Johnnie Decena is covered almost head-to-toe in art (save for his face and neck), but he doesn't want you to think him a freak. "You shouldn't have to be viewed like you're in some sort of subculture if you have them," he says. "People ought to embrace their inner weirdo."
Decena wants to change the idea of what it means to be tattooed. "It is artwork," he says. "We're saturated in shops down here," he says, "and a lot of them are shitty." After several years of working with the talented artists at Atomic Tattoo, he veered left and opened the most beautiful, least tough-guy shop in town: St. James Tattooery in Orange, which we deemed OC's Best Tattoo Parlor last year.
"I wanted to create a place that got people thinking about what they wanted, as opposed to choosing something off a wall," he explains.
It's easy to be inspired after seeing what's behind his Art Deco glass doors and red-velvet curtains. The shop feels like a Gothic den at the bottom of the rabbit hole from Alice In Wonderland, with warm lighting, vintage dental chairs, and walls covered in intricate wood paneling and an ever-rotating display of artwork. And his team works by appointment only, making the drunk-walk-in experience nonexistent.
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In mulling over the shop's three-year anniversary, Decena came up with the idea of a tattoo auction. He and the staff have created pieces in watercolor and ink, and each canvas and its matching tattoo will go to the highest bidder. But there's no pressure—getting the matching tattoo is simply a bonus. "We just want to introduce people to the culture," he says. "And sometimes they want to carry their artwork away with them instead."
The event, which also featues a silent auction, is limited to 60 people, and admission includes a raffle ticket and a customized paddle. Tally-ho!