Nikko Hurtado

Artists - Studios - Issue 24

The renowned Nikko Hurtado gave an exclusive interview to HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine. He talked about his beginning, the "traditional" apprenticeship he did and its importance, his influences, his appearances on American television, the globalisation and commercialisation of tattoo, as well as if tattoo is really accepted nowadays, while he didn't forget to mention how lucky he feels he is.

Photos & interview by Ino Mei.

How did you get involved with tattooing?

I started tattooing about fifteen years ago. One of my best friends at the time, Mike Demasi, had started tattooing two years before me and offered to teach me. So he kind of got me started tattooing.

What did you do before that? 

I was just doing constructions, just working… I wasn’t doing anything artistic or creative.

How did the artistic part come up then?

I’ve been drawing my whole life, since I was a kid. I also took art classes, but after school I never did anything with art, I only did constructions for two or three years, and then tattoo came along and I was very lucky.

So we could say your interaction with tattoo was rather coincidental?

Yes, pretty much. I’d given up any kind of art and when my buddy opened this tattoo shop, that’s how I started getting back into art because I started tattooing.

Did you apprentice there?

Yes, I apprenticed, pretty traditionally, for about a year. I washed tubes, I cleaned the floor, set everyone up, broke everyone down, clean the shop, clean the toilets, I did everything.

What happened next?

I tattooed for about three years there and I then I moved on. I ended up tattooing from my house for about six months and then I met Jamie Schene, that works with me now. I worked at his shop “Ignition” for about four years and then I opened “Black Anchor”, my tattoo shop about seven years ago. 

Tattooing has treated me really well. About four or five years in tattooing I got a lot of really good opportunities and ways to show my work. I was able to be on TV and I was in many articles. I have just been really lucky with tattooing and I am grateful for that. 

How did you get involved with television?

I was in one show on TLC, called “Tattoo Wars”, and it was just a show with two people from different parts of the country that would have a competition and meet at a convention. That was the first experience with TV and then a week later I filmed with “LA Ink” and that was the first time I tattooed with Kat Von D and I tattooed on Kat on the show, and then from there it has just been ever since, I just have little cameos here and there on TV. I have always been really fortunate for people that want to get tattooed by me.

Do you think TV has helped your career to take off faster?

I guess so, although I feel my career was fast from the start. When I was an apprentice I was already fully busy. I always had a lot of work. I always felt that tattooing kind of chose me because I didn’t search for it really hard. From the day I started tattooing everything kind of went really fast, and it hasn’t really slow down… I’m just lucky and I work hard, at least I try to.

Tell me about your tattoo style.

I just do realistic tattooing. I like portraits and realism, that’s what I kind of gravitate to and want to do. I do both colour and black & grey. I would say I am more known for colour, however I do a lot of black & grey too, and I enjoy it.

When did you start focussing on realism? 

I probably gave into realism, six months after I got involved with tattooing. I have been doing solid realistic colour portrait work for about fourteen years. So I’ve been doing it for a very long time. There was a lot to learn, because first I didn’t know what I was doing. Some of my favourite work is some of the first work I did because it was so raw. I felt that it was a certain element of it that was different. It was just more intuitive instead of so thought out…

What are your main influences?

In the beginning and for the first ten years I was influenced more by tattoo artists like Bob Tyrrell, Tom Renshaw, Cory Cudney, Guy Aitchison, Boris, Robert Hernandez. There are so many great artists to look up to, and I am still influenced and inspired by them, although nowadays I am more inspired by art; any kind of art in the world. I used to look more the Renaissance period, more classical art. Lately I’ve been liking a lot of modern art and I’ve been really paying attention to different works that I wouldn’t normally look at, so I am always inspired by different things.

Are there trends in your opinion when it comes to tattooing?

I think that trends are kind of always around but I believe that people that do something and do it well will always be around it doing. Like black & grey realism started with Jack Rudy and it was probably big and it is still pretty big and a lot of people do it, but it is just not new. 

Now we come across various mixtures of different tattoo styles. I like seeing the growth of tattooing. 

What do you think about the globalisation and commercialisation of tattoo?

Tattoo has of course become popular. Globally it’s a lot bigger and more exciting, and yes the industry is huge, but I still think that compared to other industries tattoo industry is relatively small. I don’t think tattoo is as popular as people think it is. I think it was underground, like really-really underground, and I still think it is kind of underground. I think tattoo is still taboo in some way, and in some places, but I don’t think it is as much. It’s accepted but not fully yet. 

As my generation and the generation around my age gets older, the more receptive they will be of tattoo. They will choose to get tattoos which will render it more socially accepted which I think is a good thing. I like that. 

So you reckon that in forty years, tattoo is going to be perhaps fully accepted?

For sure. Because everybody is going to have a tattoo. Like, think about the generations right now, that are forty, thirty, and twenty years old… A lot of them have tattoos but if you look at the older generations, they don’t have that many. So, those people will start getting old, and eventually they’ll go away, and then our generation will come up. The only thing is that our kids maybe will not want to get tattoos because they will want to rebel!

That’s a really good point actually!

Yeah, kids saying: “ that, I don’t want to be like my parents”. Well, you never know what is going to happen!

We are currently in Paris at a European tattoo convention. Do you see any differences compare to the American ones?

With globalisation I believe that is more or less the same. I think the world is changing, and when it comes to tattooing social media and especially Instagram changed everything; they made everything so much smaller.

This show is one of the biggest shows I’ve ever done, and it’s one of the coolest too. Right now in the world there are many tattoo shows that aren’t that good. A lot of people will put on shows just to make money. 

Nowadays, a great number of young people want to become tattooers. Tattooing has proven to be a job orientation, and apparently a good one for many. What would you advise this generation of young blood? 

Before I could get an apprenticeship, I tried to get into tattooing and they told me I would never make it and that I would never be able to become a good tattooer, and that I should just give up. I was rejected a lot at the beginning. I believe if you really want something and you are passionate about it, you should go for it. Just do it the right way; do an apprenticeship and do it with heart, love, passion and do your best. 

I don’t really worry about all that stuff, I know many people who are really negative and are like: “don’t do it, don’t become a tattooer”, but to me it’s the best thing that has ever happened in my life so why would I not tell people to do it? 

Follow your dreams, do whatever you want but do it right and respect the tattooing and the tattooers before you. Yeah, it’s a lucky life.

Tattoo work photographs courtesy of Black Anchor Collective.