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Hitting the Road with Kyle Dunbar: Embracing Fame

Former Ink Mastercontestant Kyle Dunbar has packed up his tattoo equipment and hit the road looking for adventure. With his family in tow, Dunbar will be traveling the country and trying to make a living as a roving tattoo artist. Over the coming months Dunbar will share his tales of the road with us here on Part 1.Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

A couple of days ago I was recognized in the airport. After the usual questions they asked me What is it like being famous? It wasn’t the first time I’ve been asked. I’ve become accustomed to replying “I can’t be famous since no one has named a sandwich after me.”

But for the first time I accepted the description. “It’s great! I get to meet cool people like you.” We took a picture and I boarded my plane shortly thereafter. But I was surprised by my own answer and kept thinking what had changed?

Just like everyone else I’ve had an opinion or two about famous people. They live in mansions and spend their time gallivanting around the world in jets and on private yachts. They have offshore bank accounts, date super models, and Robin Leech narrates their dreams. Famous people are rich and all their problems end up in the tabloids. I hear about their troubles and often trivialize them while thinking that I would gladly trade theirs for mine. That ain’t me, but if you take away the money I guess there is something to the comparison. I do travel the country carelessly from adventure to adventure. Just like the A-team. They don’t know about my problems (except the psychological ones that you all may or may not have seen exploited on TV) so for all intents and purposes my troubles are trivialized or don’t exist. Just like famous people.

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So, I guess I’m famous if you judge fame by how many strangers want pictures posing with me to post on their social media. What’s that like? Again, it’s cool. When people meet me they are most often surprised and ask, “What are you doing here?” I think, why wouldn’t I be here? Where else do I have to be? I shop at the grocery store and I get my clothes at the department store. I eat, I go out, I see movies—all that shit. Why wouldn’t I be here? I travel so I have to do all that in different cities. So why wouldn’t I go to your mall or your restaurant? You can’t possibly think I’m too good for your hangout. Seems like people think you get famous and can’t shop at Wal-Mart. Fuck, I like cheap socks too!

Some people will come up to you and some won’t. I think. You can’t always be sure if they are looking because they are trying to place my face or I might have a booger hanging out of my nose. I can’t be sure unless I hear them make a comment after passing. “That’s that guy from Ink Master.” I probably get more people approaching me than other contestants because of the very recognizable tattoo on my neck. Fans will be less likely to approach me if my tattoo is blocked by my coat. People will circle me until they get a good look at the tattoo then approach after positive ID. When I talk with fans they all ask many of the same questions. Here are some of them and my answers:

You look a lot bigger on TV.
I know this isn’t a question but it’s my favorite cause everyone says it like it’s a question then they pause as if waiting for an answer. I tell them to set the aspect ratio on their screen. Then I wonder if they met Tatu-baby would they think T-baby’s ass is smaller in person too? Sometimes they won’t let it go and I’ll have to explain that most of the camera guys are around 5’4″ to 5’10” and set the camera on their shoulder making the level you see being just under my eye-level. Oh, and when I get pissed my posture gets better. You might just be remembering me charging Nunez.

Who did your throat tattoo?
Fred Story out of Fenton, Michigan. He was an apprentice of mine long ago who now runs his own shop Empire Tattoo. We designed the tattoo on some principles of tattoo athletics I promise to talk about soon.

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How much of that was scripted?
None. I truly wish it was. I could then just blame all the stuff I am ashamed of on the script. Why didn’t I win? Wasn’t in the script. Why did I get mad at that girl? It was in the script. And if it were scripted I could get some work as a day time TV actor, and get that off my bucket list.
But none of it is “scripted,” although the judges have earpieces so they may be regurgitating some director’s words. Some things the judges said would be eerily similar to something that was being said outside of their presence.

