Mario Barth grew up in Austria, immigrating to the states in 1995 to set up his tattoo shop in New Jersey. “I started tattooing a long time ago. It chose me to do it,” he says. “There was no scene at the time, it was all very underground. I had no financial interest in it, but then I realized I could make money out of it.”
It took a while for Barth to develop his large customer base, of which he guesses 20 percent are celebrities. “I got good exposure in the ’90s from traveling. I did a few celebrity clients, and it was a slow build up from word of mouth. It just grew with one customer at a time.” Now, Barth has a two year waiting list, and it takes almost as long to see one of the 28 tattoo artists who work under him in any of his five Starlight Tattoo shops. Besides his impressive client list, including celebrities such as Lenny Kravitz and Pamela Anderson, Barth developed the only form of sterile tattoo pigment with 54 colors. He also plans to attend Las Vegas’ Magic trade showthis coming spring to show his new line of menswear that he describes as “Versace meets street-wear.” He says, “I know a lot of white-collar people with tattoos, so I wanted to create a clothing line for them. I’m working on a classic suit with a colorful lining that can go from a meeting to a club.”
As far as Barth’s own tattoos go, he’s been accepted by Horitoshi I to receive a traditional Japanese back piece. It’s nearly impossible for a Westerner to get one of these traditional tattoos, and it took Horitoshi I five years to decide to tattoo Barth. “I have no idea why he chose me, but I’m happy enough that he did. At that time, you don’t ask questions anymore.” When asked if he’s as selective with his own clients, Barth maintains that he’ll take anyone willing to wait. “If someone waits a year and a half, that person knows they need that piece. It’s going to be on their body, so it’s not up to me to say no to them. The only time I turn people away is when they’re unsure what they want.”
Despite his success, Barth isn’t an elitist about his work. “If you decide that you need a strawberry on your body for the rest of your days, it’s important to you, and it’s my job to put it there. I have no personal attachment to the tattoo. I just make sure my customers leave happy.” He does have his specialties, however. His favorites are large-scale back pieces, and he also loves to do bright color, fantasy, and portraits. “When you do a large-scale body suit and see the person’s whole appearance changed, it’s always rewarding and fulfilling. It’s the most impressive thing you can do,” he says.