by George Petros

Ink-slinging iconoclasts at NEW YORK ADORNED
offer it all to a fortunate few.
GEORGE PETROS gets lucky.

Follow the fabulous ink trail into NEW YORK ADORNED. Orange-and-black ambience envelops a laid-back retail area. Step through another door into a tattoo parlor staffed by Gotham’s finest flesh artists. Machines buzz, walls display gorgeous flash, and a few smiles crack. DJ Shadow and Outkast fill the airwaves.

In addition to tattoos, this epidermal emporium offers piercing, jewelry, accessories (such as nostril diamonds and rings for stretched ears), and plush antique couches upon which customers confer with staff. A true art collective, it includes numerous VIP tattooists working together and inspiring one another. Additionally, guest artists make appearances: Juan Puente, Timothy Hoyer, Daniel Higgs, Cris Garver, Jason Brooks, Alex Binnie, and Omi James.

Proprietor LORI LEVAN creates jewelry. “I work in all different golds. I mix metals. I travel to India so I’m influenced by Indian jewelry. I collect old Indian gold.” Thus the retail section of New York Adorned feels like Halloween in the Taj Mahal.

How did she come to own all this? “I opened it seven years ago. I was the manager of East Side Ink, with Andrea Elston and Sean Vasquez. We started that shop in ’93 because there wasn’t a young voice for tattooing in New York. At that time it was illegal, so everything was underground. My vision was to harness all that energy into one place. And I wanted to further that with New York Adorned. Tattooers are happiest working with other tattooers who challenge them and make them think. They want to push the envelope.”


The tattooists comprise a revealing amalgam of current styles. Americana, with its eagles and eightballs, serves as the foundation of it all. But Asian sensibilities dominate, considering the preponderance of Japanese imagery. For example, Kaz arrived here from Tokyo in ’97. His fiery style, learned in the land of the rising sun, fits right into the shop vibe. “I started tattooing in Tokyo. I had an apprenticeship with Horiwaka — two years of study and two years of private studio work. After that I came to New York. This city has a lot to offer an artist — good work opportunities, museums, art classes. Living here also helps me learn more about Japan by gaining perspective. I also want to learn more about American tattoo subject matter in order improve my work. Just like in Japanese art, it’s important to understand the story and history behind a tattoo. I just want to focus on becoming a better artist with each tattoo. Thank you.” •


A cool guy with a hot hand, Chris O’Donnell draws everything from rocket ships to rock art. His subjects’ skin textures enhance his compositions. Chris, what style do you like? “Japanese style, influenced by old paintings, prints, and the tattoo tradition of Japan. And a lot of Eastern religious subject matter, like Tibetan and Indian imagery, as well as traditional Americana imagery — hearts, daggers, ships, roses, panthers.”

Q: What constitutes the Japanese traditional stuff?

A: Skulls, flowers, dragons, stuff like that.

Q: How did you get started?

A: I lucked into an apprenticeship right after high school in Richmond, Virginia, where I grew up. I drew all the time, picking up stuff from comic books, skateboard graphics, whatever I was into. Tattooing was incredibly hard to learn. I had to learn to draw correctly — it’s hard to do anything abstract. When people ask you for something specific, you have to be able to do it.

Q: What’s the secret of doing a good flower?

A: Practice, and keeping it simple.

Q: What’s your approach to color?

A: I like to use a lot of black and put the color next to it, to make it seem brighter. It’s hard to do color without a solid foundation of black.

Q: Will you tattoo anything?

A: No, I turn down ideas all the time. If it’s a style I don’t specialize in, I’m not gonna do it.

Q: What did you tattoo on Richard Belzer?

A: His wife’s name. Celebrities don’t generally get big, brightly-colored Japanese work.

Q: Who does?

A: A lot of tattoo artists. It’s not a spur-of-the-moment thing.

Q: Do they design it?

A: No, I wouldn’t do it. They come to me for my style.

Q: Whose work do you like?

A: Ed Hardy, Eddy Deutsche, Tim LeHi.

Q: So what’s coming up?

A: You’re only as good as your last tattoo. •


Spiraling flowers, flames, and feathers pervade Troy Denning’s delicate work. Smooth but authoritative, the Michigan native puts permanent masterpieces into supple skin. He explains his proclivity for oriental ornamentation: “I do a lot of Asian-style stuff, because there’s an established language for large, dynamic tattoos. Asian style is a final destination; most people who get tattooed over a long period of time end up with that style. You see early photos of people from the turn of the century with the same images.”

Q: Recall the first tattoo you did.

A: A gangster with a pit bull, on some guy in his kitchen. I’ve started and quit tattooing at least ten times. Every tattoo I did, I’d be like, “This is too difficult.” The difference between drawing and doing a tattoo is so vast. A lot of people who can draw really well think that they’re going to conquer the world with tattooing, and they get discouraged fast. I’ve also seen people who weren’t as natural at it stick with it and actually become something. It’s about dedication.

