The avant garde may have created a brand new genre
Story by Stephanie Collazo Photos by Ryan Gibson
Yogi Barrett pieces hurt our brain, but in a good way, like a brain freeze or a rollercoaster, yeah, the experience of a Barrett tattoo is like riding a rollercoaster through an art gallery. The mixing of neo traditional and realism—two polar opposite styles—has a jarring effect. A Barrett tattoo almost looks like a collaboration tattoo done by disparate artists. And much like how after people tasted Wolfgang Puck’s food Asian-Fusion cooking exploded, Barrett’s pieces may usher in a style mash-up craze.
INKED: What year did you start tattooing?
shepelenko: I started tattooing in May of 2010, in Scranton Pennsylvania. I’ve been at it now for just a little over five years.
When did you first get into tattooing?
When I was around five or six years old my dad came out of prison and he had a ton of tattoos on him. When I saw them I was infected with this fascination of what they were and how he got them. I remember asking him all these questions about them—I’ve wanted to be a tattooer ever since then.
What was your first shop experience like?
Well, the first time I went into a tattoo shop I was about 13 or 14. I went in with my dad actually and the tattooers let me hang out in there while he got tattooed. I remember seeing all of the flash all over the walls and just thinking they were the sickest drawings and paintings I had ever seen!
How visceral was that experience?
I still remember the smell of the Dettol and the sound of the tattoo machines; I thought that being a tattooer was the most badass thing ever. I went back home and started trying to draw all of the designs I had seen on the walls. It’s definitely one of my fondest memories of the tattoo world.
Did you end up having a formal apprenticeship?
I think that the person who gives you the opportunity to learn this craft, and the person who teaches you this craft, is the person that you are forever in debt to and that you should always respect. In my case two men are responsible for that, Cory Craft and Jo Santos. Cory was the guy who gave me “my in” to the tattoo world when I was 21 years old. I did a short apprenticeship at Black Swan Tattoo in Lakeland, Florida under Cory for about nine months. I learned the basic guidelines of tattooing as far as shop protocol goes. I also had all of the traditional apprenticeship duties. As far as the actual tattooing process goes though, I didn’t learn that at Black Swan. I decided to move to Pennsylvania after about nine months and that’s where Jo Santos came in. I had been tattooing at my house like a jackass for a while up there, and I had done some line work on a buddy of mine. Well he and I, one day, went with another friend of mine up to Art Rage Tattoo Studio in Scranton. While we were there Jo saw some line work that I had done on my homie and asked me where I was tattooing. I told him the truth about tattooing at my house and he told me if I wanted to be legit that he needed a guy for small stuff at his shop. Names. I jumped at the chance and that’s when Jo took me under his wing and taught me how to really tattoo. Jo showed me what I was doing wrong, how to do it right, loaned me some supplies to use at the shop and was always really patient with me, because in the beginning I fucking sucked! I will forever be grateful to those two for what they’ve done for me.
Do you feel like you get to dabble in an array of styles?
Yes, I just don’t get to do other styles a whole lot. I’m usually stuck doing realism or a mix of realism and neo traditional. I love American traditional, I dabble a little in some black-and-gray, and every now and then I may jump in there and do a Japanese tattoo. Japanese is really the style I stay away from more than any other style though. I tend to steer clear of it because of all of the meaning behind every little thing. Right down to which way a samurai’s feet are facing has meaning, it’s crazy.
You enjoy doing neo traditional tattoos and have successfully merged the style with realism, what made you want to mix the two styles?
When I started mixing styles it was for two reasons: I was getting bored doing a lot of one style so it was a way for me to have a little more fun with tattooing. The other goal I had in mind was to stand the fuck out! I wanted to try something different and make people look. I must say it worked like a charm. I felt like the neo traditional stuff made my realism more intense. Mixing two styles of tattooing like that complimented each other so well. Bringing that out somehow gives the tattoo it’s own sort of contrast—it’s really weird but it’s rad!
Most artists that work in realism tend to shy away from styles with bold outlines, which neo traditional all have, what drew you to working in both styles?
When I decided to be a tattooer I wanted to be good in every style, that meant knowing how each style works and what it entailed. I’m drawn to tattooing in general; I’m not drawn to one particular style of tattooing. I wanted to know everything. That meant knowing how to do clean line work, pack color, create smooth blends, I mean the list goes on forever.