Barth at work. (Photo: Mario Barth)
You’ve finally decided to take the plunge and get a tattoo. You know the design you want, how big it should be, and where you want it. Now you just have to wait 18 months to get inked.
Well, you don’t have to, but for those who want the perennially in-demand tattoo guru Mario Barth – who’s drawn on the likes of Lenny Kravitz, Avril Lavigne, Usher, and Sylvester Stallone – to do the honors, it’s worth the wait.
It’s the challenge of creating exactly what his client wants (not what the artist may think is cool) that keeps him at the top of his game.
“I’ve always believed that the real artistry of tattooing is how deep you can get in the client’s head and understand the vision that they have. And I think this is very, very rare still,” Barth tells Yahoo Makers. “What’s always been the biggest difference for me is I have no emotional attachment to my tattoos,” says Barth. “Tattoos mean nothing to me. What means something to me is that I hit the image so perfect and the emotional satisfaction of my client looking at the tattoo. That’s my trigger. That’s the true artistry. Remove your emotions and try to think what they think and see what they see.”
It was Barth’s early experience working in the "underground” tattoo world in Austria, where tattooing was illegal until 1989, that helped him hone that skill.
“When I started tattooing in Austria, we didn’t have studios, it was all underground. We did not have the conventional design elements such as the sailor designs, the eagles, the Tasmanian devils,” says the 49-year-old. “There was an enormous amount of freehand artistry being done because there was no flash [the pre-printed tattoo designs]. What was normal in England or America did not exist in our country. Everything that we created was done out of our minds.”
Tattooed legs by Barth. (Photo: Mario Barth)
An intricate dragon design. (Photo: Mario Barth)
A portrait Barth tattooed. (Photo: Mario Barth)
Today, in addition to putting on two giant annual tattoo conventions (one actually called “The Biggest Tattoo Show on Earth”), Barth owns soon-to-be-four tattoo studios – two on the Las Vegas Strip, one in a New Jersey suburb, and another set to open at Connecticut’s Foxwoods Casino later this month. While he’s got plenty of other artists who work at the locations, many clients still find it worth the wait to have Barth do the deed.
“When people wait that long, they have time to think about what they really want,” he says.
(What, me worry about regretting this tattoo later in life? Credit: Mario Barth)
During that time, clients apply online and email descriptions of what they’re looking for along with images they like, and, more important to Barth, images they don’t like. “I can see more from what they don’t like than what they like, that’s where I receive the most information about their personalities,” Barth explains, adding that through their correspondence he can glean all kinds of information: “What colors do they like, what shapes do they like, what are the similarities in all those images they sent me.”
The artist adding to Ja Rule’s collection. (Photo: Mario Barth)
By the time the would be tattooees walk in for the first session, Barth has already interacted with them via email, phone calls, or even in person to finalize their designs anywhere between three and 20 times (usually somewhere in between).
(Credit: Mario Barth)
So what does it cost? While Barth’s prices start at a few hundred for a tiny tat, expect to pay between $3,000 and $4,000 for a medium-size piece. (Tattoo prices around the country vary depending on area and artist, but a typical medium-size tattoo usually falls more into the several-hundred-dollar-range, on average.) And while Barth can do some small versions in one session, an average back tattoo requires a minimum of 50 to 75 hours split into several sessions with Barth ideally seeing the client once every six weeks.
As for intricate works of art that cover much of the body, people pay tens of thousands for those. “I have a lot of ongoing pieces, full body suits, where people come for years. I have one client who’s been coming for 15 years once a month where we add on and keep going,” explains Barth. “A body is a very large canvas.”
Barth working on client Sylvester Stallone. (Photo via StalloneZone)
When he’s on the road, Barth says he’ll pay visits to “special high-end clients” who don’t want to go in the studio. And while he won’t share any specific stories about his experience with the rich and famous (we were hoping for a good story about Sly sobbing ), he does back up the old “the stars really are just like us” theory. “The most interesting thing is that celebrities are the same people as regular people when they get into the tattoo chair,” he says. “They have the same needs, the same fears, and the same wants about what they want to get from the tattoo.”
(Credit: Mario Barth)
As for the most challenging – and most memorable – tattoo he’s ever been tasked with, it’s actually a tearjerker. “It was a portrait of a baby who passed away. The parents had never seen her without the life support equipment,” he explains. “The only image we had was of the baby with the equipment. We had to remove all of that and had to figure out how she would look and make it a regular portrait. That was one of my most special ones. It stuck with me.”
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