Think back to your first tattoo. Maybe it happened in the basement of a friend’s house, crudely accomplished with a needle and string. Or perhaps you got inked in a shop with some burly dude behind the counter questioning your commitment to the tiny design you’d like forever etched onto your wrist. For plenty of people, doubt is a common theme for their first foray into the world of body modification. But while the first tattoo can be slightly awkward, and certainly nerve-wracking, it’s easy to get addicted to the buzz of the needle. It’s tough to stop at just one in the end.
These days tattoos are more commonplace and socially acceptable than ever (or at least that’s what we tell our mothers) — and there are a growing number of shops that want to elevate the inking experience. For women especially— who outnumber guys in terms of body art—finding a tattooer who makes us feel at ease throughout the process is particularly enticing. One such artist has created a new shop in the heart of Bushwick, where anyone seeking a particularly creative or delightfully strange tattoo will find inspiration.
Marina Heintze is the owner of MEATTT Inc., a fresh addition to the bustling New York tattoo scene. The twenty-eight-year old’s shop is bright and graphic, with a butcher-esque theme stretching from the meat-patterned front windows to an old school counter in the waiting area. Boasting only female artists—Heintze herself as well as twenty-eight year old Lauren Kolesinskas—the parlor is full of young creative energy, and is a far cry from the dark, flash-covered walls many might associate with a traditional street shop.
BUST stopped by MEATTT Inc. on a sunny afternoon to chat with the two women about art, feminism, and ink. We were impressed not only by their beyond-their-years professionalism and talent, but also by the overall dedication to promoting artistic expression through such a universal medium.
The shop doubles as a gallery space and certainly has a unique style. What motivated you to deviate from the traditional shop vibe and what inspired the “meat” theme?
Initially the back was gallery space. It still acts as that, but there’s another station back there (for Lauren) now. We met through Craigslist. But basically the whole shop is a gallery; everything on the walls is for sale. I’m an artist and Lauren is an illustrator. I’ve always been interested in meat as a pattern, like the marbleization, and then it became something humorous, like the body is a piece of meat. I wanted to have that sporty, but also esoteric feel, like “what is this place?” A lot of people when I first started actually thought it was a butcher shop, which I liked. I also wanted an old school meat counter. I drove out to Long Island and picked it up. It’s ridiculously heavy, but that was a good find. Craigslist again.
It’s rare to see an all-girl crew at a shop. Did you set out with that goal in mind?
There were some bumps in the road, and then I consciously made the decision that I wanted to work with all females. I think that opportunity is promising. And for the owner to be a female, as opposed to having an all-female shop but the owner is male.
Have you ever faced discrimination as a woman within the tattoo industry?
Where I had my apprenticeship was an all-female shop, but a man owned it, and it was a very different experience. It wasn’t collaborative. It was a totally different environment. People would come in and if I was behind the counter they would be like, “All right where’s the artist, when do I get to talk to him?” There was a lot of that and I don’t necessarily think that that’s going to go away. There are still men that are apprehensive about being tattooed by a woman, but you should go into a tattoo looking at someone’s portfolio and wanting to work with them because of their style. Sex shouldn’t come into play at all.
When I first opened up I dealt with people who didn’t think I was the artist, which was kind of insulting, and clients were surprised with the drawing I gave them in the end, like they didn’t think I could do it. Most shops you go into there are a bunch of guys in there still. But now with the Internet, things are a lot different in terms of getting your work out there.
How would you describe your tattoo style here at the shop?
My work is bold and funky. Lauren’s work is more quirky and humorous. We’re into weird strange stuff, but everything is custom.
My work is rooted in traditional Americana tattoos, and I like to do things with bold lines and simplified shapes. I went to school for illustration and I still work as an illustrator, so I like for things to tell a sort of self-contained story if they can.
You both have backgrounds in fine arts. How did you get involved in tattooing?
I got my BFA at [California Institute of the Arts] and I did installation. I can see how that plays in setting up a shop. Then I went to Parsons and got a degree in graphic design. I just started hanging out at this one shop [in California]. I liked the whole craft and how intense the process was, and how much research can be done for one single image. And I just kept getting tattooed and learned from different artists along the way.
Have you noticed a shift in the attitude towards women who have tattoos?
I think there are tattoo trends that go on, like geometric is what’s happening right now. With women, it’s terminology like the tramp stamp that was created for women, especially in the nineties, and that obviously means a certain thing. Now, with things like “Pinterest” tattoos and more trends, it’s not so easy for people to make judgment calls on girls with tattoos, like they’re more promiscuous. Don’t let the man get you down.
Women’s roles are changing all the time. There are plenty of things that women do now that weren’t socially acceptable but are now totally empowering and awesome. If you want [a tattoo] and it’s going to make you feel good, and feel attractive, and feel empowered when you look at it, then you should just get it. And if you’re worried how other people are going to perceive it, then you might not be ready for a tattoo, because it’s something you’re going to have to deal with it for the rest of your life.
Has the industry itself evolved, especially for women artists?
It’s interesting to see the rapid evolution of tattooing, and trying to strike a balance between honoring a really old art form and craft. A lot of it is based on putting your time in and respecting the traditions that have come before you. In the past the people who tattooed weren’t necessarily great artists; they were the people who could make machines. It also takes really long to get good at, and you respect the people who did it before you. It’s an exciting time to tattoo and see people entering it with a more artistic background as opposed to people who are coming at it from a craftsman and mechanical angle.
What are your goals for the shop and for yourselves?
Marina and I both have really high standards. We’re very hard on ourselves and critical, which is both good and can be detrimental. With my tattooing and illustration work, as soon as I’m done with something I don’t like it anymore, but obviously with a tattoo, it’s on somebody, so if they’re happy with it, I’m happy with it. I always want to get better. If I’m satisfied with something it probably means I need to push myself harder.
I want for the shop to be a staple of the neighborhood and for people to come to us specifically for Lauren’s style or my style. And for people to appreciate what the shop is and what it’s here for. Personal goal: To keep making more large-scale watercolor work and get those into another gallery.
Like the bag of dicks print behind me? How did you make that?
Exactly. It’s made with spit shading, which is a specific old-school technique that you use to make flash. We both do custom flash art on the weekends, and it changes every week. I’m really interested in that technique but trying to take it to a fine art demographic, and that’s why I’m making more large-scale work, with that tattoo feel. Not many people know about [this method]. I probably shouldn’t talk about it and keep it a secret.
Her process she might want to keep under wraps, but the shop itself is sure to become a go-to spot for customers seeking imaginative, original work. So if you’re in the mood for a new piece, or want to take advantage of their weekend flash sales, be sure to stop by and meet the innovative women who are reinvigorating the tattoo scene, one slab of meat at a time.
Images c/o: MEATTT Inc. c/o: Lea Rubin