Q: Tattooists seem to stick to their own particular styles —

A: Absolutely. Somebody who is a specialist in, say, Japanese style — they don’t give a shit about anything else. The same for somebody who does, say, Americana only. They could care less about the fuckin‘ graffiti-style tattooing, for example. Every style of art has a corresponding tattoo style, be it skateboard graphics, graffiti art, low-rider graphics, whatever. I don’t like 99 percent of all the tattoos that I see. They’ve got the technical aspect down, but there seems to be a lot less soul. When tattoo people were more marginalized, they were more likely to be getting tattooed out of desperation. It was more pure. Nowadays it’s more of a fashion accessory. •


Mike Rubendall sits on his bench, an expanse of exposed flesh before him. He dips up and down, his head following the tattoo machine’s course. His work explodes off the flesh in lightning-like spears. Mike, what’s your favorite tattoos? “Japanese and American traditional are the most common subjects. Both styles are open, they have heavy lines and heavy color, and they’re timeless.”

Q: What influenced you?

A: Hardcore music. I’d go to the shows, and all these icons up on stage had tattoos. Henry Rollins, Cro-Mags, Sick Of It All, Pantera. My older brother had a ton of tattoos, and he suggested I get an apprenticeship. I was always able to draw, from a young age. It was all downhill from there.

Q: How do you feel when you’re working?

A: Relaxed. That’s my time to think; otherwise I’m running around like a madman. I’m high-strung but I’m very laid back when I tattoo.

Q: How often do you do it?

A: I would say ten hours a day, six days a week. I’ve gotta try to not be consumed by tattooing all the time. •


Dreadlocked Yoni Z brings a charmingly modern touch to the mix. From Mark Ryden images to robot skulls, Virgin Marys to winged Egyptian damsels, his work proclaims simplicity and boldness. He tells his story with exuberance, always smiling.

Q: Where do you come from?

A: Tel Aviv, Israel. There’s a lot of tattooing. It’s a new thing. It hasn’t become part of the culture yet. Nowadays most people who aren’t religious think it’s okay, it’s just a piece of art. Orthodox people don’t get tattooed, but there are a lot of tattoos in Israel. Few people think about religion when it’s time to get tattooed.

Q: How did you get into it?

A: I started getting tattooed when I was really young. I hung out in tattoo shops. The guy who tattooed me, Avi Vananu, decided to teach me.

Q: How did you wind up in New York?

A: Just in the course of my traveling. Tattooing and traveling go together.

Q: Describe your style.

A: I don’t know if I have a style. I don’t want to get bored, so I do everything. I think it’s the best job in the world. Every night when I go to sleep, I’m thinking about the next day’s tattooing. •


In Stephanie Tamez’s work, words shout out, typography flows over flesh, making her the master letterer of the moment. Stark images in low-key color move in synch with muscle: birds, roses, et cetera. Stephanie, how did you get into this racket? “I knew Filip Leu’s sister. I wanted a tattoo, so she recommended me to her brother. I went to Switzerland and got tattooed by him. That was my first exposure to tattoo shops. I was almost thirty years old. I’d been an artist all my life. I worked in television and graphic design. Filip and I became friends and he suggested I get into tattooing. Before New York Adorned, I tattooed with Emma Griffith at Porcupine. Before that I was in San Francisco with Bill and Junni Salmon from Diamond Club.”

Q: What’s your signature style?

A: Fine-line stuff, black-and-gray work, and I like lettering; I specialize in that. I’m kind of a minimalist — I like strong, simple images. Less is more. I’m not the Japanese expert like most people who work here.

Q: What was the first tattoo you did?

A: It was on myself, a sort-of abstract question mark. My favorite one was a pair of eagles I did on a guy. Very simple, and he has no other tattoos, so they look really stark. Tattooing has changed my life. It’s been a really crazy ride. When I got my first tattoo, I felt different. It created a whole chain of events. Yeah — it’s a chain reaction. •


New Jersey native Tom Yak adds humor to his formulary. In his work, animated images charge across the body — or a sumptuous pineapple sits in solitary regality. Tom, how did you get started? “I was getting a lot of tattoos. I was drawing a lot, so it made sense to take a shot at doin‘ it. One thing led to another and it’s been blood ever since. I try to get a balance between East and West, taken from traditional American style with an Eastern aesthetic.

Q: How do they differ?

A: Imagery. As far as the application, nothing. Traditional Americana is more patriotic, with eagles, hearts, and daggers, whereas Japanese design is more floral or religious. I take influences from everything.

Q: Anything you don’t like?

A: Yeah — there’s too much to list.

Q: What has surprised you?

A: How people’s true colors come out while they’re being tattooed. Under the needle, I’ve heard girlfriends bitch out boyfriends — people start talking and telling me their deepest secrets.

Q: Ever heard anything you wish you hadn’t?

A: Every day. I mean every day. I tattooed a prosecutor today.

Q: What did they say?

A: I can’t talk about it. He swore me to a tattooer-tattooee oath. You’ll hear about it on the news. Criminals, lawyers, doctors, students, mothers, fathers — we do them all. •

Indeed! The list of VIPs who patronize this amazing shop never ends: Alyssa Milano, Kiki Smith, Britney Spears, Pink, Christine Aguilera, Lenny Kravitz, Drea DeMatteo, Narcisco Rodriguez, Richard Belzer, Damon Dash, Kimora Simmons, Dean Winters, Terry Richardson, Kristy Hume, Donovan Leitch, Vince Gallo, Rose McGowan et al. And, the staff is great. If you want that special tattoo, this is the place. •••

New York Adorned
47 Second Avenue, NYC 10003