started painting with guys like Abno, Hour, Petro, Jukes, Wisk cdi, and Task.
When you’re not tattooing, what are you doing? What are some of your favorite spots in the city?
My favorite spot is Golden Gate Park; it’s such an oasis in the heart of the city. Every time I go to the park I can find a new trail I’ve never been down before, or a new lookout spot to sit and meditate. I like taking my motorcycle out and driving through the city, finding the next best hamburger spot, and catching art shows when I can.
Over time, through exposure to more artists, and putting in more work, I realized black and grey was way harder than I thought. There are so many ways to apply it to the skin. Now I like the way they look, age and the cohesiveness of it all.
If you could get (or give) your dream tattoo, what would it be?
To me, it’s not so much about the subject matter. Whatever the client wants, it’s my job to make the tattoo cool looking and fun to apply. I guess my favorite projects are when clients are diligent about finishing a large body of work, when they book appointments every 2-3 weeks until the tattoo is done. I love that shit! I’m not even good about that with my own personal tattoos.
What are your favorite tattoos to do on people? What are your least
favorite? Have you ever denied anyone tattoos?
I find myself making more black and grey tattoos these days. When I first started tattooing, I thought black and grey was the easy stuff, color was where it was at like tattoos that had a lot of color made them fancier and standout. But over time, through exposure to more artists, and putting in more work, I realized black and grey was way harder than I thought. There are so many ways to apply it to the skin. Now I like the way they look, age and the cohesiveness of it all. But at the end of the day I’m a tattoo artist, and if you want a red rose, I’ll give you a red rose. As far as denying people, I do that all the time. Any tattoo artist knows that people can come in with just some awful ideas and can’t be swayed on what they want. If I think it’s that bad of an idea, I just won’t do it flat out. I see a new trend among a lot of young people to have a hand tattoo without having much more work on the rest of their body. I hate that shit. I’m sure if the kid wants it bad enough they will find a tattoo artist that will be willing to do it but it’s not going to me. They can kick rocks.
I was stealing markers, black books, and spray paint from my friends’ dads’ garages anything I could use to get my name up.
Who are some of your favorite artists (tattoo, graffiti, painters, etc.)
There are too many to name Ã¢â‚¬Ëœem all….
I’d say tattoo artists are Mike Giant, Henry Lewis, Juan Puente, Jason Kundell, Patric Conlon, and Robert Ryan. Graffiti artists are Rime, Pose, Dr. Sex, Abno, Roc, Wisk, Cycle, and Kwest. And my favorite painters are Georges Seurat, John John Jesse, and Gustave Dore.
What do you see yourself doing in the next 5-10 years?
Ten years? No clue. In the next five, I would like to see myself still in the Bay Area tattooing. The idea of international travel is pretty strong in me right now, so I’m sure I’ll want to keep a lifestyle that is easy for me to just get up and go.
Are you working on any tattoos or projects now that you’re really excited about? What’s coming up for you?
Yeah, I just started two back pieces that I’m pretty excited about. It always seems like the next tattoo coming up is always the next exciting project though, you know? It’s like it never ends. I hope it stays that way for a long time. As far as art projects go, I was asked to curate a show at the Museum of Art in Los Gatos with two other artists.
Where can people find you if they want to get tattooed by you?
I work at Picture Machine Tattoo in San Francisco. You can get all the info at the shop at sftattoo.com or my personal page derickmontez.com.