is one body suit
worn by a French man known only as
Dre (getting a full suit over the course of several years is a very intimate experience, and
the artists at Leu Family Iron deeply respect their clients’ privacy).
The precise lines and
bold color work create a powerful work of art that is appropriate for the large scale of the
Freddy Negrete is truly a legend in the ever-growing tattoo community. Like several of
the artists featured in
, Negrete is largely self-taught—while incar-
cerated in Los Angeles-area juvenile halls in the 1970s he became interested in ink
displayed by fellow inmates and decided to explore the medium. He built his first machine
out of the materials available in prison (radio motors, toothbrushes, pens, guitar strings),
and was nearly covered in hand-poked tattoos by the age of eighteen. His early imagery
was frequently associated with Chicano gang symbols popular with his neighborhood
clients: characters fromMexican history, Aztec gods, sugar skulls, and religious icons.
Of necessity, this work was done with a single needle and simple black ink—as Negrete
perfected his technique and expanded his imagery, the emphasis was on precise line work
and exquisite shading (the style is most commonly referred to today as black-and-gray
fineline, rather than prison-style or Chicano-style).
Negrete’s most enduring image is his
“Smile Now, Cry Later” design—two theater masks linked by ornate typography (Negrete
calls it “cholo script”, a typographic style common to graffiti and tattoos created by Latin
American gangs), first drawn in 1974 and popularized on skin in the 1980s. Variations on
these expressive faces are now an important part of every tattoo artist’s repertoire, but
each of those artists recognizes Negrete as the originator of the design.
Digital image of
Tattoo on Dre