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Interview with J.S. Lewis | Tucson Tattoo Expo & Arizona Tattoo Invitational

Tell us about the background of Tucson Tattoo Expo and how you got started.

Before the Tucson Tattoo Expo came into existence, there was a show called the Tucson Tattoo’s & Blues. The show was put on in 2008 by a friend, Bert Rodriguez. He had put on the Tattoo’s & Blues show for 15 years prior in Santa Rosa, CA before to moving here to Tucson. The show did great and the artists and attendees in Tucson really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, for personal reasons, Bert moved back to CA. and the show was left in limbo.  A lot of the artists in town reached out to me to find out what was happening with the show, wondering if there was going to be a show at all, so I gave Bert a call to find out what the deal was. Once it was official, that there was no longer a show in Tucson, I decided to pick up the ball and run with it with Bert’s blessing.

What made you decide to take over the show and take the first steps to promoting artists and producing conventions.

I had been traveling and doing shows for 10 years at that point and I wanted to expose other artists from across the nation to the laid back Tucson atmosphere as well as showcase some of the art that we have going on here. I thought it would be great to shine a spotlight on the local talent and let the artists and community in Tucson experience that too. I had been fortunate, in my time traveling and doing shows, to become exposed to these big named artists, some of whom these local artists had only seen in magazines. There wasn’t any social media at this time, so magazines were the only source of coverage. I wanted to bring the outside world into Tucson and have Tucson get exposure in the outside world.

You had mentioned it’s artist owned and operated and that you are very selective on the artists attending.

Yes, this show is artist owned, it is part of my philosophy. I don’t feel that outsiders have a complete understanding of our industry nor the same respect for the industry.

With such an intimate venue and location, how do you hand pick the attendees? What can we expect in the following years for Tucson Tattoo Convention?

As far as choosing the artists, I mainly chose artists who I knew personally, who are down to earth, humble and most importantly serious about their craft. Artists who are serious about the industry and serious about tattooing as a whole. People who could help capture the vibe and attitude of shows from back in the day, shows that were intimate and personal. The shows used to be like tattoo family reunions and that is the feeling I try to accomplish every year. Something different from the giant, impersonal mega shows. We are always interested in bringing new talent, young hungry kids. We want to provide a platform for the new up-and-comers of the tattoo industry, those who are serious and who are pushing the boundaries of this art form. We are approaching our 10th year, and I have always said that after ten years I would see what direction the show is headed. We just want to keep it entertaining and keep the show about the art, to show that we are artists not just tattooers. This is why we strive to bring the art to the show in forms like live on stage painting, artists collaborations of art and graffiti fusion and art galleries with artwork done by the attending artists. It’s also why I hand sculpt the first place award each and every year and get a different artists to paint the official artwork. We are all artists and tattoos aren’t the only medium we try to showcase. We want to keep doing this and if the show becomes something like a mega show, it will be time to put it to bed because at that point it would no longer be about the art.

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