Hope Gallery Tattoo
From left: Rachel Derken, Julio Rodriguez, Phil Young, Eric Merrill, Christian Perez, Tim Harris, Joe Capobianco.
HOPE GALLERY TATTOO
835 Woodward Ave.
New Haven, CT
Joe Capobianco may be best known to TV fans as the intimidating and outspoken judge on Oxygen’s Best Ink who has a penchant for slick pompadours and bowling shirts, but the tattoo community knows him best as the man who helms Hope Gallery. Alongside Eric Merrill and Julio Rodriguez, he busts out the most animated pin-ups in the industry. While the show has brought new faces into the shop, it’s Capobianco’s off-camera cast that keeps customers coming back.
“Hope got its reputation from being a place full of great tattooers,” people come to us because of the reputation we’ve attained doing what we’re good at than a TV show.”
Capobianco opened Hope Gallery in 2003 on a whim, after a dissatisfying stint renting a room to tattoo. Its imposing, cold, concrete edifice makes way to a rather inviting and expansive industrial interior space. Bathed in warm earth tones and set with distressed wooden floors, the shop has enough personal touches—like an Elvis-themed bathroom, leopard-patterned couches, a penny-covered bar, an insect moratorium, and even a life-size light-saber-swinging Yoda—to compel anyone to canvass the shop for hours.
Still, Capobianco says it’s the people working in the place that set the bar, not the building. And the moment you walk into Hope you’re greeted by the professional and personable Rachel Derken. “I know that when artists are knee-deep in their work, it’s hard for them to put on their ‘people person’ face,’” says Capobianco. “So I’ve made a point in hiring good management to run the front.” When it comes to hiring artists, though, Capobianco lets the crew come to him. Since you can’t please all clientele, he says it’s better to work with someone you get along with who is in it for the long haul. “Not [those] flash-in-the-pan [types] looking for a place to crash until they move to their next city or dream job.” Instead, someone like Tim Harris.
Harris came to Hope Gallery a little over eight years ago with the desire to work beside his biggest influencers—Capobianco, Merrill, and Rodriguez. “The knowledge I’ve gained through the years is immeasurable and priceless,” says Harris. “Working with these guys, who have different styles when it comes to theory, composition, and approach, is great, especially when I’m in constant search to better myself.” Like Capobianco, Harris tackles pin-ups, but in a photorealistic style. He’s been on a search to perfect the female form since high school, when he first started drawing calendar girls. “I had an affinity with voluptuous women at an early age—artistically, of course,” says the tattooer of 15 years. “It’s all about keeping the level of color saturation soft, yet powerful in contrast. But most important, making sure the face is on point. Lose it on the profile and it’s all over; the sexiness is completely lost.”
Capobianco plays by his own rules when it comes to his playful pin-ups. In general, they burst with color and a have a cartoony style that has become his signature. The look has even been dubbed the “Capo Girl.” “The human figure is such an expressive, difficult thing to draw,” says Capobianco. “There is so much one can do with it.” His approach, he says, “is taking a little bit of this, and a little bit of that,” regarding the various techniques he uses to develop an artistic flair all his own. “The female figure pin-up has been around a long time, and will probably never go out of style,” he says. “Not to mention, drawing and staring at half-naked broads all day sure beats the hell outta digging ditches for a living.”
It’s safe to say that Capobianco and Harris will still be executing perfect 10s a decade from now. “Hopefully nothing changes,” says Harris. “We’ve got a great vibe at the shop; we all gel well with each other. Other than that, wishful thinking would have us more of a household name.”
Capobianco doesn’t even want to hazard a guess as to what the future may offer. “Oh, hell, I don’t know what tomorrow’s gonna bring,” he says. “I don’t even wanna know what 10 years is gonna drop on my head! I’m all about letting the chips fall where they may. And I hope I’m fast enough to roll with the punches.”
Clockwise from top left: tattoo by Joe Capobianco; tattoo by Tim Harris; tattoo by Julio Rodriguez; tattoo by Joe Capobianco; tattoo by Julio Rodriguez; tattoo by Tim Harris; tattoo by Christian Perez.