Artist Profile: Mario Barth
Ok, let's just put aside that Inked Mag's quarterly cheese
You've come a long way from being a self-taught tattooist and biker in Austria to an international tattoo entrepreneur. What's the key factor that brought you here?
Since I began, I've always tried to educate myself and explore something new. Where other people would start feeling comfortable and say, "I can do this all day long for the next 15 years," every day I look to do something different to add to my repertoire. Tattooing has been very good to me, and I try to be good to the industry--to be a part of a bigger pie. Being a slice is more important than being the pie itself.
You have a pretty big slice with so many projects going on at once. For example, you have a new Vegas studio opening up.
Yes, on April 10th, we're opening King Ink at the Mirage Hotel, which is our newest endeavor. It'll be the first lifestyle store of tattooing. It embraces what tattooing has come to. It has a Baroque setting because I'm Austrian, and it looks like a palace with frescoes showing my work over the past 25 years. I see it as a way for the general public to get an inside view of what we do every single day. It tries to educate people who walk in; there are computers where people can do research on tattooing. It's also a lounge, so you can come in and bring your laptop. There's also a bar in it.
A bar? Do you want a bunch of drunken people getting tattooed?
I've always believed in working hard, playing hard and partying hard. People have said that you should never put a bar where there's tattooing. That's bullshit. You know how tattooists are. We tattoo, we go out, and we party. That's the hardcore tattoo scene. And that's what we embrace at King Ink, so anyone who comes in better be ready to get a great tattoo or get fucked up. But the tattoo artists cannot tattoo anyone who is under the influence of alcohol and they cannot tattoo under the influence. That's just basic.
How do you address the argument that tattooing is becoming over-commercialized and has lost some of its mystique?
I don't think tattooing has lost its mystique at all. Every person who gets a tattoo has to make a decision to mark himself for the rest of his life. It has gained a lot of popularity and gave us more people to explore new avenues in tattooing, and look how the art has risen. If it didn't gain popularity, we wouldn't have a Mike Devries, Nikko, Mike Demasi or Jose Lopez--people who blow our minds every day with work. I see artists just working two years and I look at their work and want to bang my head against the wall, it's so good. This is a huge pay off.
A lot of controversy surrounding you in particular came from the Inc. Magazine profile on you in 2007 where you were quoted as saying that you wanted to create the "Starbucks of the Tattoo World." People heard the word "Starbucks" and freaked out a bit. What's your response to that?
People didn't understand that reference. I like the concept of Starbucks because someone took something so simple and made it so chic. I've been drinking coffee since I was ten years old, and I never thought it chic to do so. But I don't want a chain like Starbucks. I own five studios. There are people who own ten or fifteen, some in the same city, and those are the people who claim that I want to be the Starbucks of tattooing! The message I wanted to get across is that my interest is to elevate tattooing to a new level, to a new standard. I've seen too many people throughout my career who, when asked what they do for a living, kept their head down and said [mumbling], "I'm a tattooist." Keep your head up, man! We deserve to be successful and recognized.
Read more in the May issue of Inked Mag.