May 2013 Archives


Kelly - Chicago flag tattoo closeup

I spotted Kelly’s tattoo across a crowded train car and had about a stop and half to get this short interview done before her stop. She references another of her tattoos, and it would be smart if I could show you a photo of that as well, but my phone froze up, so I can’t show you the lovely skyline and music tattoo nor the Chicago sports trio (Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks) on the forearm of her companion. C’est la vie.

CFT: You have a Chicago flag tattoo. What’s your story and what’s your Chicago flag tattoo story?

Kelly: This whole sleeve is actually a bunch of Chicago stuff and music stuff. I’m from DuPage County, but I spent most of my time growing up out in the city working with bands, with Fallout Boy and Rise Against and all those guys, when they were the “local scene” back in the day. Just doing a whole bunch of Chicago stuff like that. So Kurt Halsey Frederiksen is a Chicago artist, this is one of his pieces with the skyline. I just figured the flag would tie in with it.

CFT: Do you live in the city now?

Kelly: I live in the city now. I grew up like twenty-five miles outside of the city, but I’ve been living in the city for a decade.

CFT: Where did you get it done?

Kelly: I got it done at Archer Avenue Tattoo, it’s 4440 South Archer. My tattoo artist is Dave Lobes.

CFT: Thanks!

Kelly - Chicago flag tattoo closeup

Jose Ramirez

Jose Ramirez tattoo closeup

Right after I interviewed John Airo he started teling me about all the guys he works with who have Chicago flag tattoos. “This one guy has a huge chest piece, I’ll have to tell him about your site.” He did, and a few days ago I interviewed Jose Ramirez out in front of the recently renovated Logan Theatre.

CFT: So, hi! Jose—what’s your last name?

Jose: Ramirez. It’s the same last name as the serial killer, Richard Ramirez? The Night Stalker. Which is actually my real brother’s name.

CFT: Ok.

Jose: My oldest brother is Richard Ramirez.

CFT: I’m sure there are other, more upstanding Ramirezes.

Jose: Yeah, but that’s how people remember my name.

CFT: Ok.

Jose: The best.

CFT: I guess it is now fixed in my memory.

Jose: It sticks out, yeah.

CFT: So what’s your story, and how does that lead to your Chicago flag tattoo story?

Jose: My Chicago flag tattoo—I got it in 2008, at the moment, I was actually living out of state in Tennessee. In just this little rinkydink tattoo shop. I paid the guy 200 bucks and he slapped on the flag on me. He had no idea what it was, but I drew it up—I freehanded it for him and I told him “I want this, on my chest” and it was my very first tattoo.

CFT: Wow.

Jose: So yeah, 200 bucks. It was the best 200 bucks I ever spent in my life.

CFT: So were you born in Chicago?

Jose: Yeah—born and raised here in Chicago, I was born in Humboldt Park . Norwegian American hospital—still standing, still a crap-hole of a hospital, too. If you had a choice, don’t ever go there. But I was born there, raised in that area too, and raised in Logan Square, all the way til I was about 23 years old. That’s when I moved to Tennessee. Stayed out there for about 5 years, and I moved back here up to Chicago back in 2010, and since then, I’ve accumulated a few more tattoos. But, that was my very first tattoo and it’s my pride and joy.

CFT: Were you homesick? What were you thinking, down there in Tennessee?

Jose: Definitely, most definitely. It was a total different environment, where I was living. I wasn’t even in Nashville, I was an hour south of Nashville, on a farm. My parents, they retired and bought a farm down there, and I was doing jack squat up here, so I was like “oh, I’m gonna give that a try.” So I gave it a try, but goddammit, every day that I lived down there, I was just homesick every single day. So this was 1) to try to calm my homesickness 2) you know, memory for Chicago but 3) so the pride I have for my city that I was born and raised in and basically shaped me to be the person that I am—I wanted to thank the city and commemorate it through pain. And my very first tattoo was a Chicago flag on my entire chest.

CFT: Yeah, it’s huge.

Jose: It was 8 hours. The guy didn’t even do it in one sitting. He was like, “You gotta come back every Sunday, man. I’m not even open on Sundays, but I’ll open up for you.” So every Sunday, I’d do a couple of hours. And I think it was a little bit over 8 hours worth of work. It was my first tattoo, and one that I was happy to give up that pain for my city that I love.

CFT: And the laurels?

