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The Fine Art of Nikko Hurtado

Nikko Hurtado is one of the top color portrait tattoo artists in the world but this Saturday marks his very first solo fine art show, Renati. The show will feature several never-before-seen works by Hurtado, on October 26th from 8:00-11:30pm in Santa Monica’s Copro Gallery at 2525 Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica, CA. Hurtado gives an exclusive peek at his artwork and a discussion about his creative process.

Inked: We are really excited about the Renati art show that you have coming up. Can you tell us a little about what to expect with the show?

Nikko Hurtado: Well, I named it "Renati" because it means "reborn" in Latin. It's a theme, like a new thing for me, since I've done art for pretty much my whole life, but to be reborn, it just speaks of the new picture. So I put a couple of old pieces in, maybe like two or three older pieces, but I did 10 new pieces for the show.

Can you tell us about some of the pieces you've created?

Yeah, I did one called "Dermographic Illumination." It's a girl holding up a tattoo machine and standing on traditional tattoos. Pretty much what it means is that she is standing on tradition. She has a filigree that's growing vine-like on her body, and as it comes to her arms, it starts to come to life. Where we are [in the tattoo industry] is standing on tradition and where it came from in all these years with everything that's happening in the industry now. It's cool because it's this pretty girl, and she has pink hair, so it has to do with having a lot more women in this industry now, which is awesome. Then, also in some part, it has to do with the future of tattooing and how many people look at the industry and how popular it's become. So that piece has a lot to do with right now and tattooing itself.

How have you been preparing for the show?

Just painting every day. I get a lot of instant verification from tattooing people and I'm done that day; it's not huge-sized art. You get a lot from tattooing instantly, but with painting it's different because it takes weeks to finish a painting sometimes. When I'm painting, there's less pressure and it's hard. But it's been great and I love it. It's definitely a whole different dynamic and I have a whole lot or respect for people that just solely do art and painting.

And this is your first solo show?

Yeah, I've done other group shows and things where I've done like one painting, but this is the first time that I've ever sat and painted. I took three months off of tattooing to prepare for this. It's been crazy, so I've been working really hard trying to make it interesting. It's something I've put some love into.

And you were just part of the Beyond Eden show?

Yeah, I was. With this gallery I'm showing with Copro. They offered me this chance where I could do Beyond Eden as a preview with my solo show. It's four galleries that come together in LA at this municipal gallery and museum space. Chet Zar and I showed our shows that we're doing this weekend and then three other galleries showed stuff. A lot of people came out and it was just really cool to show. It was nerve-racking, but it was awesome and I sold a few pieces that night.

What would you say is your preferred medium when you are creating these pieces?

I like oil paint. Just because oil is so masterful; it's like an old way to do stuff. I just like the way it looks and illuminates light and how buttery it is. When I see oil paints, I love it. I travel a lot so I get to see a lot of museums. If I go anywhere in the world, I go to the museums. I want to see old paintings and old things from a long time ago. For me it's just cool that these things last two hundred years, and you can still look at them. They still look incredible and that is just crazy to me. So that's why I prefer to work in oil. It's just an amazing medium that lasts for so long.

Are there any artists that you draw direct inspiration from?

Yeah, of course. I think I draw directly from a lot of places I've been and things I've seen. Like one of my favorite museums is the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It's awesome because of the way the painters painted, I mean Rembrandt is up there! I get to paint with Michael Hussar every so often and we do a painter's night, which is like life studies, and of course I draw a lot of inspiration from him. He's an incredible artist and an incredible person.

What drew you to work in mainly portraiture?

I don't know. I think in tattooing it just kind of went that way. I always liked realism and realistic tattooing and realistic drawings, but I think naturally it just went that way. People would be like, "Oh, I want a portrait." So I ended up doing a real portrait of somebody on somebody, so this is what actually led me in that direction, instead of me saying "I want to do portraits." I tattooed before I painted, so it made me go back to art and to learn more about portraits and things like that. There is so much information out there on portraiture that's been done for hundreds of years already. And there are people that have already mastered that. So there is just a lot of learning to be had out there. You can really reach and just find out. So then I started painting and I started meeting painters and taking classes and just really trying to learn more. I've been using oils for maybe five or six years now.

Anything else you would like to add?

I'm just grateful for my life pretty much. I get to make art and I'm happy with that. So either it's tattooing or painting, and I'm grateful, so thanks.