Show Reviews

24th Annual Motor City Tattoo Expo

March 1-3, 2019
Detroit, Michigan

The Motor City Tattoo Expo has become an alternative culture mainstay — not only was it one of Detroit’s earliest tattoo conventions, but it was also one of the first in the U.S. That being said, it’s NOT one of the biggest of its kind, but rather, as one of the organizers, Michelle Cooke, describes it; it’s like “fine wine” — a tasting of top talent, all of whom are selected for their depth of talent and skill.

“If you get a tattoo from somebody here, you’re going to get a premium tattoo,” Cooke says.

Motor City draws some 300 artists from around the planet, as far away as Spain, Netherlands, Germany and China, and rather than adding more booths to the already 30,000 square foot ballroom at the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center, organizers keep the focus on quality over quantity. Many of the artists return each year and plan their schedules around this one show — having a booth in Detroit is considered a real honor. For those wanting to join this select club, be sure and get in line now as there’s a lengthy waiting list.

“Most of these people we’re going to know who they are even before they submit their art,” Cooke says. “It kind of become a who’s-who list from the tattoo and piercing communities.”

Big names draw big crowds — as many as 10,000 body art enthusiasts, not only from Detroit, but Grand Rapids, Chicago and even Canada. It’s not just to look — athe majority of artists are booked with clients way in advance, so the buzz of the machines is non-stop over the three days.

“It’s almost like celebrity spotting, at the Oscars,” as one person puts it. Among the amazing and well-known artists were Bob Tyrrell, Robert Hernandez, Halo, Liz Cook, James Vaughn, Kelly Doty, Dan Henk, Ruben Avila, Big Ceeze and of course, no tattoo show would be totally legit without the one and only legendary Jack Rudy.

Matt Hockaday, owner/artist of Tribute Tattoo Parlor, in Waterford MI, swept the awards with six trophies including the top three places in best portrait, which is his signature style. Eternal Ink team member Trixey earned Black & Grey Best of the Show and Rember Orellana, from Bark Ages Tattoo, in Denton, Texas, earn Best of Show Color.

Like most tattoo sconventions, Motor City parades out the pinup models, hosts a live art fusion exposition and even stages a best beard competition — but the focus here is truly on the artists.

“Motor City is pure tattoo,” says Cooke.

Even the vendors at Motor City represent the top in the industry — among them, Mario Rosenali with Stencil Stuff, Mario Barth of Intenze Tattoo Ink and Durb Morrison inventor of True Tubes.

Motor City is put on by Terry “Tramp” Welker, Gina Babyak and Brian Everett of Eternal Tattoo Supply, so it was only fitting that they used the occasion to launch a new line of their popular tattoo ink in connection with one of the event’s attending artists, Big Gus. As part of Spike TV’s ‘Tattoo Nightmares,’ Big Gus brought tattoo salvation weekly to tattoo victims. Working with Eternal Ink, Big Gus’ expertise in cover-up and tattoo art guided the creation of eight new concentrated tattoo pigments. Every artist at the show received a sample set to take home.

“If you want to go to the Hall of Fame of what’s alive and kicking, come to Motor City,” Babyak says. “It just keeps getting bigger and badder.”


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