John Zuiker has already been a friend to the site, as he’s the one who introduced me to Molly and Zoelle Fishman and Brad Lash. And then a couple of weeks ago I got a message from John: “Hey buddy! Hope all is well. Wanted to let you know I got my Chicago flag tattoo finished!” John is living in Los Angeles now but we managed to meet up on Skype so I could see his new tattoo and interview him about it.
CFT: That’s large and in charge.
John: It is hard to miss.
CFT: So what’s your Chicago tattoo story?
John: Well, I’ve always wanted to get a Chicago tattoo, once I started getting tattoos. I moved to New York two years ago and then moved from New York to LA. And when I decided to move to LA I kind of knew that I was going to stay here for a really long time and wasn’t going to go back to Chicago. So I wanted to have a little Chicago with me and represent out west. So I decided I really wanted to get a Chicago flag tattoo. And then I started thinking, what kind of Chicago flag tattoo do I want to get?
I’d seen people have the bands; I saw one that was cool, it was the State of Illinois with the Chicago flag inside of it, I thought that was cool. But my biggest thing was I was worried that there’s so much white in the flag, and you can’t tattoo white. So how can I get around that? Maybe if I did the Chicago flag as something. If I combined it, that way I could be more representational of the Chicago flag and not as literal. And then I don’t have to worry about that. And I’ve always admired religious iconography. And that’s also a very traditional subject to get tattooed.
But I’ve never been very religious, so I would never just get something religious because I’m not religious. But I love the artwork and I love the style of it. So I was kind of thinking, you know what would be really cool would be if I did a Sacred Heart but as the Chicago flag. Instead of the crown of thorns I could do the stars, the heart could be blue and a little bit of white, and then some flames. When I went to the tattoo artist I was talking about that and I was like, maybe some of the flames could be shaped like some of the buildings, maybe the flames could be like the John Hancock and the Sears Tower. And he was like, “I don’t know if that would read, but let’s put the skyline in there.” And I was like, “OK!” And what’s great is the the scale of it—initially I was like a little [skeptical sound] because the flames are so big, but I like it because it balances out, it takes a little bit more away from the heart and it’s a happy medium between the religious iconography and the flag. It’s got the little Chicago skyline in it, so that’s cool.
CFT: I might be making this up, but I think on some Sacred Hearts there’s the crown of thorns are around the heart, but there’s also a regular kingly crown on top, so the skyline is sort of the crown.
John: Yeah, yeah, kind of. I didn’t think about that, but yes, that’s totally true.
CFT: You meant to do that all along.
John: I meant to do that all along.
CFT: So here’s a big important question: did you get that done out there?
John: I did. All of my tattoos have been done in Chicago, except for this one. My regular tattoo guy is Jason Longtin who tattoos out of Deluxe Tattoo on Irving Park. My first two tattoos were by other people, but he’s done everything else since. And so I was really nervous, and I was like, I don’t know, I kind of want to get one in LA because I feel like I’m setting down roots here. So I thought it would be a really good first tattoo in LA, because I get the LA artist with the Chicago content. I don’t know. It was an interesting decision, because it is, it’s the only tattoo I have that was not done in Chicago.
The guy that did it, it’s this guy Chris Paez. I was really happy about the shop that I went to. Because, you know, I was super nervous about going to a new shop and going to a new artist. The shop that he owns is called The Dolarosa and I found it because I was having dinner with a friend next door. They have a bunch of t-shirts in the window and we stopped in to look at the t-shirts and I was like, “oh, this is a tattoo shop.” I started looking at all their books and every single artist was amazing. It was really crazy. It was hard to choose, but I think I chose wisely.
CFT: I think so too. I’m really blown away by that tattoo. So, you say you moved to New York, you moved to LA, are you from Chicago originally?
John: I grew up in Evanston.
CFT: That counts.
John: It’s pretty much Chicago. It produces a lot of people who say they’re from Chicago.
CFT: The Chicago Transit Authority goes there, so it counts.
John: It does. I grew up in Evanston and then I went to undergrad at Columbia downtown and that’s when I moved to Chicago. And then I lived in Chicago for about seven years before I went to grad school.
CFT: This tattoo is pretty new, but it’s pretty visible-out there in LA does anybody have any idea what it is, do you get questions about it? Your other forearm, the Picasso), that’s very recognizable.
John: I’ve had a couple of people that were from Chicago recognize it, and that’s really cool because then that opened up a fun way to connect with people. And then someone was, “Oh, is that like a policeman’s thing?” And I said, “No, it’s the flag from Chicago.” And they said, “Oh, I feel like I’ve seen policemen wearing it, though.” And it was something that they’d seen in movies or cop shows, where the cops have it on their arms or whatever. So they didn’t know it was the Chicago flag, but they had recognized the iconography of it.
But the skyline kind of helps, because it is sort of recognizably the Chicago skyline. But the flag part, that was the one weird conversation where I said, “It’s kind of a policeman thing, but not really.”
CFT: I’ve heard that from people with Chicago flag tattoos in Chicago, but that’s the first time I’ve heard from someone outside the city. I guess there are a bunch of cop shows set in Chicago.
John: And like The Fugitive was shot there. There’s lots of movies that take place in Chicago. But that was just so funny.
CFT: Which that makes me realize, somewhere out there in LA there’s a warehouse with an aisle full of Chicago cop uniforms.
John: Sure, I’m sure.
CFT: That’s a freaky thought.
John: And when they shoot with cars they usually make the graphics. They have police cruisers and they make the graphics to be whatever city they’re in. But all the uniforms and stuff, I’m sure there’s a couple warehouses with aisles of that.