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chris51 introA few years ago I discovered the TV show “Epic Ink” and I was surprised by their stuff. Studio Area 51 is a geeks' paradise: Gremlins, Star Wars, Sci-Fi, Comics, Computer Games - here you can find the best tattoo artists that can make your dream tattoo. I was looking forward to having somebody from this amazing team in our project and today I'm really proud of presenting you our interview with Chris 51 – the owner of Area 51 Tattoo – he won many tattoo world awards and he has wonderful examples of his art on his skin.

Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: When did you get your first tattoo and what was it? Did it take much time until you decided to get it done?
Chris 51: My first was an Atlanta Braves tattoo. Being a huge baseball fan, I took the plunge as soon as I turned 18. At the time, sports tattoos were virtually unheard of so people thought I was a fool, but when the Braves became great a few years later I looked like a genius, haha.

RoD: How many tattoos do you have? Could you please tell us their story?
Chris 51: Waaaay too many to count. After you have been in the industry as long as I have they all blur in to one. Now I look more for the few patches of blank canvas I have left lol. My tattoos don’t have a grand moral agenda or deep spiritual meaning, they are mostly cartoons and geeky shit so they are simply there to make me happy and remind me of my nostalgic childhood.

RoD: Have you already got all the tattoos that you wanted or will you get some new ones in the future?
Chris 51: I am always looking for the perfect cartoons to fit the remaining few spots I have left. It’s a constant quest, call it a Johnny Quest…

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RoD: Have all your tattoos been done by one tattoo artist or by different ones? How do you choose the tattoo artist? In addition, who draws your sketches?
Chris 51: Lots of different artists. Mostly now they are done by my employees / friends Kyler Shinn and Casey Baker, or the amazing geek-artists I recruit to be a part of my Geeksterink Legends tattoo tour. I don’t sketch shit (haha), I let the geniuses at Hanna Barbera, Looney Tunes or Simpsons do that and I pay tribute to them.

RoD: Getting tattooed hurts, how do you cope with the pain during the sessions?
Chris 51: I fuckin hate it. I am a huge pussy when getting tattooed. I just take the pain, but not well lol.

RoD: Do you regret getting tattooed sometimes?
Chris 51: NEVER! Tattoos are a part of my story, my history and my legacy. Even the dumb ones represent a time in my life when their meaning was important to me for some reason. I love that I have the passion for things enough to throw caution to the wind and just get what’s in my heart. A lot of people go through life without that kind of passion or risk, and I feel sorry for those souls.

RoD: You are a tattoo artist yourself. How did you come to this? And how many years you already working as tattoo artist?
Chris 51: I owned a music store in the early 2000’s. When Napster hit and downloading started, the bottom fell out of the independent music store market. I decided to get creative to stay in business and add a tattoo station in my store. At that time there was no tattoo TV or mainstream love for the art, so finding someone I trusted around my inventory was difficult. After turning away a sea of ex-cons and tweekers I decided to just try it myself. After my first line of my first tattoo, I was like “fuck the music store, this is what I was meant to do?” I got rid of the records and opened Area 51 Tattoo in 2003. I have never worked for another shop, and I never could, I am way too much of a control freak and workaholic.

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RoD: When did you do your first tattoo as tattoo artist?
Chris 51: As an apprentice in Eugene, OR around 2002-03.

RoD: Which is your style as a tattoo artist?
Chris 51: Cartoon, animation and illustration. I use to be a realism artist but found that trying to replicate flawless animation art and executing perfect line work and colour saturation is much more fun and challenging.

RoD: I was really delighted with the Epic Ink show. You are simply an amazing team. How did you meet each other? And how was the "Epic Ink” show born? And please tell us a little bit about your new book.
Chris 51 Being a passionate geek my whole life, and after tattooing at a couple comic cons I saw an interest and need in bringing my passion to a larger audience. I was tired of the few tattoo shows out that were representing my kind in a hostile, negative and brutish manner. Everyone I knew was opposite of that stigma, and I knew people would be drawn to a different type of scenario. I wanted to tap in to the geek demographic, who nobody but AMC’s Comic Book Men was paying attention to. So I created Epic Ink. I casted some of my good friends in the industry whom I knew had not only great tattoo talent but great personalities for TV. I was able to make the show my way and have a lot of control, and I am very proud of how it turned out. It changed our lives forever. My new book, Alpha Geek is literally about everything. I am not pretentious enough to think people want to just read about my life, so I made up a new format that encompassed a little of everything. It’s about everything from fatherhood and business to how I made my own TV show and the World’s biggest tattoo tour. It’s motivational and edgy. As it says on the cover, its: A hard-working, nonconforming, control-freaking TV reality star’s Epic design for inventing yourself in life, business and fatherhood, and taking no shit in the tattoo generation.

