Villain Arts’ 12th Annual Chicago Tattoo Festival offers more inclusion and diversity for its return

By Robin Sluzas and Abra Richardson

More than 400 tattoo artists came together for a weekend of culture, creativity and craftsmanship at “The 12th Annual Chicago Tattoo Arts Convention” in Rosemont.

The convention was held March 18-20 at Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, 5555 N. River Road, where it took over the entire main floor.

Crowds shuffled by each stand, taking time to look through every piece of flash designs or observe the artists tattooing clients behind their booths. Artists from all over the country set up stands where they interacted with convention-goers.

West Los Angeles tattoo artist Spanky Loco was always interested in art and taught himself to draw as a kid. Spanky Loco owns and produces music, art, and merchandise under his “So Loco” brand. Despite having a longtime music career, a clothing line and many different prints for sale that are part of his brand, Spanky Loco said he enjoys the tattooing component of his business best.

Spanky Loco NFT Collection 2022 is the newest addition to his brand. The collection shows digitally designed Original Crypto Clown “Loco” that has been created in different forms. Proceeds from the sale of the NFTs will be donated to after four have been sold.

“Self-expression and art has been a huge, huge part of Latino culture,” Spanky Loco said. “Especially in our neck of the woods, Los Angeles, you got a lot of murals, identification through tattooing, where you represent and where you hail from. So, I think art and representation and being an individual has always been a part of the L.A. culture. That’s what I grew up knowing… Keeping it raw, organic and true is the best way for me.”

Known as the “Cover-up Queen of Chicago,” Katisha Farrell, who had a booth at the convention, has been tattooing for 10 years, specializing in all styles and coverups and working at 9magtattoo on 2150 S. Canalport Ave.

“Coming up as just a woman artist and then being a Black female tattoo artist, I always had those two things against me,” Farrell said. “I had a lot to show and to prove. We were not always welcomed in places like this… conventions were not always for people like us. It has not always been like this.”

Farrell added that she met some clients at the convention who told her she was the only Black, female tattoo artist that they could find.

Farrell summarized their interaction by saying that the clients told her, “We had to come back to you. We wanted somebody from Chicago, we wanted a Black, female [tattoo artist], and we wanted you.”

Farrell got into tattooing because she wanted a career change after starting out in nursing. She noticed the beauty of her brother’s tattoos, which sparked her interest in becoming a tattoo artist. She also knew the tattooing industry needed more female, Black tattoo artists.

“If you are an up-and-coming female of color, whether you are minority, Black, Mexican, Korean … come on and get with the art. We are here, and we are here to stay,” Farrell said.

As things change and inclusivity becomes more prominent, Vivin Sims, owner of Lost Lagoon Tattoo, 105 E. Church St., in Woodstock expressed the importance of creating a safe space for clients.

Sims’ shop is staffed by six women and two men. This includes Sims herself, who is not just the owner but a tattoo apprentice as well.

The shop is listed on TransFriendly, a world-wide network for trans and non-binary people to find safe businesses.

“It’s very important to me that everybody gets treated equally,” Sims said. “If somebody comes in and doesn’t follow the beliefs of the shop, … they see that, and they either don’t come back, or they adjust to how we want everyone to conduct themselves and respect each other in the shop.”