Luxury Tattooing

Photo: Joshua Lutz/Redux for New York Magazine

When Paul Booth, 39, got his first tattoo, the custom was still the province of society’s outcasts. Not anymore: According to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 36 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 are tattooed. Booth, who was crowned the “King of Rock Tattoos” by Rolling Stone for inking his meticulous, macabre imagery on metalhead royalty, is moving his studio from its longtime East Village storefront to a gallerylike space on West 33rd Street. He spoke to Joshua Lipton.

Why are you moving?
We don’t do walk-ins. So being on the street is just a hassle.

How long is your waiting list?
Between two and three years.

What do you charge?
If price is an object, you’re in the wrong place.

What about the other 1,000 or so licensed tattoo artists in the city?
Probably only a handful of those are really worth going to. There are these little bodegas with sunglass huts and a tattooist in the back hacking people up. Things like that really turn my stomach.

How do you feel about tattooing getting mainstream?
Tattooing should never be trendy. Trends come and go. Tattoos are forever. That aspect is a bummer. People getting band logos tattooed on them. They see a celebrity with a tattoo and they get one.

So are you optimistic about the future of tattooing?
Yeah, I think we can’t be stopped. There will be a point when the whole world will consider tattooing as a true art form. It’s already happening. The National Arts Club invited me to become a member last year.

Did you feel weird joining?
Yes, I get nervous going.

Why do you work with rock stars?
If I like their music, then it’s a great collaboration. Like Slayer’s Kerry King, it’s like we’re writing a song together. Except in my realm. That’s cool because I was inspired by Slayer, especially in my early years.

When’d you do him last?
June 6, 2006, we did a 666 tribute tattoo. On his left arm.

Didn’t you ink Jann Wenner?
Yeah, a little version of his son’s tattoo. If I’m not mistaken, it was a little Egyptian eye. It was on his ankle or calf. His son got a tattoo on his shoulder blades and then his dad came in. I remember it was like a family bonding experience.

Did he cry?
No, I’m gentle as a lamb.

What was the last tattoo you got?
The right side of my head. I had this buzzing, pounding tattoo machine slamming into my head for nine hours. I got a concussion. After a few hours, I didn’t feel the pain anymore. I went into this weird state of euphoria. Next: City’s Former Top Cop Hard to Prosecute

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Luxury Tattooing