Interview by Dominic Ciambrone
Photos by Bryam Villacres
Aside from being the birthplace of Peanuts creator Charles Schultz, Santa Rosa, California isn’t exactly known as a hotbed for creatives. True to that reputation, both artist Noah Minuskin and the Shoe Surgeon Dominic Ciambrone had to jump from the small pond of their hometown to the big ocean that is Los Angeles to chase their dreams. Now, 15 years after the pair met in a tattoo shop, Ciambrone is catching up with Minuskin, a painter and black-and-grey tattooer, at his Hous Studio to reminisce about the old days, discuss their journeys and more.
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Noah Minuskin. I am somebody who gets to explore art, see the world through art, and use my art to communicate how I think, how I feel, and the things that I hope to put out into the world to inspire others.
And we’re both from Santa Rosa…
Cut from the same cloth.
I met you about 15 years ago while I was looking for a portrait piece. I didn’t even know what portrait I wanted at the time. I think it was a Wyatt Earp or a Doc Holliday.
Then I think a year later you were gone, you had moved to Los Angeles. How was it growing up in Santa Rosa?
Love Santa Rosa. I think you and I can understand how influential it was to who we are, the community that we grew up in, you know, how special it was. I think, similarly, both you and I can relate that for what we wanted to achieve, Santa Rosa probably couldn’t facilitate those dreams. We leaped into the big pond to push ourselves. That was me really committing to the journey. That was me sinking all the ships behind me and going for it. You know, I’m not gonna come back here until I’ve done what I’ve set out to do.
How did you first get into tattooing?
I was a wild teenager. Me and my friends, we roamed the neighborhoods, we sort of didn’t shy away from the streets, you know? A lot of people we interacted with had tattoos and it really intrigued me. And it wasn’t until my best friend’s older brother who did tattoos in prison got out and tattooed us that I really was hooked.
What’s your first tattoo?
My last name. Minuskin.
Minuskin. Where’s that name from?
That name is Eastern Russian. My mom and my dad were immigrants from Poland. Fled the war, came here through Ellis Island in, what was that, 1949? Came to LA, actually, which is interesting. Pops was born and raised in LA and then moved up to Santa Rosa. To start a family, raise a family and kind of get away from the madness.
So after getting that tattoo, when did you start considering tattooing yourself?
Early. Pretty soon after I got tattooed for the first time, I would say no more than a week or two after that, we’re talking 15 years old. I’ve never really waited for people to give me permission to explore life and the things I’m naturally drawn to. I think it’s really important to not let that spark die and go for it right away. I tattooed one of my best friends in my parents’ garage.
How did your parents feel about that?
How does anybody’s parents feel when their 15-year-old kid is, you know? Now they’re such a big support system in my life. Back then they didn't really know what to make out of it. And I didn’t even know what I was in for, either. I didn’t know how to understand it at the time, but it definitely grabbed me in a way that pushed me to make a homemade tattoo machine and put something permanent on my friend when I had no idea what I was doing.
What’d you do with that tattoo machine? Do you have it?
You know, funny enough, I forgot about it because I got caught up in the whirlwind of exploring art and all these things, and it wasn’t until maybe five years ago that I came home and my mom surprised me and pulled it out of a cup and said, “I’ve been holding onto this for the past 10 years.”
Wow. How did you feel?
Initially I just thought of my mom’s love and just how much she supported me and how much confidence she’s given me throughout my life, and how she gave me the confidence to be myself and not move with fear or too much worry. And you know, she saved that like a little kid drawing. I think it’s just cute that she had this raw tattoo machine with fuckin’ ink splattered all over it.
Who was your mentor?
Angel was my first mentor. He gave me my first shot at a real tattoo studio. That was in Petaluma. When I came down here, I connected with Jose Lopez, Jr.. And I was with him for the next three to four years before I opened up my own thing, Hous Studios. Those two people are very important to my journey. Now I’m in a place where I’m excited to mentor other artists. That was a role I sort of shied away from for a long time, because I didn’t feel like I had the space to give that title the respect it deserved. A lot had to do with how important those people who mentored me were. But watching you leave these huge impacts on other makers who aspire to push themselves in the ways that you have with shoemaking really inspired me. It’s just like, how can I get there? And now that I’m here, it’s amazing. It’s so fulfilling to share all the things that I’ve been able to learn and obtain over all these years, and now contribute and share that with these guys, and hopefully empower them to reach their full potential with their dreams.
I mean, do you think people can ever… do you think you’ve reached your full potential?
I hope I never get to where I want to go my whole life. I hope at 90, I’m still trying to get there. I don’t ever want to feel like I arrived. It’s not about that for me. For me, it’s not about the trophy, if I win the championship or not; it’s about the journey that I put myself on. It’s always been about that.
Let’s talk about your art. You have these pieces you’ve studied all over the world to see how the greats did it. And you’ve done a lot of it, and now you’re going to a different kind of form.
I feel like creatively I’m in just a really great place right now. I took some time to really step aside from everything I was doing to regroup and reassess my path as an artist. I started to dig a lot deeper inside myself and think deeper about the art I wanted to make. I’ve been painting for well over 10 years, but this is the first time I’ve allowed myself to really engulf myself in that art form. It’s a little different from tattooing. In tattooing, I’m pulling from other people’s inspiration. I’m pulling from other people’s deep truths about life and themselves. I take that meaning and then make artwork out of it.
With painting I’m digging deep within my own well and challenging my own way of expression and questions that I’m asking myself when I’m making this work and how I choose to answer them. I’m super excited about what I’ve been making. It’s so different and unique from anything I’ve ever made before.
It’s so similar to me creating a custom shoe that’s already out or creating something to sell because I know what’s gonna sell. It’s similar to you tattooing someone because that’s what they want. And then this stuff I actually want to create, it’s different.
Creativity can be imprisoned by so many things. Success can imprison creativity. Having a successful idea can imprison your creativity to continue to explore yourself in ways that maybe your audience doesn’t understand.