Legendary tattoo artist wants safe ink to go mainstream

Getting a tattoo was once an act of rebellion. Today, it’s pretty mainstream and more than 100 million people in the United States are inked.

It’s been decades since tattoos lost their taboo status, and the industry remains mainly anti-corporate — until now. The ink master who opened the $1.5 million luxury tattoo salon Starlight Tattoo in Las Vegas, Nevada — Mario Barth — wants ink on everyone.

“Artists at Starlight Tattoo come from all over the world and from various tattooing traditions, including Japan and Samoa, famous for their Tebori (hand-poking) style and Suluape Tatau (hand-tapping) style, respectively,” said Barth. “The artists were hand selected by me to provide a one-of-kind tattoo experience.”

Barth’s boutiques play soothing R&B and Soul while making customers feel safe. The tattoo artist leased a warehouse in Hackensack, N.J., built a bottling plant, and began subjecting his more than 200 colored inks to rigorous pathogen testing and sterilization. Barth’s tattoo ink company, Intenze Inks (tagline “Your safety is our priority”), is now a $3.8-million operation it’s also vegan. 

“I started my career as a teenager in Austria when tattooing was illegal,” Barth said. “My education in body art came from spending time underground where I tattooed bikers, prison guards, and the like. I decided I needed to become a vocal advocate of the art which led to the legalization of the industry in Austria in 1987. After that I opened the first legal tattooing studio in the country.”

He then took his business to the U.S. and made himself an inked guinea pig.

“I was extremely bothered that there weren’t any rules or regulations for the manufacturing of tattoo inks in the United States,” he said. “I saw this as a major barrier for industry growth and acceptance and set out to make important changes. At first I tested the inks on myself, even if it meant deliberately avoiding proper cleaning procedures, just so I could better understand the risks and improve on the safety of his ink.”

For more mainstream tattoos, clients like Louis Macchiaroli, 34, from Norwood, N.J., fits the corporate bill. Married with four children, he is an operations manager at a pharmaceutical company with a full sleeve on his right arm, a half sleeve on his left arm, chest panel and tattooed ribs.

“Many of my tattooed friends work in corporate. This shows that employers are becoming more accepting of tattoos,” he said. “I also know tons of cops, lawyers and doctors with tattoos. But I still know some bikers, too.”

According to Macchiaroli, everyone in the tattoo world knows Mario, he is a legend and Macchiaroli’s best tattoos are from Mario when he owned shops in New Jersey.

“He did a huge half-sleeve on my arm. The tattoo is a big American Bald Eagle swooping down, with an American flag flying behind it,” he said. “I’m currently on Mario’s waiting list for another tattoo. In the meantime, I was also tattooed at his shop in Vegas by one of his employees.”

While he keeps bringing tattooing to more mainstream audiences — the Intenze Tattoo Inks Body Art Unleashed live streaming tattoo event in September brought 18,500 attendees, with 3.6 million viewers online — Barth will also keep working on making tattooing a safer, more hygienic art form.

“For a long time, there was no education, training, sharing, literature, documents or structure in the tattoo industry. No one wanted to talk with each other. Everyone thought they would lose their competitive edge,” he said. “We will continue this program that focuses on our responsibility to educate and teach others in the industry—to pay it forward.”

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