Having seen his signature glistening water droplets on flowers, his glowing tiger eyes and luminous jewels on the skin of several friends, I entered the studio at 2336 NE 26th Street at the corner of Federal Highway eager to meet one of the most famous and accomplished tattoo artists alive today, Fort Lauderdale’s own Stevie Moon.

I was greeted by Josh, the other artist in residence and the straight half of their studio. As Stevie explains it, “I like to say that we’re a Mom and Pop shop. Josh is the Pop and I’m the Mom.” The message behind his words is that this studio is a fun and welcoming place for every type of client except those who want the kind of old school mermaid, anchor, dice or skull that a drunken sailor might pick from a numbered catalogue in a seaside boardwalk parlor.

A quick tour of steviemoon.com will help you understand that Stevie Moon is a visionary artist whose images are as unique as his clients. Having friends who are clothing designers, he describes his work as “couture that doesn’t disguise your personality but enhances it.” Like all artists forced to talk about their own work, he is immediately annoyed by what he has said and worried that he will sound pretentious. He is not pretentious, but he is unpremeditated and while in his chair you’ll be treated to a roller coaster of conversation as wild as his designs. During my visit, an infinitely patient client named Mike jumped in and out of our conversation (and sleep) having graciously allowed me to photograph the process that he says is not painful.

Stevie Moon, who is 41, single and in business for 16 years, grew up in Baltimore, the son of a Columbian mother and a father descended from a Tennessee governor. He was a pre-med student in college before being distracted forever by a woman who became his muse and who gave him his name. Juli Moon was a famous tattoo artist in New Hampshire.

“I was 17 when I met her. One day Juli said ‘You are now Stevie Moon.’ The name stuck. I was anointed. Before that, I had no plans to tattoo.”

Stevie came out when he was 18. Coming from a heritage of Columbian machismo, his mother was not immediately comfortable with his disclosure. Juli’s reaction was different.

“She said ‘Oh my god, that is so cool. This is wonderful. Oh…are you OK with it?’ Over the years I have learned how time can change people. My mother is very accepting now and she just worries that I will always be taken care of and happy.”

How people can change over the course of their lives is an important lesson for Stevie Moon. He had a partner who became seriously ill. For a few years, Stevie became his care-giver. He describes this as being a “single dad.” Those difficult years had an impact on his business and his art. Client expectations and schedules had to take second place to his home-life. Today his business is orderly, and he and Josh enjoy the services of a studio manager to facilitate operations.

Stevie had always been a spiritual person (An unusually high number of clients and friends are clergymen.) and the difficulties in his relationship stand as a fulcrum between his old and current selves. He notices that his art is becoming more simplified in composition with a peaceful core inside the turbulent lines and vibrant colors. His designs are less cluttered, more expressive and nuanced.

“I’m like a phoenix that rise up from its ashes. I really like the 19th century Japanese artist Kawanabe Kysai whose work changed after a stint in prison. I’m still very ADD. That’s why I hate to have to repeat a design. I’m like a hummingbird in a rose bush.”

Other influences include Michaelangelo, Goya, Caravaggio, Bernini and Velasquez.

“I’m a whore for the Renaissance. I use their colors and techniques to create either tension or peace. Here in Florida I can paint with strong colors for the strong sun.”

As to subject matter, Stevie is not fond of demonic images or anything that would make children cry. Clients rarely come into me with a completed image. His favorite clients are those who arrive with just an idea. His direction to them is “You just give me the highway. I’ll choose the direction and drive us both to where we want to go.” Clients are limited by only their imagination and their interest in a dialogue with an artist who is honored that they trust their skin to him. He is also sensitive to the intentions of clients, some of whom will wear their tattoo as a talisman, and others as body armor.

Regarding his fascination with vivid colors, Stevie Moon says that all tattoo artists have the same dream in which a perfectly smooth albino walks into the shop requesting full body coverage. This would be like approaching a totally blank canvas. He added that sometimes the dream becomes a nightmare when the albino says he wants only a black ink body suit!

In addition to his original work, Stevie Moon has developed a stellar reputation for his clever cover-up technique in which old resented tattoos are reconfigured into new beauties. Referrals for his skill in this area occupy a growing percentage of his time.

He spoke of his calming passion for gardening that soothes his exuberant delight in the jumbled kaleidoscope of life that shows forth in his imagery.

As I left his shop, he offered me a final self-descriptive critter metaphor. “I guess you could say I’m like a crazy chimpanzee bouncing all over the place, but I’m here.”

His mind may be bouncing, but his hand is steady.

 


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