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Art & Life with Phoenix Mendoza

Today we’d like to introduce you to Phoenix Mendoza.

Phoenix, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I have always loved art and tattoo culture but felt profoundly isolated from the industry as a queer, butch latinx lesbian. So much of the tattoo world is built around gatekeeping, traditionalism, and toxic masculinity, and I spent my adolescence and young adulthood longing to tattoo but feeling as if I could never make it in such a boys club. However, once I landed my apprenticeship in 2016, which was uniquely self-driven and provided little guidance, I discovered how intrinsically queer tattooing as an art form is, and felt inspired to create a space designed to offer healing specific to the exclusion LGBT, fat, female, and POC people experience in the tattoo world. As a tattooer, my mission is not just to create beautiful art. It’s to reclaim and reconcile pain and scarring for othered and oppressed populations.

I found this nearly impossible to do at the shop I was at. I was the only woman in a space dominated by men, many of which were actively misogynistic, racist, and homophobic. I didn’t feel safe there, and I certainly didn’t feel comfortable inviting my clientele there, considering the majority of the folks I tattoo are also LGBT women or WOC. It seemed converse to my goals as an artist to expect my clients to be vulnerable when there was such a pervasive air of toxicity and structural oppression at the shop, so without knowing where I was going, I quit in December of 2017 after a little over a year of tattooing there. I spent eight months doing guest spots, networking, and frantically searching for a space before finding my current studio. I now tattoo from a private space in Altadena and have realized my dream of creating a healing environment catered to growth, acceptance, and the radical reconciliation of pain through tattooing.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I am a tattooer who specializes in large scale, freehand blackwork botanicals and other nature tattoos. By freehand, I mean that I tend to not use a stencil machine, and instead draw my designs directly onto the skin before tattooing them, in an effort to honor and work with the body’s natural curves and organic shapes. I also specialize in tattooing fat bodies, scarred bodies, GNC bodies, and reworking old tattoos or doing cover-ups. I believe that tattooing can be the means by which people who are at odds with their bodies, (whether society deems them unacceptable or they carry years worth of trauma) can reconnect to the corporeal form and find acceptance and love for themselves. It is the condition of queer people, people of color, and woman to experience pain, and tattooing is a reclamation of the scars that leaves: a willful decision to mark the body as we desire.

Tattooing flowers, trees, and other natural elements for me is a reminder that we are always experiencing growth, and that tattooing, though technically permanent, is not locked in stasis. Tattoos age as we do, bodies change, grow, shrink, and shift. For me, like every living thing, all art is ephemeral, which is why I choose to focus the majority of my original art in capturing the dichotomy between permanence and impermanence through tattooing nature and especially flowers.

I hope that people who get tattooed by me, or even just people who see my tattoos, can take away a message of deep transformation, healing, and self-love. It’s so difficult to love ourselves when society so actively rejects and shames bodies, especially queer bodies and women’s bodies, simply for existing. If my art can assist in the reconciliation of those societal norms, past trauma, and speak to future growth, then I’ve done my job.

Any advice for aspiring or new artists?
Take risks. Break the rules. Create what you want to create, instead of what you’ve been told is the most lucrative thing to create. Art is not meant to be palatable, it’s meant to start conversations, to move people, to say something. Also, for those of you who are feeling suffocated or endangered by the ways in which toxic masculinity dominates the art and tattoo world, create your own spaces and find your own community! I have been so grateful for all the other queer and LGBT tattooers out there who offered me support and advice and solace when I felt like I was alone! We’re out here, come find us.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
All of my work is on Instagram, at phoenix.mendoza.tattoo. You can support me by booking an appointment to get tattooed, or purchasing a commission! I realize tattooing is not for everyone, but I do offer custom artwork and prints on a sliding scale. My commission options range from flash sheets to paintings to palm-sized framable designs or custom art to be tattooed by another artist I trust if you happen to live outside of traveling distance to me but would like a tattoo.

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Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Giselle

    February 19, 2019 at 12:58

    very inspirational interview, wish it was longer! great artwork as well of course!

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