Discount Stab Shack: West Oakland's Bike Messenger Turned Tattooist

Discount Stab Shack: West Oakland's Bike Messenger Turned Tattooist

Galen Leach is self-taught and self-made — and he brings a fun flair to the Ignorant Style

Seated in his home studio, Galen Leach is surrounded by original flash, screenprints, tattoo equipment, lush plants, and a large, bright jobsite lamp. The noises of construction can be heard from next door, a common sound as West Oakland is slowly starting to gentrify. “I think that one of the cool things about home-made tattoos is that you’re definitely the only person that has that,” Leach, aka Discount Stab Shack says. “Maybe it has some weird sketchy lines, but there’s something about it that’s really friendly. Easy to warm up to. Approachable.”

There’s actually nothing ignorant about the Ignorant Style. It’s stripped down and simple, but it’s got more to it than simplicity and basic line work. Leach, who’s lived in the Bay Area for the last 20 years, for instance, is entirely self-taught, following in the renegade roots of the style. “My friend, black out drunk, bought a $99 tattoo kit from China online. I’d been talking about it for a while, you know, just around at work and stuff, and he gave it to me,” Leach says. “Just like, ‘here, take this, get it away from me.’ I opened it up and it had foxtails and dirt in there, like he’d been tattooing drunk in the backyard, and I was really stoked. I thought, ‘this is a great way to start,’ you know, with foxtails and dirt in the $99 tattoo kit.”

Ignorant Style tattoos have been on the rise for the last decade, as access to equipment and DIY skill sharing soars. The origin of the style is rooted in graffiti — or at least that’s what French graffiti artist, self-taught tattooer, and Ignorant Style pioneer FUZI says. “My friends and I were wild and without rules, and I wanted to create a style that expressed something free,” FUZI told Complex Magazine. “Ignorant Style was based on how graffiti looked in the beginning in NYC, and it was meant to look like it was made by a child who is just learning the art form — naïve but pure. Ignorant Style is a reaction to the standardization of graffiti. You write your name how you want, where you want, and fuck the rest. There are no rules.”

No rules means you can really carve out your own path, however you see fit. “After covering my own leg [in early 2013], I was a bike messenger at the time, and bike messengers are broke and like tattoos,” Leach explains. “It never occurred to me to start tattooing other people, but they saw what I was doing when I was like, ‘hey, look at these stupid tattoos!’ and they were like, ‘oh, let me get one!’” Practice makes perfect, and soon Leach was filling his weekends with tattooing. He worked only by donation for the first three years, but eventually his business grew too large for that level of financial open-endedness — his first step towards turning his weekend tattooing into a real career began when he realized he needed to properly price his work.

Leach has been teaching himself how to make art in a variety of ways his whole life. Playing instruments, playing in bands, marketing those bands, silk-screening t-shirts, doodling in the margins of all his notes — he’s always wanted to know the “how to” and carved a path to learning it. Eventually this self-made gusto led to being able to tattoo full time — at just the beginning of 2017, he was able to quit his other job.

“Yeah, I eventually started being able to pay my rent from tattooing, and I’m really excited to be able to just focus on that and giving people better and better tattoos,” Leach says. Just working weekends on tattooing while working full-time Monday through Friday proved exhausting and interrupted the creative flow and learning curve. Leach felt like he knew exactly when it was time to take the plunge into only tattooing, and doesn’t regret the move one bit.

Leach’s tattoos are tongue in cheek and solidly rooted in classic Americana like Gary Larson’s Far Side comics (“I think Gary Larson would have been a great tattooist,” Leach quips), Garfield, Matt Groening’s cartoons and comic art, and old school prison tattoos. Leach’s artistic inspirations are another testament to the Ignorant Style’s DIY roots, as indie comix have a huge history of needing to be clean, simple, and easy to reproduce on a company’s mimeograph after business hours behind your boss’s back.

Despite the stigma lobbed at alleged “kitchen magicians,” Leach hasn’t run into any negativity towards his work. When he first started posting his work to Instagram, he was terrified of blowback, but instead found clients and tattooers alike were hugely supportive. It’s a testament to Leach’s artistry, his laid back nature, and the growing power of the Ignorant Style — simple, stripped down, and tongue in cheek is here to stay.

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