Last night we were at a cocktail bar in Los Angeles when a group of, well, “bros," saddled up next to us and asked the bartender, “What’s on special?” The bartender recoiled, then steadied himself and asked them what kind of spirits they prefer. He talked them up from from well whiskey to a nice Bulleit bourbon. The bros were pleased, they got a taste of the good life and then made their way into the night. After they departed, the bartender remarked, “Drinking off the well/speed rack is the equivalent of picking a tattoo off a flash wall—eventually you have to grow up.” Bartenders are wise.
As tattoos have evolved from markings to art over the past 20 years, the spirits world has also become more sophisticated and discerning. Perhaps that growth wasn’t parallel. Because bartenders and tattooers are in the service industry, it is not until after-hours that they can both unwind, making after-hours party mixers between the two crafts. It is in those golden hours where barkeepers get amazing ink and tattooers have their tastebuds teased. It is during those sessions that the new frontiers of tattoo art and cocktail cultivations are realized.
In celebration of the innovations in the industries Bulleit bourbon is raising more than a glass to talented tattoo artists, they have raised a 35-foot tattooed billboard on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles. Consider the billboard one of the greatest collaboration tattoos in existence. For the project Bulleit tapped 24 leading lights in Southern California tattoo art (including Kim Saigh, Charles Belñavis, Henry Lewis, Shawn Barber, Nathan Kostechko and Jason Schroder) to tattoo swaths of leather in their own style that come together to form a fantastic visual representation of the SoCal tattoo arts scene. “The group of tattooists brought the project to life beautifully and I hope it makes people smile when they pass by,” says Kostechko.
Each Southern California neighborhood and scene has its predilection for different tattoo genres. If you walk around Silver Lake you’ll see impressive Japanese tattoo art on its residents, in Orange County they prefer realism and East L.A. is home to the finest black-and-grey pieces in the world—the Bulleit Frontier Works art project is an amalgam of the people and the artisans of the L.A. environs in one place. The billboard, which will be displayed for months, also solves the problem of tattooers displaying their art (as their canvases literally walk out of their shops). "You can't put [a tattoo] in a gallery,” notes Schroder, "it is just a skin picture.”
The art collaboration is the result of over 100 years of blood, sweat and ink in the tattoo industry. “Tattooing is an art form that takes years of practice to perfect,” says another collaborator, Christina Ramos. “I was honored when Bulleit approached me to help create this, as tattoos are so relevant in L.A.’s culture. Tattoos are typically permanent, lifelong commitments so when I was asked to be a part of this group I knew we needed to come together to create something special that really personified and paid homage to the soul of our city that would leave a lasting impression.”
“Bulleit gave me a lot of creative freedom when designing my piece of leather for the installation,” says Kostechko. Like an ideal client, Bulleit didn’t dictate direction to the tattooers, the bourbon brand simply gave the artists their part of the leather canvas and told them to express themselves within the Bulleit label. "Their approach and the way they worked with the artists is pretty unique,” says Belñavis. "It's really cool to see a company that used actual tattooing by local artists as part of their advertisement.” The collaboration is at its base an advertisement but, as Belñavis says, the brand hired 24 local artists, are promoting their work and threw a private party for them in appreciation of their involvement in this creative endeavor. Yes, that’s right, they set that magical scene where local bartenders and tattooers linked up to talk about the quality liquids of liquor and ink, and Bulleit picked up the entire tab.