Why didn’t you hit him?
I’m ashamed to admit I did really want to. But it just didn’t work out. I had gloves on and couldn’t get the right hand one off. And that’s my favorite hittin’ hand. I’ve got what my lawyer calls “a history of violence” and any prior assaults can cause the judge to view me as a threat to society. I’ve already had to learn that the hard way. No matter the extenuating circumstances eventually the judge stops looking at the old case’s merits and begins looking at the common denominator…me. I was hoping to get him to swing at me to begin the “defense of myself strategy”, but he wasn’t going for it. I was thinking I should say something that would make him swing. But “your mother sucks cocks in Hell” was all I was coming up with and even in my maddened state I knew that was too much. I was chest to face with him (he’s very short, I wonder if people tell him he looks bigger on TV) and I froze I couldn’t do anything. He felt my hesitation and sneered like he was bitching me out. Like he knew I wouldn’t. So I remembered “I’m not a bitch, you are” and shoved him back then brought up my guard. He was pissed. I had shoved him just when he was thinking I wouldn’t. I put the ball in his court and had to fight now. He reached at me yelling and spitting. I slapped his hands to the side and started looking for my shot but we were separated too quickly. Nunez was going Berserker yelling and hopping around. He looked like a…well, it was laughable, and it seemed like the more people got in between us the tougher he got. I began to pity him more than want to fight him. His breath smelled of alcohol when they calmed him down. I may have not noticed before when I was in his face, the security guard said he smelled of alcohol when he was breaking us up and I have heard since then that he got into a bar fight the night before. He may have been hung over but he definitely smelled like it when he was trying to tell me how stupid I was being for trying to fight, even though that would make him just as stupid as me since he was trying to fight only minutes before. But I’m not bitter anymore! Haha.

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Was the time really like that or did you get breaks?
No breaks.

Do you get to finish the tattoos that run out of time?
Hell no and don’t feel bad for those guys. They knew just what they were in for and in any case when they didn’t get finished it was their unrealistic expectations and uncompromising attitude that was at fault. I guarantee that every one of them was advised by the artist about their time constraints, but spurred on by a producer who couldn’t give two shits about the tattoo they receive to try to dominate the artist with ridiculous demands.

What is Dave like?
He’s a gorgeous man with hair that is spun by the devil himself. Some of my fondest memories of Ink Master were footy pajamas sleepovers, and braiding Dave’s hair talking about celebrity gossip. Just kidding. He’s cool and seems sincere. His dedication to entertainment is admirable. People often ask why he is on the show. I don’t think Ollie or Chris could do his job. His function as a judge? Ehhh. I feel like the judges should be educated in tattooing, and selected over a large cross section of the tattooing field with plenty of diversity.

Why the fuck are the judges even there? Who are they?
I like this question most of all because it implies that the person asking doesn’t agree with the judge’s opinions. Which means they think the judges have crazy judgments. Which means the judges are crazy. That’s my logic anyway. I like to find the instances where any of the judges do the same thing but hope for different results. That was the definition of crazy that Navarro would recite to me during critiques. And also the running theme of all the critiques that they gave me. Well to this question I have to be careful as I’m under contract not to say any slanderous remarks against the judges, the host, producers and representatives of Ink Master. So when asked of Ollie’s extensive knowledge of all the genres of tattooing I reply, Ollie keeps his tooth picks an average of three days. And when asked of Nunez’s ability with a needle I reply, Nunez has the largest documented collection of GQ magazines than any other tattooist.

Would you like to challenge the judges? Do they know better?
There is a reason they never competed and it’s not cause they are so sure of winning that they didn’t enter to avoid taking the opportunity from someone more deserving. But I’m not bitter.

Will you ever be back?
No. Sadly. I’m not scared of being on TV again but they own me basically. So I’m limited to working with Ink Master and I can’t afford the time away from actual work. I like controlling my own life and have had enough of their reality.

Does fame change you? Which I equate with has fame changed you?
Has the experience changed you? Of course it has. I struggle to make sure all the changes are good but every dramatic event changes us and my experience on Ink Master is no exception. I am a better artist. I’m a lot quicker as well. And I get a unique chance to analyze myself out of my first person viewpoint.

Would you do it all over again?
Hell yeah!

What’s next?
Keep watching and reading.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned and would want to share from my experience is to never sell anyone short. That person you just passed in the elevator, or that cashier at the Starbucks may be destined to be someone bigger. And like in the story of the mouse and the lion they could one day be in a position to help you.
And if there was something that I’d want to do with my “fame” it would be to shine a light on the tattooing industry and help the world see the amazing art and the even more amazing artists that are making breathing art today. So many accolades are placed on my ability in this craft but some of the best art is not on the TV. It’s in the pages of magazines like Inked who have taken up the job of keeping you posted on the best, the newest, and the hottest ink being done today. It’s not on the lips of every PTA mom or office jockey, who like to dream about having more freedom then their safe routine life can allow them, so they watch a reality show about tattoos they will always wish they could wear but never have. No this art can be found at your upcoming tattoo convention like and the other great conventions across America.

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