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Illegal Tattoos: Interview with Juan Diego Prieto

Illegal Tattoos: Interview with Juan Diego Prieto

Tattoo Artists8 min Read

In this interview with Juan Diego Prieto, aka Illegal Tattoos, he talks about the work ethic, motivation and devotion behind his artwork.

I met Juan Diego, aka Illegal Tattoos, years ago and, of course, it was tattoos that brought us together. It so happened in Greenpoint, that with a few mutual friends we hung out after-hours in one of our favorite tattoo shops drinking beer, talking shit, and smoking cigarettes. Our friend Franco gave us all stick and poke tattoos in the basement, and it was one of those late nights I'll always regard fondly.

Of course, the question that everyone always wants to know: what is your artistic background? How did you get into tattooing and why were you drawn to it?

I got into tattooing when it made its breakthrough on TV. Tattoo culture in Colombia is not as accessible as it might be here in the United States. And me, growing up in a conservative family and a close minded country, the only exposure I had to tattooing as a teenager were TV shows that showed and talked about tattoos. Since I was a kid I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to art, specifically drawing, and when I found out that you could actually live out of making cool images on people I got hooked. I remember painting all the walls in my bedroom with tattoo related images. Back when I was eighteen I got my first tattoo here in New York. Once I did that I started learning more about the tattoo culture. After the first one I got more. One thing led to another and a few years later I was able to start learning at the shop I mentioned before.

I see all of these images used in tattooing as embodiments of our everyday life, and that is why they are so strong to us.

What was it like practicing tattooing in your studio at Pratt? What is a favorite story or moment from back then?

Can you talk about your style and how it evolved? What is it about the old school Chicano illustrative style that really resonates with you?

I think the motivation comes from this raw desire to express something.

Your style is often so fine line and detailed, like your illustrative works especially the diptych, that I’m often in awe of the time and effort you put towards your work. Where do you think the motivation to be an artist comes from? What is it that makes artists spend so much time creating work?

What do you love about New York? Why is it the place you decided to make home and how does it differ from Colombia?

Beyond tattooing, what are you passionate about? How do you spend your free time, and what do you do on your vacations?


Justine Morrow
Written byJustine Morrow

Social Producer, Journalist, Editor, and Curator for Tattoodo I am here to support you 🌻 IG: @lathe.of.heaven

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