By James Maher
Name: Eric Rignall
Occupation: Owner, Inkstop Tattoo
Location: Avenue A, Between 12th and 13th
Time: Friday, Jan 13 at 5 p.m.
Originally I was born in Egypt to an American dad, and we traveled a lot. I lived in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Colombia, Dominican Republic, New York and Philadelphia. I moved to New York in 1989 and I’ve been here since then. I started out in Staten Island — cheap rent there, and then I moved to Queens. I’ve been there for 25 years now.
I went to the Philadelphia College of Art for four years. When I moved to New York, I hoped to find something in that field but I ended up in screen printing, working in a factory, and then I opened up my own screen-printing business for a few years, but I got tired of it and wanted to do an apprenticeship to learn how to tattoo.
So I started doing that and I did it under the radar before it was legal. I had my screen printing studio on Sixth Avenue and 28th Street and was tattooing out of there for about a year. I was actually sitting in at City Hall in the hearings to see if they were going to make tattooing legal or not so I could be one of the first ones to jump on it and find a spot.
I opened up officially in this spot in February 1997. It was a little difficult at first because no one wanted to rent out to a tattoo shop. They figured that it was going to just be bikers, parties, and all sorts of craziness, but luckily I had someone who had a shop in Jersey to vouch for me and back it up.
The landlord asked for a big deposit to make sure, but once I got the spot it worked out very well. A lot of people thought I wouldn’t succeed here because they said there was a curse on this place. It was a funeral home and a driving school, but the funeral home got shut down by the marshals for smuggling drugs in the coffins. They figured there was a cloud over this place, but luckily I’m not superstitious.
The neighborhood was very different. The rents were very low obviously. I used to park my car across the street where that apartment building is — there was a little gravel lot there that charged 100 bucks a month for parking. The neighborhood was just starting to become better. At the time, Avenue B was still a little rougher and Avenue C you wouldn’t even go to. There were still a lot of bars, including my favorite across the street, Z Bar. There was a good underground music scene going on, more than there is now. Avenue A was definitely a little bit more raw, more gritty.
I got to know all the local people around here. Everyone knew everyone. Everyone was always outside — whole families out there. For example, the ladies with their chairs out of the sidewalk feeding their pigeons, and the guy selling the Piragua — the flavored ice. They were always outside and a lot of people were selling odd stuff. It was [accepted]. There was no problem.
I had a lot of local people coming in for years. Initially, it was just people in the neighborhood and then a few years went by and we got a much wider range of people from all walks of life coming through. I’ve had people around for 20 years, but as you tattoo someone for 20 years they run out of room, but we’re doing generations now. I’ve got someone on Monday who’s bringing in his son. I’ve been here long enough that I’m tattooing their kids. I had some friends who came in years ago when I first opened, their daughter was in a stroller, and now I’ve done three tattoos on her already — makes me old.
When we’re busy maybe each person will do three or four people a day. Generally speaking, three hours is a good appointment. Anytime longer than that and people start to get a little squirmy, but we break it down into sessions for larger work. They’ll come back in a couple weeks once its healed and do another round.
I like to do the real detailed larger pieces. I like to put everything into each piece. There was one that was a Mayan temple back piece. It had the same amount of steps as Tikal. I did the drawing from the photograph and did it exactly like the actual ruin, so I was cursing myself out for trying to be so accurate when I was drawing and tattooing it. My God, these are a lot of steps.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.