Jason Angst, Artisan Tattoo
5001 Penn Ave., Garfield
412-661-0503 or www.artisantattoogallery.com
Jason Angst recalls that he "started drawing before I could read, maybe even before I could talk. Which is kind of sad, because maybe I should be better at this by now."
But if City Paper readers are any judge, he's got nothing to apologize for. And Angst, 33, brings decades of experience to each tattoo.
As a child, he was a fan of dragons and tanks — "especially if I could mix the two." That interest in fantasy art served him well after he left a troubled home life in Port Vue to come to Pittsburgh at age 15: He soon found work "making items of a fairy-type nature" for Renaissance fair-goers and other interested buyers.
But gossamer wings only get you so far, and Angst discovered his true calling when he was offered a tattoo machine by an artist leaving the trade. After a few years of freelancing, and a stint with local studio Tattoo Noir, Angst and his wife, Meliora Angst, launched Artisan in 2011. The studio occupies a building Angst bought with money earned from tattooing at a Harley-Davidson rally.
"I've always leaned toward self-sustainability," he says.
Angst's career has tracked the growth in tattooing as a whole. "When I started in the mid-to-late-1990s," he says, many people "didn't really know what was possible with the art form." But today, tattooing has come into its own as an art form, and even a life choice. "We've been striving to build an education about what it means to be a heavily tattooed person — how it defines you in society."
Angst himself draws inspiration from a variety of sources, ranging from internationally famous Robert Hernández to local artists like Steve Morris. "My work doesn't entirely look like theirs, but they are all in there," says Angst.
He looks to the aesthetics, and ethics, of indigenous cultures as well. For example, he cites Japanese tattoo masters to explain his own approach to work: "You wouldn't even tell them a concept: You'd go and hang out with them for a day and they would learn about you. I try and work a bit of that into my consulting with people." Angst will spend time getting a feel for a customer's personality, and then try to find the visual imagery to match. "Most of the time people will say, ‘I had no idea that's what I wanted.'"
It's not an approach that lends itself to high business volume, but then that's why his shop is called "Artisan."
And while his own career continues its upward trajectory, Angst says he hasn't forgotten his hard-luck origins. His work "comes out of the struggle that followed from the mills closing down. I do a lot of art that relates to the fall of industry, and the spiritual quests that ensue. The work ethic of the steelworkers and what befell them — all of that is reflected in my art."