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Rat-a-tattoo, some ink for you?

by Tina Galloway

November 22, 2011

From the banker to the bartender, it seems that everybody in this town is being “inked.”    Tattoos have become a cool, sexy ornament and Charlotte has become a haven for tattoo artistry.

The history of tattoos reaches as far back as the indigenous people of Japan, tribal groups of Taiwan, Philippines, Africa, Europe, North and South America and Polynesian peoples. The word “tattoo” itself stems from the Polynesian word “tatu” and became a loan word in the English language.  European sailors returning from long voyages brought the word and practice back to the western world and thus began the western practice of tattooing.

The tattoo culture has had some negative and positive associations over the years, ranging from connection with mafia and gang groups and tags given to concentration camp prisoners by the Nazi regime to positive association between body art, self-esteem and self-image among women, especially the young demographic.

Even with its widespread popularity, there are still religious and cultural prejudices that exist surrounding the art of tattooing. But regardless of the prejudices and negative associations, many people today are experimenting with this form of body art.

The tattoo industry has gone from the back alley to Main Street.  In generations past, mommy and daddy seldom approved of their young ones wanting to get tattoos, whereas today, they might join their children and get a few themselves.

Those who embrace tattooing know that it is more than a practice - it is a community and a culture. Contemporary and mainstream art exhibitions have featured the work of tattoo artists.  Formal acceptance of the tattoo industry as an art form began in the 1990’s and continues to gain momentum and growth today.

Tattoos also are a dominate feature of pop culture, and even spawned the reality shows on the cable station TLC, Miami Ink  and LA Ink.  But what about Charlotte? Where does Charlotte fall on the tattoo continuum?

Considered by some a conservative city, Banktown has embraced the tattoo culture and there are numerous “upscale” tattoo shops around town to prove the point.  QC residents are not hard-pressed to find a tattoo artist, others who have tattoos or a community of those who embrace tattoo artistry.

But who are the stars of the Charlotte tattoo community and just how good are they? I wanted to learn.

To answer that question I took it to the streets - hip 'hoods where even hipper residents display their artistic expression prominently.

I ended up first in NoDa; that shouldn’t be surprising - it’s the Arts district and so I would expect it to contain some of the best tattoo artistry that Charlotte offers. Fu’s Custom Tattoo was my first stop.

Fu’s has been in business since 2001, moving in 2009 from North Tryon Street to its current location at Davidson Street on the main strip of the NoDa Arts District.

What makes Fu’s unique among other tattoo shops is that it houses Baku Art Gallery next door, combining the clean aesthetic of a contemporary art gallery with the eclectic expression of a tattoo parlor and creating a unique visual experience and novelty occurrence for visitors. Even if you have no intention of getting a tattoo, the space is still a recommended stop when visiting NoDa and has become one of the busiest businesses in the neighborhood since its relocation to 3200 Davidson Street. Walk-ins should schedule a consultation.

Right around the corner is another notable tattoo shop, 510 Expert Tattoo. It is not as visually inviting as Fu’s, but is equally clean and professional and just around the corner.

510 specializes in custom art and giving customers a voice, so good service, artistry and reasonable prices are the bottom line. And judging from the satisfaction my friend experienced as a customer and the lines of customers waiting for their tattoos, that is exactly what you get at 510 Expert Tattoo. The shop proves that sometimes simple is just that - simple.

Next, I left NoDa for Southend, not typically thought a haven for Charlotte tattoo artists. Since 2010 however, it houses one of the most respected and talented tattoo artists in Charlotte and arguably the world: Paris Pierides of Paris Tattoos.

Paris Tattoos is located in Southend not by chance, but to create distance from other areas such as NoDa and Plaza Midwood, which contain more-established tattoo shops.  Paris illustrates just how accepted the artistry of tattoo has become when it can exist and still thrive apart from - and away from - its artistic community.   Paris is a graduate of Parson’s School of Design in New York and has won many awards and accolades, making him one of the premiere tattoo artists in the world.

Finally, I ended my journey in Plaza Midwood--home to the most eclectic assortment of residents of any Charlotte neighborhood--at Ace Custom Tattoos. The shop is a Charlotte tattoo icon; if you mention tattoos, many will point you in its direction, promising “this is the best shop in Charlotte.”

Judging from the portfolio of work I saw coming from Ace, I would agree that if not the best tattoo shop in Charlotte, Ace Custom Tattoos should be noted as one of the top Charlotte tattoo salons and is a must-have on your list of shops to check out when considering a tattoo.

Bet you can’t get just one!


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