For Rodrigo Canteras tattooing is a lifestyle and art is rebellion.
Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Canteras’ adolescent years were an idyllic punk rock dream. School days were better spent thrashing around the skate park and boozing with the homies. Homework was for lames and squares, and for that reason Rodrigo continuously filled his school books with low-brow art, graffiti, and sick tribal designs (it was the '90s, who can blame him?). His parents, both lifelong artists, barely batted an eyelash when they found Rodrigo drawing band logos on his clothing instead of watching evening soap operas with the fam.
In 1994, at the age of 17, Canteras blew his Brazilian popsicle stand for greener pastures to finish out high school in sunny and sinful South Beach, Florida. It wasn’t long before he became acquainted with the local punks who introduced him to Miami’s underground scene of music, parties, and of course, body modification.
A year later on his 18th birthday, Rodrigo walked right into the tattoo shop to collect his long-awaited very first piece, and 23 years later he still hasn’t left.
What was tattooing like in South Beach when you came up?
In the early ‘90’s there were only three tattoo shops on the beach and the community had a certain air of exclusivity. Anyone interested in tattooing had to be a piercer first to get a foot in the door in the industry. I started piercing in ‘96-’97 without a single idea that I was going to tattoo, and pierced for a couple years. I was young and excited about everything in tattooing, the whole scene.
Do you remember your first experience with tattoos, or the first time you saw one?
When I was a kid there was this guy that lived down the street, he was friends with my older brother. He had a sun tattoo... a peace sign with a sun, like all the hippies had back then. I thought it was wild. My walls were also covered in music posters, and most of the bands I listened to had tattoos. Sepultura in particular, those guys were heavily tattooed and I used to study Max Cavalera’s arms.
What was the first tattoo you made on yourself?
A black rose. My (then) mentor Luis Segatto told me to set myself up and decided he was going to go out and have lunch. I did the first line and I said “Holy shit, what the fuck was that.” It was bad. Then I tried to fix that line, and the next line, and the line after that… and all of a sudden the tattoo was just getting thicker and thicker, looking worse and worse, - so I started to have a panic attack. Needless to say Luis came back and had to fix it.
You came from a street-shop upbringing. Was there a certain mindset in that work ethic that you had to adapt to?
I was taught to be ready for whatever walks through the door. You can’t be just a one trick pony, you have to be ready to juggle like a circus monkey.
What are some of the fundamentals that you are mindful of in your work?
Placement of the tattoo is important. It has to flow with the body, it has to face the right direction, it has to turn the right way… fit the wearer’s proportions. Putting down a clean, solid outline is fundamental before shading or color. You have to have a nice, crispy outline.
How would you describe your tattooing style, and what drew you into it?
I feel like I’m still developing my own style, but in the meantime, I’m doing clean Traditional tattoos. They’re bullet-proof. They age the best. All the people I had come to know were doing that style, so it was just ingrained in me that way.
If you could name 3-5 artists that have influenced your career, who would they be?
Ami (James). He’s the immediate first. He was the first person I met when I started piercing at Tattoos by Lou that would talk to me and let me watch him paint. Chris Garver. The day I met him he drew a dragon out of a single line, on a fuckin’ napkin, and blew my mind when I was a kid. I really like Regino (Gonzales) and Kiku’s work, I look up to those two. It sounds cliche cause that’s what everyone says but I just want my work to one day be as strong and as bold as those guys. Ed Hardy... that goes without saying. His work is textbook and timeless.
What is the best thing about working in New York?
New York City is unquestionably inspiring, I’m definitely influenced by my lifestyle here. Working alongside the caliber of talent between Ami and Garver, who I’ve always looked up to, the pressure is tremendous. I learn something new every day by working with them, and they push me to be better.
How has the industry changed since you started tattooing?
Everything has changed. Tattooing became mainstream. I think that maybe my generation was the last generation before the industry was exposed and somewhat exploited on television. Nowadays it’s a lot easier to become a tattooer. Nowadays you can find equipment anywhere. You can buy anything you want on eBay. Tattooing knowledge was passed down. It’s not like this so much anymore.
What do you need to improve on?
My drawing. Drawing skills in general.
Least favorite thing to tattoo?
Tribal, but I’ll do it.