The hands of a corpse delicately caress the lips of a school girl while a young boy licks the eyeball of a woman who is bleeding profusely. Sailor Moon giggles over the shoulder of a girl playing with herself and monsters torment women tied with rope. These bizarre perversions are balanced by sweet visions of floating mermaids cuddling koi and Studio Ghibli favorites like Kiki's kitty Jiji or Chihiro's friend No-face. This is the awesome work of Tina Lugo.
I first fell in love with Tina Lugo's work because anyone who does Junji Ito's Uzumaki pieces and kinky Shunga bits is badass in my book...but it was her blunt honesty, positivity, and supportive attitude that really sealed the deal. It's a beautiful thing when you not only respect and admire an artists work, but also the artist themselves. You can feel the love she has for her clients, her artwork, her partner, and even her Instagram following: she regularly gives out free flash pieces in thanks to her fans. The passion and work ethic behind her pieces is inspiring and she was kind enough to share a bit more of her story with Tattoodo.
JM: It’s wonderfully clear from your work that anime and manga are deep pools of inspiration for you, as they are for many 90’s kid who grew up watching Toonami and Adult Swim. When did you first notice your artistic abilities, and were your parents supportive of your creative exploration? How do you feel about your experience at SVA, and did it enrich your life in any particular ways?
Tina Lugo: I think my parents and teachers realized my artistic abilities before I did. I just knew I liked to draw. As I became older, I started to see that I had a knack for it. My parents were very supportive and pushed me to go to art school. SVA was an amazing art school and definitely inspired me to be better. My professors gave me creative freedom to explore and definitely propelled me forward in skill.
How did you get into tattooing and why was it something you were drawn to? Did you try any other careers before becoming a tattoo artist?
I was and still am a fine artist. I still do gallery work and travel for my paintings. Tattooing was always in the back of my mind, but life opened other artistic doors from me. For me, everything was a matter of opportunity. When the opportunity arose for me to take on an apprenticeship I gave it serious thought. I was met with heavy criticism for wanting to explore it, so it wasn't a venture that can be taken lightly. But once I started tattooing and proving myself I received more acceptance. It's a profession that requires you to be all in or nothing. It's not a side hobby. So, I am a full time artist and full time tattooer. I don't have much time off.
Your personal style is so unadulterated and it’s awesome to see someone so young have such a complete vision of their work. Were there specific artists, or styles that inspired you? How has your style evolved over the years?
My style definitely evolved over the years and being exposed to new art all the time helps enhance your craft. One of my art professors hailed from Japan and knew I loved ink work and dark content. She introduced me to Ero Guro, which is a dark sexual art style of 1930's Japan. I was obsessed at once. I studied it for a long time and figured out ways to incorporate it into my work. It still holds wells of inspiration for me.
Some of your work is very erotic, and although personally I can’t get enough of Shunga and hentai, some social media platforms, and sadly repressed peoples, don’t feel the same. Have you had to deal with any censorship issues yourself, and how do you feel is the best way to handle people/communities who try to subjugate and suppress yourself and others?
Only recently as platforms like Instagram change their policies, have I experienced heavier policing of erotic imagery. Usually I receive positive reviews of my work, with many of the LGBTQ and kink communities excited to see more sexual awareness. The core of my work is to express kink, desire, sexuality, sexualization, loss of innocence, and how and why we develop these fetishes. I try to have open dialogues with people to talk about kink and my work, as those who are more repressed usually don't see the men or women I paint as masters of their sexual journey, but instead as victims. It's important to educate people that we can enjoy many different types of sex and not be seen as "victims", that women can love rough sex and it's not from a deep rooted trauma.
In your IG bio you state “Wear your kink proudly” and I feel like this is one of the many reasons your fans love you: your self-awareness and confidence. Where did you find the courage to embrace your sexuality so fully and openly? What advice do you have for others who are trying to do the same?
I was sexually abused by partners in the past, some of whom tried to play it off as a Dom/Sub relationship. I soon realized that this is very common, and it was important to me to make sure that people knew that there always should be consent in whatever you choose to do. I also felt weird because I found some kinks really appealing, and how was I going to explain that I liked being choked or spanked without people suddenly victim blaming me? I was conflicted. But it fueled me to be more open about my sexuality and that was important to my emotional health and well being. Be kinky. Wear it proudly. It doesn't give people the right to take advantage of you or shame you. Its ok to like what you like.
Although the tattoo industry is notorious for being predominantly cis straight white male oriented, these days it seems queer tattooers and artists are getting more support and attention from media outlets and social platforms. What do you think is the impetus behind such positive change? What is the best way to continue healthy gender relations not only within the tattoo community, but in greater society as well? What has your personal experience been like?
I was lucky enough to have a mentor who believes in positive change for the community. He wants more women in the industry, more Trans, more queer people of color. We both wanted to be a part of the movement to make tattooing more inclusive. That isn't to say it should be easier to get in. There definitely is a standard in place: You need to be a good artist and always have a "student mind", be willing to learn and relearn, to take heavy criticism, and be humble. It's definitely made me grind a lot harder to be a better artist. However, it is a boys' club. And because of that it makes it ten times harder to get in when you are not a cis white male. I think we are getting our feet in the door and the key is to keep making strides forward, keep giving our peers legs up instead of tearing them down. If we can continue to do that for each other I have no doubt that we will see a much healthier gender presence.
You tattoo, paint glass and murals, make shirts, and patches...you have your hands in many different mediums and I doubt that I’m the only person to wonder (and also hope..) but do you ever think you’ll create animation in the future? Will there be a Tina Lugo anime on Adult Swim anytime soon?
Hahahah! I would love that! I believe that as being an artist you should never feel pigeonholed to one field. I like many different mediums and I believe that art should be accessible to all walks of life. Can't afford a painting? Well, here's a patch! Want something more permanent? Get a tattoo!! When art forms become classist, that's when I worry for future, younger generations and what they think art will become. Who knows, anything's possible. What up Adult Swim!?
Are there any projects or events coming up that you’d like to share with our readers? Any artists, communities, or galleries you hope to collaborate with in the future?
There are more collaborations with Inner Decay coming soon, I have a new zine coming out with Valley Cruise press. I want to make a full scale comic compilation eventually. I have two art shows coming up that will be in California that are in the works for later this year. There's a lot I want to do but there's never enough time in the day. But I'm always down to do more fun projects with people. I keep the door of opportunity open.