Chico Cortes – Marked 4 Life Tattoos – Miami, Florida
“The tattoo business has evolved so much . . . there are a million artists good artists, but because of TV and social media, you kind of become entwined with the artist . . . You identify and somehow connect with that one artist. So now you’re willing to travel to see that one artist.”
Chico Cortes has a point. It’s the digital age. The world is smaller in a sense because everything is at your fingertips, but it’s also exponentially larger, because—well—everything is at your fingertips.
But he’s not going to make you travel to see him or his crew, nor is he willing to simply employ the “post and pray” method (that’s when you throw your best work on IG and SnapChat and beseech the deity of your choice for traction) to garner new business. He’s coming to you, or at least, to a convention near you, along with a rotating cast of 15 (give or take) artists handpicked for quality and style.
“It’s the Marked 4 Life Pro Team,” the 20-year industry veteran begins. “Of my team, at any time, 12 out of 15 are award winning. They’re mostly from the East Coast. We do about 20 shows a year, so there should be a reality show in this somewhere. For now, all we do is travel and come back to the two shops in Miami.
“But of course, since I’m arrogant,” he later adds with a chuckle, “the focus is mostly on me.”
If his self-analysis were true, it wouldn’t be without good reason. Those two shops he mentioned are the two branches Chico’s Marked 4 Life, a staple in the southern Florida tattoo scene that has churned out more renowned artists than most could name in one sitting. He is also the owner and operator of I.N.K. Gear, a tattoo-themed apparel brand that’s beginning to make waves of its own. But as the conversation unfolds, it becomes apparent that his assertions might just be playful bluster.
He might paint himself as an ego-maniac, but an arguably better description would be introspective and self-aware. This especially becomes apparent when he remarks on his own career.
“I was a tattooer,” he says of his early career, with the emphasis on ‘er.’ “A lot of people don’t know the difference. It’s like the difference between someone who rides a bike and someone who is a stuntman. I was the bike rider with training wheels . . . I was very basic, very flash oriented. Whatever I saw, I copied and that was it . . . I don’t want that in my shop anymore. I guess that’s pretty fucking hypocritical, since that’s what I was and maybe what I am.”
This snippet comes from a much broader conversation about his personal evolution within a rapidly evolving industry, but the hyper self-awareness all but negates his previous assertion. Say what he might, his focus is really on his diverse team of artists, many of whom he has personally apprenticed. His description of their work is straight-forward but speaks volumes.
“Quality,” he says. “Quality and friendly service. I think that’s what sets us apart now. Before, there weren’t that many tattoo artists and you pretty much had to deal with that attitude or that arrogance . . . it’s not like that anymore. Now, we’re a dime a dozen. We’re all over the goddamn place . . . it’s not hard to find a tattoo artist. You’re probably related to one and you don’t even realize it.
“I’m one of the guys who actually give a fuck,” he later adds “I care what comes out of my booth. I care about what comes out of my shop. I tell my tattoo artists that they have to tackle every tattoo with the respect of their first and the dignity of their last because that tattoo is going to travel places and their name is going to be spread miles beyond their reach.”
Considering the miles they travel, that’s saying a lot. If they’re coming to a convention in a town nearby, they shouldn’t be hard to find. Just look for the giant, 20’x20’ booth, the equally massive banners and the dozen or so dudes in matching Marked 4 Life t-shirts.
“We’re a little bit different than the rest of the guys there,” he offers. “It’s not the same cookie cutter booth. People are drawn to the difference.”