Tattoo Age: Valerie Vargas (Part 2/3)

Uploaded by vice on Sep 19, 2012


DANTE DIMASSA (OFFSCREEN): Well, this is the next
generation of tattooers.
The next generation of tattooers that grew up with
the internet, and with computers, are
different from me.
You see, I didn't grow up with that.
You have access to the internet wherever you are.
Even now, you do a great tattoo with your iPhone, boom,
stick it up on your Instagram.
You've barely finished it.
But everybody [INAUDIBLE] my shop does this.
Everybody's young, that's what it is.
My opinion is that everybody has an opinion.
And the internet is a great place to air your opinion.
A lot of time people don't give a
fuck about your opinion.
Just keep doing the work.
This is my opinion.
If you want to validate yourself as a good tattoo
artist, and you choose the internet to put your work out
there, put it out there.
Don't give a fucking opinion.
Do you know what I mean?
Because that's only your opinion.

Again, that's my opinion.

STEFANO C.: Dante, or Danny, as many people know him, I've
known him for a long time.
He's got his own fetish for denim and [INAUDIBLE]
He wants to look cool.
MALE SPEAKER: I can't help but look at myself in the mirror
wherever I am.
MALE SPEAKER: Yep, I love myself.

STEFANO C.: He's like a very good friend of mine.
He took me down on his protective wing.
Didn't come for free.
I had to work very hard for it.
Yeah, but he gave me the chance to get me [? in the ?]
But through him, I had the chance to see
lots of good stuff.
DANTE DIMASSA NARRATING: The great thing about Frith Street
is that we end up showcasing really young tattoo artists
that have a lot of talent.
DANTE DIMASSA: This is Frith Street, everybody.
It's just gone that way.
We showcase young talent.
STEFANO C.: Now it's me, Jordan Teear.
There's Emiliano Liberatori, Valerie Vargas.
There's Stewart Robson, Oliver Macintosh, and Miles Champlin.
DANTE DIMASSA NARRATING: Frith Street contributed to what's
tattooing in London, or in England, is today.
DANTE DIMASSA: There's been a few key shops over the last 10
years that have done a lot of great, great work.
But also a lot of key artists.
We're fortunate right now that we're flavor of the month.
So I suppose the right people wanted to be involved in here
and I think the hard work.
That's what counts.
That's what might of made it like this, I think.
VALERIE VARGAS: We've always discussed amongst ourselves
that Frith Street feels a bit like boot camp.
You come here, and if you're open, and you work hard, you
will be exposed to anything and everything
that's good in tattooing.
STEWART ROBSON: It's where young tattooists come.
And they get whipped, and broken, and
driven into the ground.
And then you come out a stronger, better soldier in
the end of it.
STEFANO C.: Frith Street has been like a kind
of stage for people.
You are definitely in the place where you got a
spotlight on you.
And you get busy because there's a big
demand in the shop.
So you try out different things until you
get on your set style.
DANTE DIMASSA NARRATING: You see, with Stewart, for
example, Stewart kind of knew what he wanted to do when he
came and worked here.
I don't think Valerie knew what she wanted to do.
She hadn't quite yet found her groove.

VALERIE VARGAS: This will have to be Stewart's, actually.
I don't think it's mine.
Yeah, it weighs a fucking ton.
He just did everything, tribal,
black and grey, Japanese.
That's my chess piece that he did for me.
So frickn' painful.
What is this?
Nah, this is Stewart's as well, again doing everything.
So fucking good, honestly.
STEWART ROBSON: I think Valerie says
she looks up to me.
And I think it feels like I'm justified in
speaking about it.
But I think she probably just feels like she's more of an
apprentice, or she's certainly less experienced.
But, maybe that's because I'm more used to analyzing my
thoughts, while she works more gut instinct.
But having someone to look up to allows her to just run wild
with her instincts, because she knows that there's someone
there to catch her if she falls.
Not that she ever does fall.
But that mental safety net has helped her kind of really get
somewhere, I think.

VALERIE VARGAS: I've always had some sort of website.
And I had just drawing, sketches,
ramblings on my blog.
Nothing exciting.
I just did a couple of commission pieces.
This is basically what somebody that doesn't know
what's going on tried to draw.
And they can draw.
I mean just because you can draw, doesn't mean you can
tattoo, know how to draw for a tattoo.