Jose: On top of my flag I have a laurel wreath. It’s the logo for the Fred Perry clothing brand that does the polos and stuff. They started off in the ’60s, or actually earlier than that, and they were designing tennis clothes for the British tennis player Fred Perry. And it’s a subculture brand now. Rude boys, and the mods, and the skinheads in the 70s in England took it over as their style. And it’s still being used to this day, by a little bit different folks now, but the core people that really do wear it are still people from that type of subculture. I myself identified as a skinhead. [Jose’s girlfriend interjects: “Not racist!”] Definitely, not racist! Anti-racist skinhead, for sure. And it’s something that I’m proud of, so those two things, the Chicago flag and the symbol of the laurel wreathes, the proud skinhead symbol, mixing them both together, two of my beloved things in my life. My subculture and my city, that’ll always be together.

CFT: So you’ve been back for 3 years, has it lived up to…

Jose: Oh yeah, for sure.

CFT: It’d be a shame if you came back, and…

Jose: Oh yeah, it has changed, for sure, like for example where we’re standing right now.

CFT: Where we’re standing is in front of the Logan Theatre, and you were saying earlier that…

Jose: Oh yeah, in the ’80s & ’90s, I grew up coming here, it was 2 bucks to watch a movie that had come out, 3, 4 months ago, that all the other theatres aren’t showing, but Logan theatre was able to get their hands on. You know, a movie that’s past its time already in the regular theatre, so they showed it for 2 bucks. They had nasty stale popcorn for 50 cents, and it was awesome. It was great. It stunk, the floors were sticky permanently, the carpet was horrible and stained, and there was scary sketchy bums sleeping in there, kicking around 40 ounce bottles. And I loved it. It was great. I watched Hulk Hogan movies here when I was a kid, and it was awesome. And now—it’s like the place to be now. They hold, like, openings here and premieres here for movies. And it’s all these people that are coming here that just moved to the neighborhood. This neighborhood has changed so much, it’s not even funny. It’s gotten gentrified, and it’s gotten—aw man, this used to be like Skid Row when I was a kid. I couldn’t have come down here by myself. At least—at nighttime, I couldn’t come down here. But now, it’s totally different. And yeah—it has changed, but I still got love for my city. I don’t care how much outsiders have come and changed it or have evolved it to their style. I don’t care—it’s still my city, I’ll still fight for it tooth and nail, no matter what.

Jose Ramirez tattoo


Curly-Chicago flag tattoo closeup

I was at Binny’s buying just-a-little-too-much regional craft beer, as you do, when I saw Curly and her obviously new Chicago flag tattoo. As soon as she was done asking an employee her questions about regional craft beer, I jumped in and interviewed her right in the middle of the beer aisle. Where better?

CFT: This is a brand-fresh-new tattoo.

Curly: Fresh! I just it last Wednesday, so just a few days old. I’m a transplant, I’m not from here, but I’m planning on getting two flag tattoos, for where I grew up and where I live now. It’s just a very significant part of my life. In mine, there’s a banner that says Kedzie on it, and that is my dog’s name. It’s my first dog that I’ve had myself and it’s a kind of a very bold move into adulthood that I have a pet to take care of. And I got her here, so that is the meaning.

CFT: And do you live on Kedzie?

Curly: I live really close to Kedzie. I just a street over.

CFT: Some boring name…

Curly: Yeah, I’m not going to name my dog Albany, that’s weird. But actually a friend of mine from the area as well suggested renaming her Kedzie. Because I rescued her and the name she came with was not good. We call her “Keds” for short.

CFT: How long have you been in Chicago?

Curly: About six years.

CFT: And it feels like home now?

Curly: It does. It’s been the one place that I can see myself staying throughout the rest of my life, if I can help that.

CFT: Where’d you get it done?

Curly: I got it from Allie Sider, he works out of Tatu Tattoo and Code of Conduct in the South Loop. But I went to Tatu in Wicker Park for it. He’s done a bunch of my other stuff. He actually did a flag tattoo earlier that day when I came in that he was telling us about. It’s very popular! And usually done well. So that’s good. It’s good to see that. And I think Chicago is one of the only cities where the flag is very prevalent. You can walk outside and you see a flag around. I don’t think that that’s the case really anywhere else. Because our flag is just so awesome.

