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Inked: The Life of the Tattooby Carey Hart
My skin tells a story. Not the kind of story with a beginning, a middle, and an end but more like the journey of who I am. Tattoos are my life. They've become part of my identity. But it wasn't always that way.
I didn't grow up immersed in tattoo culture, but I was always aware of it. When I was a kid, tattooing was still taboo, a back alley pursuit reserved for tough-guy types or outlaw bikers. My dad worked construction, and a couple of his buddies had the occasional faded chest or forearm piece. What little I saw of tattoos had a profound effect on me.
When I was in the second grade I'd come home from school with drawings and little designs all over my arms and hands, which would make my dad yell and scream. He was always against the idea of me getting inked, but in the back of my mind I knew that's exactly what I was going to do.
I thought eighteen years was long enough to wait for my first tattoo, so when my birthday rolled around I had it all planned out. I didn't have the money to get tattooed in a real shop, but my friend's father had experience giving tattoos, and I trusted him. Right there on my buddy's kitchen table I got a skull with flames and the number 111, which was my motocross number, on my chest. It wasn't the greatest tattoo in the world, but I was proud of it. I knew tattoos would be a big part of my life and I was excited to get started. My dad was a little pissed when he saw it, but he understood that I was old enough and it was my life.
After that it just kind of snowballed. Within a year and a half I had two sleeves and began working on my back piece. My dad was still skeptical and with each new tattoo he would look at me and say, "What the hell are you doing to yourself?" I would explain to him that this was how I'd decided to express myself creatively. He didn't understand, but still accepted me as his son.
One of the tattoos that has the most significance to me is the words "Hart Luck" across my knuckles. Hart Luck is the misfortune of all the men in my family. I come from a family of single men, and we're prone to occasional misfortune. My father was single and my uncles were too. They're all self-sufficient and taught me how to take care of myself. Sometimes our luck is just all-bad. But without setbacks I'd never have had the chance to pick myself up.
Just as I was establishing myself as one of freestyle's top riders Hart Luck struck. In the summer of 2003, during a session on Tony Hawk's Boom Boom Huck Jam Tour, I ditched my bike in midair to avoid a skateboarder who was supposed to jump over me. I slammed into a wall, breaking both my arms and my legs. On top of that I nearly died from internal blood clotting and trauma. I spent thirty-one days in a Seattle hospital. My dad flew 1,500 miles from Vegas to sleep in a chair five nights a week until I got out. My days of riding competitively were over. It was a crushing blow I didn't want to accept, but I had to move on.
When I sat down to think about the next chapter of my life I asked myself, "What if I had a place to go when I wasn't riding?" I thought about the time I had spent with friends bonding, telling stories, and getting inked at Soul Expression, a tattoo shop near where I lived in Southern California. That was an important time in my life, and I wanted to re-create that feeling. I decided to open my own tattoo shop. The motivation for the shop wasn't money. I just wanted a cool environment where I could hang out with my friends. I imagined a place with style and character that would bust the stereotype of a tattoo shop always being in a sketchy part of town populated with scary artists with bad attitudes.
I knew Las Vegas inside and out and quickly formulated a business plan to present to George Maloof, the owner of the Palms Hotel and Casino, along with his brothers. George understood youth culture and was impressed with our presentation. So with a handshake we went forward with our plans to open the first-ever tattoo shop in a Las Vegas casino.
From there things went into high gear. My team and I went through an exhaustive process to find fifteen of the best tattoo artists in the business capable of creating the kind of art that would build a loyal client base. To me their personalities were just as important as their artistic abilities because I wanted first timers to walk in and feel a level of comfort they wouldn't find at any other shop.
On February 25, 2004, the doors to Hart & Huntington opened for business, and it's a day I'll never forget. At first I thought I'd show up and just hang out with my boys--that was my plan after all--but before I knew it I was doing everything from running the register to sweeping the floor. In the early days of the shop I was there seven days a week. I had to be hands--on with everything. Launching a business is no picnic. Every day there are fires that need to be put out. Anything can happen and usually does. You've got to know what to do when the computers go down or when employees call in sick or when an unruly customer shows up. It's as challenging as anything I've ever done on a motorcycle.
After filming part of the A&E reality series Inked, which revolved around daily life at the shop, I bought my partner's (John Huntington) share of the business and have been expanding ever since--to Orlando, Honolulu, and Cabo San Lucas in Baja. I felt a book was the next logical step. This book is an extension of Hart & Huntington--the attitude, the mood, the lifestyle. The words and pictures within these pages are about the lives of tattoo collectors and the art itself. People with tattoos often share a special kinship. We can all relate to the stares and the whispers. We've all got answers for curious strangers. There's no pain a needle can inflict that we haven't endured. Besides, the torment of a needle can't compare to the satisfaction of seeing your creative vision come to fruition. Tattoos are my life. If your skin tells a story too, chances are you know what I'm talking about. Most people assume tattoos put you in a box. Actually, they've set me free. And you know the best part about the whole thing? My dad finally understands.
--Carey Hart, Las Vegas
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