City of Ink
323 Walker Street
Artists: Miya Bailey, Tuki Carter, Corey Davis, Chris McAdoo, Melvin Todd, Ant, Sophie
When City of Ink cofounders Miya Bailey and Tuki Carter moved their tattoo shop Prophet Art from Asheville, NC, to Atlanta in 2000, they wanted a new start, both for the shop and their art. According to Bailey, the plan was "to break that boundary of what black people and Hispanic people should be getting as tattoos and reflect more of the lifestyle of the people we were doing." The simple rule: no more "gangster-type stuff."
They christened the new shop City of Ink and designed the interior to feel more like an art gallery than a tattoo parlor. "You won't walk into City of Ink and think it's a tattoo shop," explains Bailey. "The layout is an art gallery, and it's built like a loft, so the tattoo studios are upstairs." According to Carter, there's a reason they set up their shop this way. "It shows people that we're not just tattoo artists, that we can actually come up with something that's not quote-unquote tattoo-oriented."
Looking to attract more of the artistic community, Bailey began tailoring his work to be "a reflection of free-form soul and creativity." They hired artists Corey Davis, Chris McAdoo, Melvin Todd, Ant, and Sophie, and stressed the importance of flow to their new crew. "Everything moves with the contour of the body," Bailey explains. "If you draw a tattoo on paper and stick it on like a stencil, it looks like a tattoo—it looks like it's floating in the air, it doesn't look like it's contoured with the body. Our artists do everything contoured to the body, and it's shaped out, and it flows, and it looks like fine art."
Because of the difficulty of working with skin of color, the City of Ink team also worked on developing their method and fine-tuning their machines. "A lot of the old artists told us to run the machine high and get the ink in," Bailey explains, "but that's how you create scarification. Our style is a relaxed tattooing. There's no traumatizing the skin and barely any blood."
With everything they do, it should come as no surprise that City of Ink has become, in Sophie's words, "a creative oasis for all genres of artists." Bailey is extremely proud of this fact. "We're in a situation right now where we are the central point of the arts scene in Atlanta," he beams. "Not just the tattoo scene, but the whole art and music scene. This is like the mecca. Everybody who is an artist or a musician, they come to City of Ink just for inspiration because it's open for everybody. You don't have to get a tattoo just to be here."
The inspiration generated at the shop has attracted plenty of prominent musicians, including everyone from R&B superstar Usher, who was in Carter's chair earlier this year, to legendary battle rapper Canibus, whose iconic "4,3,2,1" microphone on his arm was done by Carter. Skateboarders, such as Stevie Williams, who was inked by Sophie, are also known to frequent the shop.
Fame, however, isn't limited to the clientele. Carter and McAdoo are musicians in the group Holly Weerd, and Davis is a part of the group Mark 5. Many of the artists have art hanging on the walls of the gallery. In addition, Bailey has two books planned for 2009: City of Ink, which will be a photographic trip through the scene they've created, and The Art of Miya Bailey, which will cover Bailey's entire artistic career. The City of Ink crew is also readying a reality television show based on the shop.
But no matter what they're busy doing, there's always one overarching goal behind it all. It's in the City of Ink motto, "Inspire your City," and their logo, a dripping star. "It represents that we believe everybody's a star," Bailey says. "but only a few drip down on other stars and inspire them."