36 Tattoos

Fly Rite (500A Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718-599-9443, flyritetattoo.com) even has "Bright Colors" emblazoned on each of its twin red awnings. With mostly custom work and five full-time artists (including the crimson-bearded "Chops," and Kelly Krantz, said to be a "backwardsly charming guy"), Fly Rite focuses on traditional and new-school styles.

New York Adorned (47 Second Avenue, 473-0007, newyorkadorned.com) is the kind of shop that also sells expensive toe rings and does henna design. Its large, teeming-with-jewelry-and-plants storefront—emblazoned with its name in lavish gold-leaf script—has struck some as too trendy or fancy. With Virginian Chris O'Donnell on board, though, it's earned the right to its reputation.

Inkline Studio (513 East 5th Street, 614-0094, www.inklinestudio.com) is Anil Gupta, who works in painstaking detail and is known worldwide for his "Miniatures," which replicate the paintings of the Old Masters. Since he "prefers not to finish other artists' work," you can't stop in for a touch-up of an old piece—but Gupta (who has some celebrity clients) is inarguably one of the best there is. —Hillary Chute

image: Mirko Ilic'

According to one more arbiter of hip, Rolling Stone, Paul Booth is "the tattoo artist of choice for rock stars who love death, perversion, and torture." His "black-and-gray tattoos of blasphemous violence echo the same nihilist madness of the metalheads he inks," musicians from Slipknot, Mudvayne, Slayer, Pantera, and Soulfly. His East Village shop features cobwebs, rusty meat hooks, a mummified cat, medieval torture devices, a gynecologist's black leather chair with silver stirrups, a human skull given to him by a Swedish gravedigger, and a note from a customer written in blood. His arms are covered in tattoos, his face is studded with silver loops, and he's enormously fat. Some of his most popular tattoos are "weeping demons, decapitated Christ figures, transvestite nuns severing their own genitals, cascading waves of melting skulls, muscled werewolves raping bare-chested women." His clients come to him "because they share his frustration and rage, his feelings of anger and alienation. He understands those emotions and brings them to the surface with his needle. His gift lies in transforming the dark side of his clients—their hurt, their torments—into flesh." Evan Seinfeld, the bassist for Biohazard, said, "We're all trying to release our negative energy, our frustration with the world. Through our art and our music, we're getting it all out." Shawn Crahan of Slipknot said, "I have a lot of dark ideas in my head. Paul develops those same emotions in very powerful pieces." Booth said, "If I woke up one day and became happy, I probably wouldn't tattoo anymore, because I wouldn't see a need to do it. I would lose my art if I became happy."

Revelation 17:5 says of the Scarlet Woman: "And upon her forehead was a name written, 'MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.' "

Former Chicago Bull Jud Buechler said Michael Jordan wanted "me and [teammate] Steve Kerr to get tattoos" after the Bulls won their first championship. "I thought about it but didn't do it because I knew my mom, wife, and mother-in-law would kill me."

"The human body is always treated as an image of society." —ANTHROPOLOGIST MARY DOUGLAS

"By the early seventeenth century [in Japan], a generally recognized codification of tattoo marks was widely used to identify criminals and outcasts. Outcasts were tattooed on the arms: a cross might be tattooed on the inner forearm, or a straight line on the outside of the forearm or on the upper arm. Criminals were marked with a variety of symbols that designated the places where the crimes were committed. In one region, the pictograph for 'dog' was tattooed on the criminal's forehead. Other marks included such patterns as bars, crosses, double lines, and circles on the face and arms. Tattooing was reserved for those who had committed serious crimes, and individuals bearing tattoo marks were ostracized by their families and denied all participation in the life of the community. For the Japanese, who valued family membership and social position above all things, tattooing was a particularly severe and terrible form of punishment. By the end of the seventeenth century, penal tattooing had been largely replaced by other forms of punishment. One reason for this is said to be that about that time decorative tattooing became popular, and criminals covered their penal tattoos with larger decorative patterns. This is also thought to be the historical origin of the association of tattooing with organized crime in Japan. . . . In spite of efforts by the government to suppress it, tattooing continued to flourish among firemen, laborers, and others at the lower end of the social scale. It was particularly favored by gangs of itinerant gamblers called yakuza. Members of these gangs were recruited from the underworld of outlaws, penniless peasants, laborers, and misfits who migrated to Edo in the hope of improving their lot. Although the yakuza engaged in a variety of semi-legal and illegal activities, they saw themselves as champions of the common people and adhered to a strict code of honor that specifically prohibited crimes against people, such as rape and theft. Like samurai, they prided themselves on being able to endure pain and privation without flinching. And when loyalty required it, they were willing to sacrifice themselves by facing imprisonment or death to protect the gang. The yakuza expressed these ideals in tattooing: because it was painful, it was proof of courage; because it was permanent, it was evidence of lifelong loyalty to the group; and because it was illegal, it made them forever outlaws." —STEVE GILBERT

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