This is from a girl, actually.
She stands in my mind as being the first customer that was
like, I just like the way you do your thing.
Can you kind of do something for me?
And we came up with these designs.
They were the first designs that I thought, I'm liking
where I'm going now, rather than just
blindly stumbling along.
I think being at Frith Street, and very quickly falling into
some sort of category, meant that I've not really done a
lot of everything else.
And when you only doing one style, one thing, for a period
of time, you're going to get better quickly, to understand
things quicker, and you can develop quicker.
STEFANO C.: I remember Valerie coming to the shop.
She didn't have a set style at the time.
Obviously, she wasn't tattooing for a long time.
And then that she came in with a portfolio.
And I remember seeing a couple of pinups.
It wasn't what she's doing now, obviously, because the
evolution of tattoo work starts whenever you find
yourself comfortable in a place.
And I guess she did find Frith Street as a place to settle
down and start doing whatever she does now.
VALERIE VARGAS: Frith Street, we hit the ground running.
It was so busy.
We were booked up weeks for a couple weeks at a time.
It was crazy.
I didn't know what I was doing.
It was just so scary.
And I wanted to impress Dante.
And I wanted to make sure that he felt like he had done the
right thing by giving not only me a job, and Stewart a job,
but a couple a job.
STEWART ROBSON: When we first come down to Frith Street,
definitely the first six months, anything in life was
VALERIE VARGAS: The technical aspect of it, how it feels on
the skin, and the tension when you stretch your hand, and
All that stuff, came very slowly to me.
But again, having a friend that only had the best
interests at heart to help me, really built up your
STEWART ROBSON: And we were so focused on trying to make
tattooing work, we were both in our first five years.
In the first five years, you're an infant.
You're busy soaking everything up, and trying to learn, and
trying to just cope with tattooing.
VALERIE VARGAS: The busier it got, the better my technical
ability got, as well.
I do think that my drawing and my design work developed ahead
of that, however.
But I managed to catch up fairly quickly, I feel.

STEWART ROBSON: She started really digging back in to old
tattoo times, and looking at Ed Hardy's work form
the '70s and '80s.
And then she realized that Ed Hardy figured out the stuff
she was trying to do almost before she was born.
And he nailed it.
So then she used that as a starting point.
She spring-boarded off that and see where she could go.
And I think that's when her work matured, and the style
shifted into a more adult style.
VALERIE VARGAS: To me there is certain things that are
tattoos that look like tattoos.
And the quintessential tattoo design is either a rose or a
skull, for me, really.
And if you have neither, then you can't call yourself
tattooed, yet.
I don't think.
I think the turning point for me was a nesting doll.
It was one of the first ones I ever done.
I remember a lot of people begun bringing that.
They would print it, and bring it, and wanted me to do it.
A few months after that, like two or three months, that's
when I noticed I was getting busier, booked up for three to
four months.
STEWART ROBSON: She tried to put a barrier between all the
phone calls that would come every day.
Every single day there'd be maybe 10 to 15 people, I want
to get tattooed by Valerie.
But they didn't want little tattoos.
They wanted big three, four, five session tattoos.
And there's not enough time in the day to tattoo that.
And then 10 people, 10 new people.
So she had to have a waiting list.
And then she didn't really want that.
VALERIE VARGAS: I know that I'm booked up till October.
hello, hello?
If you get back in touch, whenever you want to get
tattooed, you might have to wait a few months.
Or you might--
STEWART ROBSON: She's finally got through that.
It took two or three years to get through that.
And for someone who's only been tattooing five or six
years, that's a long portion of your
career to be in demand.


You don't want to go underneath this, do you?
I've got a hat.

STEWART ROBSON: We've spoken to Dante about
our long-term plans.
VALERIE VARGAS: And we were thinking, what happens next?
If we want to settle, if we want to have a family?
Are we going to stay in London?
Are we gonna stay at Frith Street?
STEWART ROBSON: Dante's been so great to us.
So trusting with his time and letting us develop the way we
needed to develop.

VALERIE VARGAS: He gave us this huge chunk of trust.
And what did we have to do with it?
We just made it work for all three of us.
STEWART ROBSON: And been supportive in personal
matters, and in business, and in tattooing.
VALERIE VARGAS: And really, for the person that has given
us, technically speaking, the keys to the rest of our life.
STEWART ROBSON: As well as owing everything to tattooing,
we owe everything in tattooing to Dante.
VALERIE VARGAS: And that's part of the reason why I
helped my mother move from Scotland to London.
STEWART ROBSON: And really London, and Frith Street, is
the best place for us.
VALERIE VARGAS: We finally made the decision that, yup,
this is where we're going to be.

VALERIE VARGAS (OFFSCREEN): Yeah, we still got to do the
bum cheeks.
We're leaving that to last.
Aha, aha ha.
another reason I cancelled.
Yeah, yeah.
Ha ha.
Oh shit, bum cheeks next.