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RoD: What is your taboo in terms of tattoos? What kind of tattoo would you never get done to you and will never do as tattoo artist?
Chris 51: I will get a lot of flak for this, and really don’t care, but I can’t stand American traditional tattoos. I respect the great artists that do it, and its history in our culture, but quite frankly, lots of the designs are god-awful ugly. Funny thing is, most of my tattoos have that same simple approach to bold lines and clean colours that traditional tattoos do, I just like the subject matter much better. What I do love though are guys like James Mullin who take a traditional approach, but do pop-culture subjects and focus more on proper colour theory, background contrast and colour blending. Colour theory and contrast are the most important factors to tattooing in my world, and I find that a lot of younger artists don’t study those subjects enough. Some dont even own a colour wheel!

RoD: Some people say that the drive to acquire body art is addictive while others say it fails to meet the true definition of an addiction, simply calling it a passion. Is it really impossible to stop?
Chris 51:
It’s absolutely possible to stop, I don’t think the art form itself is addicting, because unless you are a sadist they really suck to get, haha. What is addictive is an individual’s behaviour towards something they are so passionate about that they absolutely have to share it with the world and express it in the most dedicated way possible. Of course they do look bad-ass too, but people that get them just for that reason are the douchbags I try and avoid.

RoD: Currently, tattoos are a new trend; many people do not care about the meaning, they just want to have something coloured on the skin, to be in trend. Those people often just go into a tattoo salon and ask which drafts they have. Tattoo artists are not artists any more, they produce consumer goods. Not all of them, of course. How do you feel about this situation? Also from the point of view as a tattooed person and as tattoo artist?
Chris 51: This is a tricky one for me, being in the public eye after having a TV show and currently working on another. I tend to be less judgemental towards the reasoning behind one’s tattoos, and more concerned that they are done properly. If someone wants a piece of art from an artist just because they are popular or they like his/her vibrant and catchy colour work and art, then why the fuck not?! You hang paintings in your house because you love that artist right? With all the depressing shit going on in this world, sometimes you need ink on you just to make you smile and forget about the real world for a minute.

Tattoo artists have always been about consumer goods. Whether it was hanging flash in your shop on the beach that was full of dolphins and sunsets or having nothing but Harley flash in your biker shop, tattoo artists have always catered to their consumers surroundings because they need to make a living. It is just more exposed now with social media. The curtain has been removed from the wizard’s Oz and now people find issues with it? That’s just being close-minded and a horrible businessman. As long as a tattoo artist sticks to his principals and treats every tattoo like it’s the most important tattoo ever, then I see no problem in exploiting current trends and fashions in the genre. I personally am a tattoo snob, and I have earned that right through hard work, longevity and entrepreneurialism, so I only tattoo what I want and what I am passionate about!

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RoD: I would like to talk about the social aspect of tattoos, too. Previously, many people believed that if you have a tattoo, you will be never be successful and will not find a "good" job. Have this state of mind and people's perceptions changed or are these prejudices still alive?
Chris 51: I believe that with TV bringing tattoo attention to the mainstream mom and pop masses, this has changed. We still have a long way to go, but it’s definitely better. Corporate businesses are now starting to institute policies allowing exposed tattoos. I don’t think they have a choice anymore, or they drastically eliminate a lot of their young work force. That being said, you still have lots of shitty homemade and prison tattoos out there that should be allowed or seen anywhere, haha! I wouldn’t hire someone with shitty ink either!

RoD: Which advice would you give to people who are going to get their first tattoo? How to choose a tattoo artist? Colour or black and white? Any practical advice?
Chris 51: My advice can be summed up with one word… RESEARCH! Don’t just put the words flower tattoo in to google if you want a flower. Look at the exact style you want first. Make sure the shop you go to has someone who specializes in that particular style, not just a guy who “can” do it. Portfolios always have been and always will be the most important thing to check. Always look at line work first (except for realism). Are the lines shaky or uneven? If so run, don’t walk, because they need a lot more practice. What about colouring? Is it blotchy or dull? You research things like restaurants on yelp before you eat and you research cars before you buy, so why the fuck wouldn’t you research something going on your body for life?

Thanks guys, this was fun!

At the end, here are some pics of Chris' work.

workof chris51 01 bartensteinworkof chris51 02 batmanworkof chris51 03 bobsburgers

workof chris51 04 mikeyworkof chris51 05 mrfixitworkof chris51 06 powerpuffgirls

workof chris51 07 r2tea2

Instagram @ChrisFiftyOne
FB, Twitter @Chris51

Project by Daria Tessa and Daniela Vorndran, Interview by Daria Tessa
All pictures by Chris51

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