What was it like growing up in Queens?
Queens is the motherland of creation! I’m blessed to say that I grew up in New York City through the good and the bad. As a kid, I remember there being crack vials everywhere: the playground, the school yard, the street. The homeless guys washing windows on the side of the road, cars burning everywhere, street walkers, panhandlers, magicians—all those things made NYC what it was, not what it’s become.
KR [founder of Krink] described to me how he'd go to JFK and skateboard and drink in the terminals as a kid from Queens. What did you get into?
My brother and I used to spend a lot of time at a store called Fishbein’s on Astoria Boulevard, where we would play arcade games and steal porno magazines. I was introduced to punk and hardcore at an early age. So, for the most part we used to cut school, ride BMX bikes or skate into the city to drink 40’s by the cube, at Coney Island High, CB’s or ABC No Rio. I was never super into drugs but I definitely came home with my fair share of black eyes and blood-stained clothes from fighting with friends in the streets.
When I was younger, I spent a lot of time at the race track with my grandfather, listening to old Italians curse and scream profanity. So, it’s not surprising that one of the most profane things I did was when I was five was, I gave my brother the middle finger at the end of Sunday mass in front of the priest—‘Peace be with you!’ ‘And also with you!’
When did you begin tattooing at Fun City?
I started working as a shop guy just before I turned 19, and started tattooing right before turning 20. I loved the shop. I used to walk past it every weekend and was always intrigued by it.
Above: Johnny Depp and Jim Jarmusch at Fun City; courtesy of Jonathan Shaw.
What do you think it is about Jonathan Shaw that makes him so legendary?
It’s hard to explain or pinpoint what it is. I mean, the guy is as gifted at tap dancing his way into people’s heads as he is into their bank accounts. He’s a true, modern-day, gypsy pirate and he has a way about him that makes you either loathe his existence or totally love him. I learned a ton from him. He gave me my shot, and when I’d only been tattooing for a couple of months, he told me to sink or swim. The guy knows how to hustle and he passes that mentality on to the people he knows. I was one of them.
What differentiates Fun City from other shops? Why is it the best?
I mean, saying we’re the best is a bold statement; but, I will say this: we do our best to stay humble and be positive. Neither I nor the shop would have lasted this long if I had a huge ego or treated people poorly.
How would you recommend getting started in tattooing? Is it still an apprenticeship-based thing or what are the steps for emerging artists to gain respect amongst their peers?
Honestly, I think the best bet is to get a lot of tattoos. People always come into the shop and ask for an apprenticeship because they draw alright, but they don’t have any tattoos. With social media taking over the world, I feel like the traditional apprenticeship is getting a bit more out of reach, but I still think that that’s the best way, because you keep a lineage going. If you make it through that, your career becomes about showing respect to who taught you, who taught them and so on. When you’re adding on to something that someone else started, it means that we can all make money—it’s just a question of whether or not you can keep that money when you make it and earn the respect of your peers.