Before talking to Aaron Funk, the idea of anything revolutionary happening at a tattoo shop seems like either a cheesy marketing ploy (think Hot Topic taking over the punk aesthetic) or something self-aggrandizing in the worst possible way. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that this 29-year-old tattoo artist is completely sincere and not self-deluded in any way about what he accomplished when he opened up Tattoo Revolution in Redlands with partner Brent Vann in 2003. The duo had in mind a personal experience, creating something more akin to a collective art studio, less of a traditional tat shop.
The results prove it. Aaron pretty much lives at Tattoo Revolution, even on his days off. The Redlands native began tattooing at 14, living in his own words a “misspent youth, always into art, always drawing.” At that time, “I was on drugs, and this guy barely out of prison, he says ‘tattoo me.’ So we built a little prison rig and I tatted him, and I’ve never stopped.”
Funk’s education wasn’t confined to makeshift sets worthy of a good Oz episode: he went to art school at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He’s done graphic design work, painted murals in the homes of friends, and even had a brief stint exploring animation. But “tattooing is my passion, for sure,” he says.
That passion rubs off on those around him: he and Brent had a full staff before they were even done building the shop. Both began by working at Empire Tattoo in Rialto under the tutelage of Shawn Warcot, and became friends. They left the shop on good terms and began to look for a new home, but always saw something missing or something they could do better at the other shops. So they opened their own and recreated the environment they shared, where those working for them are friends first, employees second.
“You don’t have that same competitive environment. Here, artists will come up to each other right in the middle of a tattoo and offer advice on a piece, which is something you never see somewhere else.”
Their formula obviously is working: they just opened up a second shop in Beaumont, with plans to open up a third “way in the future.” Another way they strengthen the bond amongst artists is by closing the shop and having after-hours drawing classes, where “other people in the industry come down, throw out ideas for an hour, then everyone critiques everyone’s pieces.”
On a more personal level, Aaron’s biggest influences are both people he knows personally: Bob Tyrell and Nikko. “Their style blows me away, and they’re amazing human beings.” When I bring up tattoo conventions, though, Aaron responds—tongue in cheek—that he “can’t stand tattoo conventions, because I can’t stand tattooers . . . you can cut the ego there with a knife!” Still laughing, he adds “great, now everyone is going to hate me!” With all that you are doing to revolutionize the industry for both your customers and your fellow artists, we don’t think you need to worry about that. (Shaun Rosenstein)
Tattoo Revolution, 724 Tennessee St., Redlands, (909) 793-6661; www.tattoorevolution.net.