|© Katie Whitney|
It’s a running joke in the tattoo world that everyone owes Leo Zulueta $100. It started when an inker friend handed him a $100 bill, saying it was partial payment for all the money he’d made from the designs Zulueta created. Since then other artists have tried to hand Zulueta cash, too. After all, there are few tattoo parlors that haven’t cashed in on Zulueta’s art.
Known as the “father of modern tribal tattooing,” Zulueta popped up on a television show that Jared Leathers saw one day. Leathers was working at the Arborland Borders and recognized Zulueta as one of his regular customers. He was floored to learn that Zulueta was part of the 1970s San Francisco tattoo scene that helped introduce the once-marginal art form into mainstream America. In 2000, Zulueta had sold his Hollywood parlor, Black Wave, to move here and open Spiral Tattoo on Packard with his girlfriend, Michigan native Dianne Mansfield, a tattoo artist and photographer.
Leathers, an artist himself, drew a design resembling tiger stripes and brought it into the shop. Zulueta tattooed it onto his left forearm, and the two hit it off immediately.
They share a common artistic sensibility. Zulueta’s “New Tribalism” style is influenced by South Pacific traditions, with interweaving patterns and strong contrasts of darks and lights. Many of Leathers’ drawings and paintings similarly explore “positive and negative space.” The men discovered that they had similar tastes in music and started getting together to play guitar. And Leathers began spending more time at Spiral Tattoo.
It took awhile before Leathers found the courage to ask Zulueta and Mansfield if he could learn from them. “In today’s world it is really hard to get into tattooing,” Zulueta explains. “There’s thousands upon thousands of people tattooing now. When someone comes around asking for an apprenticeship at the shop, we usually tell them no straightaway. We’ve actually had people cry in the shop.”
But this time they said yes. At first, Zulueta just had Leathers
I just want to thank Leo, Jared and Diane for the terrific tattoos. My husband and I were the ones that had the kanji "soulmate" tattoos. He actually told me today while still over seas that he looks at that tattoo everyday and it makes him feel better. Its amazing how personal one tattoo can be and how more connected it can make two people feel when they are miles away from each other. Thank you again for your awesome talent. H Moore
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