Curly-Chicago flag tattoo closeup

Sightings: George

George-Chicago flag tattoo closeup

We were headed back to our car after the nighttime Rave Run 5K downtown and I spotted those distinctive stars on the back of another runner’s arm in front of me. It was late, I was tired, he had kids with him, and I was shy, so I didn’t ask for a full interview. But I got a couple of photos and a first name. Thanks, George, and rock on with your Chicago flag tattoo.

George-Chicago flag tattoo closeup

John Airo

John Airo Chicago flag tattoo closeup

C2E2 is a huge comics and entertainment expo in downtown Chicago and my wife Erica was working the I Want to Draw a Cat For You booth all three days. She came home Friday night saying, “I saw a lot of Chicago flag tattoos today”. So Saturday when I visited the expo I was paying less attention to the hundreds of robots, aliens, and monsters than I was to scanning exposed skin for Chicago flags. I didn’t find a single one and headed back to Artists’ Alley to see my friends. Nearly back to their booth, a man with an impressive beard, who turned out to be Luke Stokes, said, “Nice tattoo - he’s got one of those” and pointed to his booth companion, John Airo. John rolled up his sleeve and showed me a very distinctive, bold and battered version of the Chicago flag, of his own design. John and Luke collaborate on a new comic book, CPD 70, about the Chicago Police Department in 1970. John’s personal art work is filled with versions of the Chicago flag and it obviously occupies a prominent place in his artistic mind.

CFT: What’s your Chicago flag tattoo story?

John: Well, I’ve been doing a lot of Chicago flag-themed artwork and I think it all stems from being born here, being a Chicagoan, loving and hating it. As a community, as a people, it’s home, it’s the best place ever. But our leaders have failed us and continue to fail us. I never thought it could get worse than Daley and I think it did. We’re beat-up and weathered but we’re still together. A car breaks down in the street, people get out and help each other. Someone needs something and everyone’s there, except the cops, except the government. They’re hating on teachers, they’re… To me it’s just surviving, we’re surviving because we’re Chicago. The people that wave the flags above their buildings, they’re not Chicago, it’s us.

I guess that’s what it is to me. I’m just proud, I’m proud to be here. I’m not going anywhere, because I’ve made it this far and I’m going to keep going. It’s taken on every part of my life. I’m an artist as a job, that’s what I do, and the flag, for me, it’s relevant. I think what you do is great, that’s fantastic.

CFT: Oh, thanks.

John: Having a site dedicated to that, it’s brilliant. [Indicating my own flag tattoo] It’s good, we could be in another country and I’d be like, “Alright, there’s someone I can count on.” Just seeing that.

CFT: That’s one of my questions: when people see yours do they know what it is?

John: Chicagoans do. Absolutely. And that’s the thing I like about the flag is that it’s not that known outside of Chicago. It’s not a touristy image of Chicago. It’s a Chicagoan image of Chicago. If I got the skyline, if I got the Sears Tower or the Picasso or the Bean or anything, everyone in the world would know that. People that know the flag, they’re us. And that’s what’s cool. You go out of the city and people ask. I was in Austin recently and I was in Mexico this year and people ask. But when people do know it they’re like, “where you from?” because they’re either residents now or recently residents.

CFT: A friend of mine recently moved to LA and he’s had people had people be like, “hey I’m from Chicago, too!”

John: Yeah, it’s not everybody, it’s our insider thing. That’s why you’re here because we saw that [indicates my tattoo].

CFT: So you’ve lived in the city your whole life?

John: Born here, live here now. When I younger my family moved… yeah, basically. Born here, back here. Junior high, High school, my family moved. But as soon as I graduated I came running back. This is home, this is all I know.

CFT: And where’d you get it done?

John: I got it done at Family Tattoo. Gilly Smash did it, he’s a good friend of mine. It’s a nasty looking, beat-up flag and I figured he’s one of those survivor guys, one of those awesome dudes. I’m like, he’s the guy for it. I wanted someone that I was friends with to do it, too.

CFT: Mine, I was trying to get it nice and clean, but I got some scarring there, but I decided, that’s OK.

John: Absolutely. That’s what it is. Yeah, I’m never going to put sunscreen on it or anything. This is two years old and I’m hoping it just gets more and more worn. You don’t want all your stuff to go bad, but that’s the whole point, is it can’t, it can’t go bad.

John Airo Chicago flag tattoo

John Zuiker

John Zuiker Chicago flag tattoo-detail

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.

John Zuiker Chicago flag tattoo

About CFT

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