Gus's Friend and Tattoo Artist--Dana Vargas
Gus got his first tattoo done in our garage when he was fifteen. It was August, 2012. We had moved into our new apartment a couple of months before, and then visited family in Oklahoma. I only found out about what was happening in the garage when I went looking for him on the deck. He had a couple of friends over, and suddenly they seemed to have disappeared. I went to look for them outside when I heard voices coming from inside the garage, and a buzzing sound. I turned the knob to the door, but it was locked. I said, “Gus! Open the door!” And he said, “No, Mama! Shush! Go away. It’s okay.” I tried a couple more times to get him to open the door, but he would not. I sighed and walked away knowing something was up.
A while later, he emerged with a shiny, slicked-up blue tattoo showing my birthdate, with some birds flying above it. It was on the inside of his forearm. He was right when he said to me, “You can’t go wrong with your mom.” He and his friend had cleverly tattooed my birthdate, and so my anger was softened. That was the plan. After that, my main concern was that he not get an infection. I knew he was young—although he already had pierced ears and a pierced nostril—to get a tattoo. I’m not even sure that I knew you had to be eighteen to get one, legally.
After Gus got that tattoo, he was able to actually go to the tattoo shop with Oskar’s friend’s brother’s fake ID and get more. At first, he went to a tattoo shop in Island Park. He had me drive him there and wait nearby for a few minutes to make sure they would not kick him out. After ten minutes, I knew he was good and drove home to wait for him to call me to come and get him. Gus got his first several tattoos done at that shop. Gus loved getting tattoos. He spent time researching designs that came to mind--and saved many of them as screenshots on his phone. He had ideas for bugs, decks of cards, theatrical symbols and lots of scary images. He also looked at other people who had tattoos in intriguing places. It was a big deal when Gus got his little broken heart tattoo—the one on his face. He said that was his commitment to being an artist—to “not having a real job,” he said.
One of Emma’s best friends is Dana Vargas. Dana grew up in Long Beach and spent many evenings at our home on Walnut Street. She hung out in Gus’s room late at night, with all the other guys, listening to music and just having a good time. Dana is an artist. She had taken some art classes at an art school. At some point in the fall of 2015, Dana began to work in a tattoo shop. She needed practice getting started, so Gus began to get Dana’s tattoos. One of the first tattoos Dana gave Gus was his love tattoo—the one on his tummy. She was nervous about that because Gus pretty much told her how he wanted it—and he wanted it drawn like a little kid would have drawn it. He did not want it to look “professional.” That tattoo is just about the most well-known tattoo Gus had.
Over the next few months, Dana would give Gus a series of tattoos--the coffin, the “revenge” knife, “Fuck the Opps,” the Grim Reaper on his hand--with flames coming out of it. Dana also gave Gus his centipede tattoo, which came with some beautiful beetles, and ladybugs. Dana also tattooed the card symbols (ace, diamond, heart, club) on Gus’s knuckles and the “Forever” on his right inner wrist leading down to his thumb. Right above that, she also tattooed the little sad face with the flame hair. One of Dana and Gus’s more elaborate collaborations was the multi-stage spiderweb with spider, coffin and eight ball. First, Dana tattooed the web and outlines. Then Gus went back for more of the image to be filled in. Gus and Dana had fun working on tattoo ideas together. He enjoyed having little images filled in here and there, in between the bigger images. He loved getting tattoos. For some reason, Gus had Emma photograph nearly every tattoo he had—up until he left to begin performing with Schemaposse in February, 2016. For that reason, I can show you Gus’s tattoos in detail here.
Gus also encouraged Dana’s art in other ways. One day Dana and Emma were using some sidewalk chalk to draw a seascape on the garage step. They had an idea to paint a mural, then the ideas began to flow. I suggested fruits and vegetables, and specifically mushrooms. Dana drafted and then executed an amazing and colorful mural that decorated our back yard for about a year, until the landlord made me paint over it.
Dana Vargas works as a tattoo artist in Portland, Oregon now. She also paints beautiful still lifes, landscapes, and other images. You can check out her work here:
Dana was one of Gus’s good friends.
Liza Womack, Huntington, NY
Below is what Dana wrote for this post:
Before I worked in the shop, I tattooed a Gus few times at your house while you were at Ken’s (sorry lol). We used a really cheap machine I got off amazon. I didn’t really know what I was doing too well but Gus really wanted me to practice on him he would always say he knew I had it in me. After a few times at the house we decided we needed better equipment. Gus wanted to split it with me and buy a pretty nice machine. I have text between us talking about this I can send you!
But we never ended up getting one because a few days after that (bc Gus gave me the confidence) I brought my portfolio to the shop in the west end. When they told me I got the position Ian picked me up and we went straight to your house I was so excited I remember Gus just nonchalantly saying “of course you got it.”
We stopped tattooing in the house bc it’s frowned upon once you get a job, but Gus always still wanted me to, so as soon as I got the okay to tattoo in the shop he was there once or three times a week. I didn’t have any clientele so I would just text our friend group chat to see if anyone wanted to get anything and he would always come. I tattooed him for free bc of how supportive he was of me, he would offer me the little money he had but I would turn it down in exchange for a bong rip later that night, those were the daysssss. At first I feel like a lot of his tattoos were a bit on more of the traditional side but within a few weeks he began expanding to crazy ideas that made me nervous but he always was sure of what he wanted no matter how many people said it looked stupid. I never tattooed his face or neck even tho he would beg me bc I never wanted you to be mad! Back then you asked him to keep it off his face also. He also would always show off all my work to our friends and even would convince them to get stuff from me, even Oskar. Every piece I showed him--even not on him--he would hype up to be the best piece I’d ever done. He would post it on Instagram and tag me. I have some photos of that too I screeenshotted from way back, his name on Instagram was trapgoose still. He really was always pushing me, even with the mural! And he helped me take off my career more then he knew honestly. I am grateful to have had a friend like him.