Terry Mayo’s tattoo gun slings only large-scale art pieces these days — bio-organic, blackwork, black and gray, or color tattoos. The 25-year ink veteran specializes in illustrative images but prefers to tattoo traditional Japanese art. He has tattooed masterpieces using both styles at Cat Tattoo in Addison.
Mayo says he knows the body and looks at it as a piece of art. He respects the trust his clients place in him and tries to interpret their ideas into something he’s going to enjoy tattooing, always building upon their ideas. He has tattooed characters from literary masterpieces such as Gustave Doré’s Four Horsemen; Robert E. Howard’s Conan; and myths and legends from Asian culture.
He learned the art when he was a teenager in Mesquite. He began drawing when he discovered Frank Frazetta’s art on the covers of his father’s Conan comics. Some friends pitched in money to help him order tattoo equipment out of the back of a tattoo magazine. All he had to do in return was tattoo them for free.
He learned by spending a year tattooing out of his home. He took a few photos of his work to a local tattoo shop in hopes of being hired as a tattoo artist. At the time, most tattoo shops were part of the biker scene, he says. There wasn’t a huge emphasis on artistry.
Then he met John Rhodes, an artist manager at Tigger’s Body Arts in Deep Ellum. Rhodes was seeking tattoo artists who could do more than just tattoo flash-art from the wall. He wanted artists who could actually draw. He saw Mayo’s work and hired him. Tigger’s was probably the first tattoo studio in the city that required that of its artists, Mayo says.
Mayo’s first night there began with murder. Outside the parlor, a group of guys on the sidewalk argued with two guys in a car. Gunfire followed. Mayo threw his client on the floor as two or three bullets exploded through the front window. The gunfire ended with the men in the car dead. “It looked like the classic scene you would see in a movie,” he says.
Mayo’s time at Tigger’s in the early ’90s was like a scene out of a movie in more ways than one. He worked from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. with no rules to follow because the state didn’t regulate the tattoo industry. His place of employment included a pool table, ashtrays and beer on tap.
The state started regulating the tattoo industry a short time later.
As a tattoo artist and business owner, Mayo strives to meet state regulations. He follows state health codes and keeps his shop well above sanitary compliance. Not all tattoo shops follow the same path.
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Tattoos now appear on 1 in 5 adult Americans, according to a 2012 Harris Poll, and “hack” artists are springing up all over.
An NBC 5 investigation found the state only inspected 40 out of the 110 licensed shops in North Texas in 2012. A year later that number dropped to 30 while tattoo studios more than doubled to 263.
Permanent scarring, bloodborne diseases such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV, and staph infections — the dangers of receiving tattoos in an unsanitary shop — have led Mayo to call for more regulation by the state.
“It removes the people who don’t belong, the people who are going to hurt people,” Mayo says.