New York may be the center of the tattoo universe today, but from 1961 until 1997 tattooing was banned in the city. Artists risked fines and potentially losing their livelihood on a daily basis. One of these renegade artists was Rising Dragon’s founder Darren Rosa, a New York City native and tattoo artist of 32 years.
Rising Dragon wasn’t always the establishment it is today. At its inception it was nothing more than Rosa tattooing out of his mother’s apartment. “My poor mom was studying for her Master’s Degree, and all the noise and hustle bustle of a business kept her awake,” says Rosa. It wasn’t until 1989 that Rosa decided it was time to take his business to the next level by purchasing a co-op apartment, one that he could both live and work out of. “In the first three years I couldn’t take care of all the demand myself, so out of my co-op apartment/business I hired two other artists,” Rosa recalls. And thus, Rising Dragon was born.
Rosa is first and foremost an artist, but aside from that, he’s an astounding business man. Recognizing the need for diversity as well as versatility, Rosa has managed to learn just about every style under the sun. Tattooing everything from bold tribal designs to Japanese inspired work, and even realistic portraits, his style knows no boundaries. “I like my art to be bold,” says Rosa. “I believe that holds up best over time and makes a better tattoo than some of the micro detailing that I see sometimes. That stuff is pretty, but to me it doesn’t make a statement like a bold tattoo does, and I believe a tattoo should be more than just decoration.”
With a whopping three plus decades in the industry under his belt, Rosa says that it’s still important to gain a bit of insight and inspiration from his peers from time to time. “Even as the owner... I still go to conventions,” says Rosa. “I talk to the younger [newbies who are kind of like how I used to be]. Sometimes full of arrogance and pride, but also full of energy and ideas!” And even after all his years as an artist and shop owner, Rosa says that he’s still learning a thing or two, and growing with the ever changing industry. “I’ve learned that more than ever tattooing has become a respectable business, and the customer has become our number one priority,” says Rosa. “A recent trend is to publicly thank your client on social media. It’s a great idea, because we really do appreciate them!”
Rising Dragon is located in Chelsea on Manhattan’s west side, and if you stop in on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday you might just be able to meet “Darren-The Dude” himself. From humble beginnings in his mother’s apartment to his beautiful studio on W 14th, there’s no denying that Rosa is one of those people who was born for this. Versatile, incredibly talented, and an all around stand up guy, Rosa is one of New York’s living legends.