Artists: Big Gus
What year did you start tattooing?
Professionally, in 1997, at a shop called Distinctive Ink.
How did you get involved in the industry?
My boys where I grew up had tattoos all around me, so it was part of my environment at the young age of 14.
Your online bio states that you started tattooing professionally around age 22, but first started doing it unprofessionally at age 14. What was tattooing like for you at such a young age?
It was crazy. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but my friends wanted me to tattoo them because I was able to draw fairly well.
What brought you to work in the black-and-gray realism style?
Well, that’s simple. Growing up in our streets of Los Angeles, CA, that’s all you would see is black-and- gray Chicano art. As I grew as an artist I would go to the liquor store, look at tattoo magazines, and specifically look for Freddy Negrete, Jack Rudy, and Paul Booth. I wanted to do ink like them.
You are one of the three artists on Spike TV’s tattoo cover-up show, Tattoo Nightmares. What brought you to specialize in cover-ups?
I did cover-ups [before the show] but not as often as I do now. Then I was asked to do this show on Spike TV. First thing I asked was, “Is this a drama show?” because I’m not into that. Long story short, they said, “no,” and I was all in. I figured as a tattoo artist, other artists—especially young ones—look up to that. I would take and accept this challenge of doing cover-ups on this show Tattoo Nightmares. But I am no expert by any means, as I believe I just have learned to adapt to my new job as a cover-up artist.
What is your convention circuit like?
Oh man, that’s my life! I travel a lot for work, mostly supporting my friends’ shows on the circuit and helping as much as I can with this new popularity I have gained. I love sharing that with my tattoo family. Let’s just say at times I live in hotels and airports and my house is just an expensive storage unit, ’cause my ass is never home!
Who are some of your main artistic inspirations?
Wow, that question can be a whole interview on its own, but at the moment I love going to museums around the world, studying other masters, sculptures, buildings. Many things inspire my mind. I have a few friends that I am very blessed to learn from that are masters in this day and age. Kevin Llewellyn, Michael Hussar, and Shawn Barber influence me heavily as a student in the art of oil painting.
You are also a graffiti artist. How does graffiti relate to tattooing, and vice versa?
As a graffiti artist, I bring my style into certain designs as a tattoo artist; and as a tattoo artist, I bring my fine-line photorealism into my graff work, making it look a lot more realistic and less stylized.
What other mediums do you work in?
Oils, acrylics, airbrush, watercolor. If you can draw with it I can do art with it. [Laughs.] I like to write on walls with crayons, and painting by number is super fun!
What advice do you have for someone before they get tattooed?
First, look up the artist. Any artist with any good work will have some social media stuff out there. Look to see if their work is consistent. Also, visit the artist before making your decision. See if you both feel each other on the tattoo idea you are bringing to him. This will help to make sure the artist’s style matches your vision for your tattoo. Also, make sure the artist works in a clean, well-known shop. Your health is very important. At all times make sure they have the proper education on blood-borne pathogen control.
What artists have tattooed you?
Oh man, myself. [Laughs.] Also, Bob Tyrrell, Corey Miller, Tony Olivas, Carlos Torres, Alan Padilla, Tommy Montoya, Mr. Flaks, and Ska. Still not done with my back piece being done by my brother Mike Demasi, and my ribs are going to be Josh Duffy. They’re all like family to me and I’m honored to have ink by all of them.
How has the reputation of tattooing changed since you’ve been in the industry?
I believe it’s changed in a positive way. Artists are more open-minded. Artists work with each other, instead of like the old days, when artists could not even tell each other what needles they would use. So it’s nice to see this change and so many new styles of tattoo art being born. This is also due to the huge number of tattoo artists coming from art backgrounds in fine art.
What brought you to work at Art Junkies?
My best friend, Mario Rosena, and my brother Mike Demasi—they have been big influences on me as a person and artist. Being around them is always a positive thing; I love them both, as they have helped me become a better man and artist. And not to mention, our crew is sick. Tim McEvoy, Brent Olson, Dagger Face, and Ryan Mullins be killing it. One of our newest to the family, Scott, has grown to be a great artist as well. Pretty amazing artists have come from this shop, like Nikko Hurtado, Mike DeVries, Dark Horse, (a.k.a. Aric Taylor) and so many others have blessed the inside walls of Art Junkies.
Are there any up-and-coming artists that the industry should look out for?
Tim McEvoy, Ryan Mullins, Brent Olson, and Rich Pineda. There are so many young, great artists; it’s insane. I love it.
We’ve heard you really like to fish. How did you get into that?
I got into it from a friend of the family who took me fishing and would take us to the park as kids. We didn’t have a father, and this man would take us and show us amazing things about the outdoors. Mr. Studdel was a great friend to us and served this country in WWII. He has everything to do with my love for fishing—and fishing, oh man, fishing is my way to escape from the everyday hustle. I love being in the ocean or in the river all alone. It seems so surreal that these places exist in this crazy world. It’s my way of rebooting my mind for my clients and giving them my 100 percent of drawing ability.
If you could tattoo anyone with any design, who would it be and of what design?
My mother, who passed away when I was 19. I would tattoo some pencils and brushes on her with a little note that says, “Thank you for giving me the gift of life. Love, your son Big Gus.” I miss her more than you could imagine, but at least she taught me to be good, to learn from my mistakes, and to draw to clear my mind of all that is bothering me at the moment, which I will pass on to my daughter, Breezy!
Anything you would like to add?
Thank you for this opportunity to show those kids who struggle and draw every day that they can feel like they belong somewhere on this planet. Your art will always take you to where you truly want to be. Always believe in yourself. Dreams do come true—you just have to work hard and commit to the art within yourself.