Arts & Culture News

Rudy Hetzer Is Out to Change the World, but First He'll Start with the Tattoo Industry

When you walk into most tattoo shops, you expect certain things -- biker-looking dudes, rat-tails and surliness. They grunt. You point. They tattoo. And you can't wait 'til it's over.

Rudy Hetzer of Dallas Tattoo & Art is out to change that. He's got a shop, a clothing line and an expansion plan to prove it. His shop alone let's you know something's up. It's a shared space with a glass gallery and on his side there's canvas art for sale, brocade wallpaper and a set of black Baroque sofas.

"At most shops, it's the same thing -- racks on racks on racks of regurgitated art," he says. "Roses, Sailor Jerrys, stuff we've all seen before. I'm trying to shatter that."

All those laminated sheets of pre-designed tattoos are called flash, and Hetzler couldn't be less interested in flash. His place is flash free. He understands the heritage of tattoo shops and that's part of what he's changing -- the image. "There are still some artists that are salty dogs, but you gotta understand, back in the day it was a harder, hazing world. You messed up, you might get your thumb broken."

Hetzer doesn't want any part of that world and that's why he's building his own. Dallas Tattoo & Art started as Dallas Tattoo Co., DTC, which has evolved into a clothing line -- Dollars Taxes Cents.

The guys Hetzer's interested in hiring are much like himself; they can take a piece from "canvas to print to skin." The art gallery and clothing line evolved out of the idea to create other outlets for his artists and, of course, revenue streams.

Growing up in Naperville, Illinois, Hetzer was always interested in art. "I was very introverted and I tried to fit in, but I could never express myself the way I wanted." Graffiti became his outlet. "I'd get in a lot of trouble for skateboarding and take it out on the city." After he graduated high school he bounced around and landed at the Art Institute in California. He planned on going into action sports -- designing skateboards, surfboards, etc. -- but a saturated market and truckload of student loans sent him in a different direction.

He remembers his first tattoo. Not the first time he picked up a machine -- they're not tattoo guns, they're machines because "guns kill people, machines make art" -- but the first time he created a piece of art and said to a friend, "Let's do this." Back then he didn't know what he knows now -- you have to tattoo from dark to light. He went from light to dark on a sunset and the result was a brownish mess. His friend still has the tattoo and refuses to let Hetzer cover it.

Needless to say, he's come a long way since then. These days he's booked out a month in advance and as an artist that pretty much means you've made it. Hetzer's still not satisfied though. He'd really like to change the industry, too. At DT&A, every artist is that -- an artist -- and every tattoo is custom. "You walk in with a concept, sit down with an artist and that's when we get started. You leave with an experience ... and a piece of art."

DTC is stocked with artists who share Hetzer's vision. The first one to sign on? His old friend Chris Clements. They met at a tattoo convention in Denver. Hetzer was so blown away by Clements' talent that he had him ink his grandmother on his forearm. It's an incredible portrait from a vintage photograph and a testament to the kind of work DTC offers. "We're a brand. There are things we don't do. I've seen tattoos that are nicely done, but they're jokes I wouldn't even want to tell, let alone put on someone permanently."

The brand got a boost when Oxygen's Best Ink called Hetzer to be on the show last year and "it's been lights out ever since."

He still keeps in touch with some of the guys from Best Ink and they've started doing guest spots at one another's shop. Hetzer's done a spot at Muse in Oklahoma City and this fall he'll head to Holland to do the same thing. His goal is to make connections and bring big names to his own shop for guest spots. "Dallas is a reckoning city in the tattoo industry and everyone knows it."

It's Hetzer's reputation that helps secure the talent. He treats everyone with respect and hates saying no. "If a kid shows up at my shop and wants to tattoo, maybe he isn't the right fit here, but I always want to point him in the right direction and get him hooked up with a shop where he is a fit." That fact coupled with Hetzer's mantra -- simply will not fail -- will hopefully keep DT&A thriving for years to come.

Dallas Tattoo & Arts is located at 2712 Live Oak St.. Call for an appointment, 469-334-0469.

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Nikki Lott
Contact: Nikki Lott