New Orleans has always been a hotbed for creativity and innovation in the arts of every genre. With that artistic territory comes the less traditional forms of art; those that can't be hung on a wall in a gallery. Tattoos and other body modifications have seen a recent explosion in popularity across the world, and the number of tattoo parlors in the greater New Orleans area has grown to match it in recent years. A few shops have stood out in the crowd, gaining an international clientele and drawing visitors inside that make a new tattoo part of their New Orleans experience.
Along the packed Frenchmen Street corridor is a well-known tattoo shop that displays their business to the throng of culture seekers through large plate-glass windows lined in neon lights. Electric Ladyland has been operating at different locations beginning in the 1990s. The Frenchmen Street location opened in 2000 under the new owner Annette LaRue, who was listed in Complex Magazine's "50 Tattoo Artists You Need To Know." The shop has since thrived, even opening a second location on Earhart Boulevard and Carrolton Avenue.
"Our crew has been all over Europe, New Zealand, and everywhere in between!" says LaRue. "Our clients fly in from all over Europe, South America, Asia and Australia every week. They book appointments a few months in advance sometimes."
Tourists without a specific tattoo agenda are a good business for tattoo shops also.
"People come here, get a great tattoo, go home and tell everybody they know," says LaRue. "Pretty soon we [were] known the world over."
The waning stigma of body modifications has made looking different easier, but the shock has not necessarily gone away.
"Everyone knows someone with tattoos… the interest has tripled at least," says LaRue. "You see them everywhere and the wow factor wears off. People have to get more extreme to get more attention than the next guy."
And although tattoos are supposed to be a form of extreme self-expression, trends still play a role for some.
"The ribs are a trendy place to put them," says LaRue.
Hell or High Water Tattoo on Magazine Street is not such a fan of the burgeoning popularity of body art because of the influence of trendiness.
Co-owner and artist Jordan Barlow states, "It's good for the wallet, but for the mystique of it, I loathe it. It's kind of depressing. I mean, you see 22-year-old kids that almost have body suits. Ten years ago, it was the same idea with Mohawks. We used to get our ass beat by jocks because we had Mohawks, now jocks have Mohawks. Nothing stays sacred anymore."
Jordan mainly works on a regular clientele, many of whom travel here just for his work, including the members of the progressive rock/metal band Mastadon, Voodoo Fest 2011 headliners, who he's worked with for years.
"I deal with my regular clientele and they're open to let me create the image, and do my kind of art," he explains. "A lot of the time, they'll bring in good ideas, but they're pretty open to let me do what I want."
Trends aren't always a shallow thing, however. After the storm, many people wanted to express their love of the city with a tattoo, something that could never be washed away. Fleur de Lis designs became and are still hugely popular.
"It's always the Fleur de Lis," says Jordan. "When the Saints won the Superbowl, everyone was getting the trophy and Superbowl XLIV."
The plethora of different designs of the Fleur de Lis attest to the range of styles local artists can do. An artist's style should be taken into consideration when thinking about getting inked. For example, Walt Clark, owner of NOLA Tattoo just off of Carrolton Avenue near the river, is a very good classic artist, and is skilled with realistic portraits.
A great way to get to know your local artists and meet others from around the world is to attend the annual New Orleans Tattoo Voodoo Expo presented by Southern Comfort, Kingpin Tattoo Supply and Memphis Tattoo Co. Every Halloween weekend for 19 years, the convention has brought together artists showcasing their works, live tattooing and piercing, supply merchants and competitions and special guests like body modification human evolution artist Steve Haworth who specializes in ultra-realistic and dimensional tattoos. In 2011, more than 60 artists packed the Landmark Best Western Hotel in Metairie to indulge in all things body art.
Tattoos are becoming more socially acceptable, whether people are more open to the concept of body modification or it's simply trendy. You can peruse through thousands of pictures of body art to get an idea of the multitude of styles and innovations of modern tattoos.
"We're trying to bring the outlaw back into it," says Jordan, who feels that tattoos should make a rebellious statement.
Regardless, you should always carefully consider what you want emblazoned on you or let the experts at the best shops work with you to decide on a design. And remember, names of girlfriends or boyfriends are probably not a good choice.
Short List of NOLA Tattoo Palors
Art Accent Tattoos
1041 N. Rampart St.
581-9812 • tattooshopinneworleansla.info
6302 Saint Claude Ave. • 644-4804
Electric Ladyland Tattoo
610 Frenchman St.
947-8286 • electricladyland.net
Eye Candy Tattoos
1578 Magazine St.
299-8222 • eyecandytattoo.com
Hell or High Water Tattoo
2038 Magazine St. • 309-5411
116 Carondelet St. • 302-1270
NOLA Tattoo & Piercing
8120 Hampson St.
866-8471 • nolatattoo.com
Pigment: Custom Tattoo and Piercing
3328 Magazine St.
891-0006 • pigmenttattoo.com
4901 Canal St.
371-5872 • physicalgraffitinola.com
1815 Magazine Street
581-2005 • tabootattoostudio.com
4421 Magazine Street
899-8229 • tattooagogo.com
Tattoo Me Now
4000 Gawaain Dr.
663-9420 • tattoomenow.com
575 South Carrollton
866-3859 • uptowntattoos.net