We interviewed the famous tattoo artist from Peru, who had a long working experience at Last Rites in NYC, and who for over 20 years has amazed tattoo lovers with his Realistic style.
Hi Stefano, let’s talk about you from the beginning: do you remember the first time you found a tattoo magazine on the market in Peru and you were struck by tattoo art?
Yes, that’s exactly what happened! (smiles) I was in shock after seeing what this artist – I don’t remember the name though – was doing on skin and I said to myself “Yeah, I want to do this”!
Do you remember the title of the magazine and what you did next?
It was the magazine called ‘Tattoo’ but I don’t remember what issue in particular. What I did next was to talk to my dad and borrow money from him, to get a tattoo kit that was advertised in that magazine. It was a Huck Spaulding tattoo kit I remember, and it wasn’t an easy task.
You know, I was in Peru and almost 30 years ago there wasn’t Internet to order. So it took several months to make it happen.
Let’s talk about the big cities that work-wise have meant the most to you. What impression has Lima left on you? And what about New York, where ‘Stefano’s Tattoo Studio NYC’ is currently based?
Definitely big cities are where I feel the most alive. Maybe for the energy given by the big amount of people coming from all over the world, the mix of cultures etc. But at the same time, I don’t like to live downtown. I need to balance: the suburb area where I can rest, and the downtown where I can go back stronger to work. Lima nourished me but New York City shaped me.
Williamsburg (Brooklyn) is where I used to live and I loved it, that area was the heart of street artists more than a decade ago and I learned a lot over there. Now my shop is in the same location where I did my first guest spot in NYC. Life brings you back to places where you were happy.
Finally, I would also like your opinion on Fort Lauderdale where ‘Stefano’s Tattoo Studio FL’ is located…
Fort Lauderdale is home for me now and I love being surrounded by water! I feel like being on a permanent vacation and that’s what I was looking for all these years. So my cousin Bror Wensjoe (IG: @brortattoos) and I opened this adventure and I get to love more this location time after time!
Among your greatest teachers, there were Boris Vallejo and… your grandfather! What can you tell me about them?
My great grandfather was my first and more important influence. From his style to his lifestyle, I feel very connected to him even if I never met him. Boris is my mentor, I admired his work since I started to take art seriously in my life path. We both come from Peru and moved to New York to follow our dreams, I got inspired by him and not only in an artistic way but also for determination and hard work.
I feel honored that now I can call Boris Vallejo a friend along with his beautiful and talented family.
Regarding your long experience at ‘Last Rites’ in New York, can you reveal what was the biggest lesson you ever received from Paul Booth?
I think I could fill out pages remembering all the lessons I learned from Paul. I can say all of them were big lessons – artistic, professional and life lessons. But what I can say is: “Thank you, Paul!”.
You’ve brought small portions of color (I’m thinking of the eyes of your wolves or tigers) inside your lavish Black-n-Gray portraits. Do you think this has become a hallmark of your art?
I think the new generation of artists doesn’t know that I was hired by ‘Last Rites’ as a Color/Realism artist that eventually got influenced and asked by customer to do more Black and Gray. Going back in time, in Peru I was doing mostly New School style, so colors for me is an addition, depending on the piece.
If you close your eyes which is the tattoo that has given you the most satisfaction throughout your career? Could it be that freehand octopus once you did on a female body?
Definitely it was great fun making a freehand project that time! Currently I’m working on another one so I’m very excited about it. I think I’ve continued studying and growing as an artist so when I look back I feel like I can change things on the next project. So I don’t have a favorite piece yet and hope I never will!
I’m still hungry of learning to be a better artist.
Talking about the tools of the trade: can you tell us why you chose the brand Cam Supply?
I tried many brands for all aspects of my tattoo process and – at this point in my career – I like to go for what works best for me and not for mainstream or more famous brands. Cam Supply carries the best brands in tattoo industry and it’s a reliable company with more than 25 years in the business, very reliable with orders and with a strong work ethic.
Do you have any favorite Cam Supply product that you couldn’t live without before getting to work on a new tattoo?
So many, starting from my favorite electric chair to their needles. I’m very proud to be part of Gorilla Glove – they are the best gloves on earth! Hands down and all the line on black everything on my table is just so elegant.
In 2016 you were invited to Rome to participate in an exclusive exhibition held at the ‘Museo D’Arte Contemporanea’. What was it like and what do you remember about that experience?
Yes I was there! What an honor to show my paintings and tattoos in that Museum in Rome. For me it was a dream come true.
It makes over 20 years of your career from 1999 to now. What drives you to always look for new challenges within tattoo art?
Well, I’m a self-taught tattoo artist, I wish I had a tattoo apprenticeship. I started learning tattooing from friends in 1994 and in 1999 is when in my original shop I started working with more artists. Before that I had a shop by myself where I was the only one tattooing. I’m still moving forward strong because I still feel I’m an apprentice and not near where I wanna be in my art. Learning other mediums makes you very humble and that is the best thing you can do to continue evolving as a person and as an artist.
And your last famous words are…?
My last words go to the next generation of artists. Guys, learn from the basics, think about longevity on your work, be persons of good words or you will never break bridges in this industry! The most important thing is to be kind. Helping people you don’t know because that person can be your teacher later.