Chuco Moreno wants people to enjoy his art and Chicano tattooing.
People use the term “Chicano style” to describe a wide range of black and gray tattoos these days, but as someone who grew up in the heart of Chicano culture, Moreno has his own take on the style. He tries to keep the arté as it was in the barrio.
“Just because it’s black and gray or because they looked in a glamor magazine and took a white girl model and put clown makeup on her, they consider it Chicano tattooing,” Moreno explains. “In all actuality, that’s not true. I’m keeping it true to what it really is. If you look at real cholos and real vatos, our tattoos are bold and very outspoken.”
While many may consider more detailed fine-line black and gray to be “Chicano,” Moreno is quick to point out that there are many styles of Chicano tattooing. Many of the ones originally being done in barrios all throughout California didn’t have the level of detail in some of today’s work. Although Moreno respects the more detailed styles of black and gray tattooing, he has always focused his life’s work on what he considers the “neighborhood style” of traditional Chicano tattooing.
“When you say the term ‘Chicano style,’ that’s a whole culture of people,” Moreno says. “It’s like if you were to say you got a Native American tattoo. If you got that tattoo from some guy in Idaho that has a feather in his station, it’s not necessarily a Native American tattoo. If you went to a reservation and actually got it from that culture of people, then you’re dealing with the real thing.”
No tattooer could argue to have more of a claim to Chicano tattoos than Moreno, as the Norco-based tattooer grew up in a California barrio. Since birth, Moreno’s been engulfed in the world of Chicano culture and the tattoos that go with it. From seeing older neighborhood vatos walking around covered in tattoos to laying down his first ink before he was old enough to get a driver’s license, Moreno’s love for tattoos is tied directly to his Chicano heritage.
“All my people are heavily tattooed,” Moreno says. “Heavy Chicano dudes with prison-style tattoos coming in and out of the California State Correctional Facilities, and that stuff would make it back to the street. Tattooing to me wasn’t what it is today. It was just the way it was. In my culture, all the dudes are pressed from head to toe.”
Inspired by legendary street artists like the late Teen Angel (born David Holland), some of Moreno’s earliest artistic memories come from watching older homeboys create pieces based on the artwork of Teen Angel. Throughout his teenage years, Moreno became known as the go-to artist in his neighborhood. He spent countless afternoons knocking out homemade tattoos in exchange for a few beers and a handshake just as previous generations had done before him. When it came time to move those skills into a real tattoo shop, the artist realized just how different the worlds of “neighborhood tattooing” and professional tattooing were.
“I was completely oblivious to professional tattooing back in those days,” Moreno says. “A friend of mine opened a tattoo shop and asked me to come around and make some tattoos on the public. The actual application and format and procedure make professional tattooing and neighborhood tattooing two very different birds. It took me every bit of six years to learn to tattoo on a professional level, and it took me a long time just to learn how to use a professional machine. I was used to a home rig that I could put together in 15 minutes.”
Over a decade later, Moreno’s fully adjusted to the life of a professional tattooer and the appreciation for his work has expanded from the neighborhood to all over the world. Although his lines are cleaner and his shading is more precise than it was in the barrio, Moreno still prefers to work from memory than by a reference. He’d rather throw on some Mary Wells and draw out a heina or a homeboy, a ranfla or a neighborhood scene than pull up an image from Google. Because ultimately, the tattoos he does are a part of his heritage, and he respects that.
“Chicano culture and its art is a beautiful thing,” Moreno says. “I’m glad I have the chance to share and enjoy it with everyone. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to permanently place my art on folks from all across the world, and that’s a hell of a thing for a guy like me. It’s been a real firmé ride, and I’m still cruising alongside my genté doing what I’ve always done – putting on placás and making my art.”
Zombie Tattoo, 1805 Commerce St., Norco, (951) 272-4132, Instagram: @chucomoreno95237