Artists: Mario Barth
3950 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89119
3400 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
When did you start tattooing?
I started tattooing in 1978 when I was 12. One of my friends wanted a skull on the back of his hand, so I did it with a Bic pen with some needles attached to the front with sewing thread around it and used india ink to push the pigment into the skin. Really, really old style.
How did you get into tattooing?
We had a little street gang, and one of our guys decided he wanted to get a tattoo, and nobody knew how to do it. One time, my father had explained to me about his tattoo that he got while he was in the military, and just being a crazy kid or whatever I said “I know how to tattoo!” and I used the same technique he told me about.
Where did you apprentice?
I had no apprenticeship. I was completely self-taught. It was a difficult time for tattoo artists to communicate at all because everything was such a turf war—every time someone heard that someone else was tattooing there was almost always a big fight. So there was no apprenticing. I hung around a lot in the motorcycle scene, so there were always a lot of guys for me to practice on. I started traveling the world around ’87 or ’88, and that’s when I had the experience of talking to a lot of different tattoo artists, and that’s how I began to really learn. And of course, practicing every day, on a client, on a friend, whoever. Every day.
What conventions have you worked at? Have you won any awards?
I worked at every convention in the world between 1989 and 2005, I was on the road almost 15 years, I hit every convention in the world at that time. There weren’t 20 conventions in every country at the time, there was maybe one in each country, 10 shows or maybe 12 shows a year, and slowly more and more cropped up. But I traveled to every show, no matter where it was. We rode our bikes, took cars. It didn’t matter if it was in Finland, in England, Amsterdam—we made it there. During that time I won about 250 awards, which was a lot for the time, because like I said, there weren’t that many conventions going on. I retired voluntarily from competing in 2002 and worked more as a judge from there on out. It is kind of crazy to think now that I hold the world’s largest tattoo convention with The Biggest Tattoo Show on Earth. I guess it is true what they say, life comes full circle.
What are some of your best memories from the road?
Oh, wow. There are tons of them. One of the funniest ones has to be when Tin-Tin got arrested right as he was finishing my tattoo for a fight, and the cops actually waited for him to finish. It was in England. So many memories from around that time—it was a really, really fun time. We were going around and seeing our people, and it was always the same people, 30 or 40 artists, so it was always a party, and you just couldn’t wait to get to the next show to get into whatever kind of trouble with your friends in another city.
How do you describe your style?
I don’t think I have a style. I’m mostly known for how colorful my work is, but I’m versatile. I believe a tattoo artist should be able to excel in any style for his clients: You have to be a portrait/Japanese/traditional/old-school/new-school tattoo artist. You have to master all of those different environments. That’s when you’ve really got a job. I never focused on one style.
What inspires you as an artist?
All sorts of things inspire me. Tattoos I see in magazines— it doesn’t matter what name is under the piece so long as the piece is great. Life, nature, everything that is a little bit different or unique. If it is off the beaten path, a little off, unusual or just different, I like it. Even a piece of furniture can inspire me to do something different. I look forward to seeing stuff from people who live outside the box. Change, of course. The more
change is out there, the more inspired I am, because it gives me more opportunity to learn new things. If we aren’t learning and getting better, we’re forgetting and getting worse.
What sets you apart from other artists?
I don’t know. I mean … I don’t know. That’s a very difficult question to answer. I think being chosen by the client is what sets me apart. That’s all that matters to me. I think an artist is an artist, we live a very different life, we can be very eccentric. It doesn’t matter what field you’re in, if you’re an artist you have to constantly
create and be a little crazy sometimes to stay in that field. I don’t know if I’m different from anyone else, but I just try to really think on my client’s behalf. I try to get into my client’s head, become one with him, and create the tattoo he really likes.
What other mediums do you work in?
My medium is tattooing, 100 percent tattooing. And I am not a painter—I get anxiety attacks if I paint. I try to draw, but it just bores me. It doesn’t live, so it’s just dead for me. I have no communication with it, no real attraction to it. I can’t get input, I can’t talk to it. It is very difficult to even talk about because it doesn’t do anything for me. I can draw on skin all day, but I can’t draw on paper for more than a half hour before I have to get up and walk around. I get ADD—and I like it that way.
How have you branched out from tattooing?
I have branched out—I have some investments outside of the industry, but my main focus is tattooing. I have the tattoo ink company Intenze, of course, which is a huge passion of mine, and I have worked hard for many years to make sure that it is the best tattoo ink available for the artists and the client. I’ve spread out into the nightclub scene with our shop King Ink at the Mirage in Las Vegas, because partying is part of our life—tattoo artists work hard but they also party hard. There is literally tattooing going on in the club. It’s awesome. I also have my original shops with Starlight Tattoo as well. We’ve tried to widen the field a little bit, and hopefully leave more opportunity for the younger artists coming up behind us, that’s what is most important.
What tattoo artists do you admire most?
I admire every tattoo artist because I know how hard the job is, and I know how it is to be in the game all the time, running a business or working for someone else, or on the road, whatever the case may be. Because of that, I admire the guy who has been tattooing 50 or 60 years as much as the guy who started a week ago. The first artists who come to mind are guys like Tin-Tin and Bernie Luther—these are guys I’ve followed since day one, Tin-Tin especially. In the late ’80s he was already doing really great color, and would jump from a black-and-gray piece to a Japanese dragon, so I took a lot from that. I think in the last five years there has been
a huge amount of artists who have come out and changed the face of tattooing—their work is just amazing. It is a joy for me to see what these guys are doing, in their shops, in magazines, at conventions, or wherever.
Before someone gets a tattoo, what advice do you give them?
I try to be as patient as I can with clients, because they should make the initial decision on their own. If I start to give advice at that stage, what happens is that I start to influence their decision about what they do. I think when they’ve decided, then I will give them my advice, making their decision a reality. Like “Okay, we can do this in this way,” or whatever. I show them different options and make sure it’s really what they like, then I make sure they go home and think about it. On the other hand, I almost always say that they shouldn’t listen to too many other people either, because everyone has an opinion about your tattoo but no one else will do it, so it’s like, you should make that decision on your own, and when you’re ready to come sit in the chair, I will give you 100 percent of what I’ve got. It doesn’t matter if it is the smallest little rose or the biggest tattoo in the world, I give it 100 percent. That’s what we should do, work hard and give it 100 percent.
Is there a tattoo that you haven’t done yet that you are dying to do?
I haven’t done my next tattoo yet, and I’m dying to do it, whatever it is. It doesn’t matter. My attachment isn’t to the tattoo itself, my attachment is to my client. I’m always dying to do the next tattoo. That’s the most important thing in my life, to do another tattoo, and then another one. I’m most likely going to be doing this while I’m on my deathbed. I like it this way, though. It started out like this 34 years ago, and I’m still as excited to do another one today or tomorrow as I was yesterday. So I’m ready to do any tattoo. And I’m not
just ready—I’m dying to do it.