On a recent afternoon, Gabriel Martinez applied a tattoo with a wireless rotary pen to the calf of a customer’s leg at his shop in downtown Deming.
The 25-year-old artist, who has run the Endless Ink Studios for three years, recently relocated from Spruce Street into a more spacious shop at E. Pine Street.
Just a block away, Ruben Valenzuela’s shop, Resurrection Tattoo, is going strong six years after opening and now offers body piercings by apprentice body artist Ashley Nuñez.
Her work area is located near the studio’s entrance. It has turquoise walls with artwork and a cabinet filled with jewelry, studs, and needles.
The two women, both in their mid-20s, spoke with the Headlight to discuss how they were able to become professional body artists during a period when attitudes towards tattoos and body piercings have rapidly changed.
Nuñez, 27, has a five-year-old son and works as a server at Irma’s Restaurant while she completes her professional license under Valenzuela’s supervision. She has visible tattoos all over her body, multiple studs on her lips, tongue, and face, and a nosering. Her hair is also decorated with a complex hairstyle with silvery threads, jewelry, and long braids that resemble dreadlocks. Earlier this year, she promoted her unique look as a competitor for a cover model spot for Inked Magazine.
It was a distinct turn from an experience she reported from just a few years ago when she worked at a local hardware store where a female patron told Nuñez she would not return: “She told me she would never shop there again because she didn’t want to see my face.”
Nuñez got her first piercing at 14. By 18, she was performing them on herself, experimenting with different ensembles of jewelry, hairstyle, and clothing as a venue for self-expression and creativity before selecting it as a profession.
“I’ve done pretty much everything aside from below the belt,” she laughed. “Dermal, tongue, nose, eyebrows, ears — just everywhere.”
Since she graduated from college, her attitude toward body art has changed rapidly. The stigma against visible tattoos and piercings was strong and still occasionally provoked reactions of disgust or suspicion. Still, as the generation born in the mid-to late-1990s approaches their thirties, visible body art is growing more familiar, including in workplaces.
“Back in the day, it was more of a hidden thing because they weren’t accepted then,” she said. “Everyone had them everywhere but their hands and face, and now it’s like the reverse: Everyone starts with their hands, looks, and necks.
“Nowadays, I think it’s gotten a lot more lenient — in a positive way, where it’s more accepting,” she continued. “I see more younger kids come in, and their parents say, ‘I’d rather you get it professionally done.’”
While surveys suggest that negative associations with body art are strongest among older generations, Nuñez said even that has given way to curiosity and growing admiration among restaurant customers and community neighbors.
She also said that people of all ages are now interested in DIY. She stated that her oldest client was a woman 90 years old.
At Endless Ink, Martinez’s customer was sitting for a leg tattoo commemorating a recent trip to Los Angeles with his wife. His tattoos tell a story of the places they have been together.
“It’s a sacred thing to people,” Martinez said as he worked, reflecting on tattoos’ ancient origins in contrast to 20th-century stigmas that associated them with criminality and marginal subcultures. Coincidentally, after remarking on how police officers were once generally forbidden from bearing visible tattoos, a Luna County sheriff’s deputy stopped by to request an appointment.
Martinez says that tattoos can be of different styles. He has done crosses, St. Judes, praying hands, symbols, sacred symbols, as well as decorative pieces of art. As the fashions change, the names of spouses or partners are becoming less popular. But he still gets asked for these.
Martinez remembered that, in his school days, less than a decade before, visible tattoos often attracted the wrong type of attention. “It was like, ‘Oh, that guy did something crazy,’” he said. “Nowadays, I think more people see it as an art form.”
Tattoos on the neck and face, which were once associated with gangs of criminals, are now widely accepted, partly because they show status or that the person has endurance. “People used to have to earn the tattoos they got, like prison style,” he said.
He said these connotations had changed thanks to the growing acceptance of visible ink on the body and numbing sprays and creams that make it more comfortable.
Martinez said his customers come from various walks of life and professions, “from construction workers to contractors, regular people just off the streets,” as well as professionals and public sector workers.
Like Nuñez, Martinez said he sees older generations experimenting more often. His oldest customer, he claimed, was an 80-year-old woman accompanied by a daughter.
“She got a heart with her name,” Martinez said.
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