Jose Arvizu – better known by his Instagram handle and nickname, SpaceHustle – isn’t trying to be one of the dozens of gangster and tough guy tattoo artists that fill the shops of OC (and everywhere else). He’s just a kid from a Catholic family in Santa Ana who found a way to get his artwork to the world.
Some years ago, Arvizu was living what most would consider to be a normal life for an early twentysomething. With a stable job to pay his bills while getting his degree, all signs pointed toward a successful career path for the young man. But after dealing with the school/work grind for so long, Arvizu had a realization.
“I was going to school and working a 9-to-5, and something inside of me was just like ‘You can’t do this forever,’” Arvizu says. “I knew that I had to follow my instincts. I’d just finished watching David Choe’s documentary Dirty Hands, and he’s just super-free in that movie.”
That’s when Arvizu decided to go around to nearly every tattoo shop he could think of – or find online – and ask for an apprenticeship. He already had the art skills; all Arvizu needed was someone to show him how to transfer his sketches into permanent ink on skin.
Unfortunately, just about every shop turned him down. Without any existing connections in the tattoo world beyond his “gangster-ass tattooed” inked-up uncles, Arvizu got denied by every reputable shop in OC for one reason or another.
“As a last ditch effort, I went to this kind of cholo shop in Stanton,” Arvizu says. “They were like ‘I don’t know, man. I don’t know if you’ve got it in you, but we’ll give you a shot.’”
At first, Arvizu was forced to do all of the usual grunt work that comes with an apprenticeship—cleaning, setting up and tearing down stations, and other chores that have little to do with tattooing. Eventually, an artist known as Machete Gator began working at the shop and took Arvizu under his wing. Shortly thereafter, Arvizu stopped being the shop’s general errand boy to apprentice under Gator directly.
“It was like a synergy that we developed within each other,” Arvizu says of Gator. “Everything I’ve done, I owe it to him. He showed me the technical side of tattooing and helped me with his drawings. It was what I needed to get started.”
Four years later, Arvizu’s style of tattooing is unmistakable compared to the rest of the art going on in OC. The young tattooer keeps the bold lines and bright colors of neotraditional tattooing, but he also adds in a level of detail and an cartoony flair to each piece. In other words, if you need someone to do a creative Pokemon or Simpsons tattoo, he’s your dude—when he’s not only tattooing in black ink, that is.
“Tattooing is just an expression of you,” Arvizu says. “They don’t have to have meaning, and they can be whatever you want them to be. I went through a pretty bad breakup a little while ago, and I only felt like doing blackwork for weeks. I thought I might never tattoo in color again, and luckily I have clients who let me do that. Like if they had a color tattoo booked, I would just move it to another day until I felt like doing that again.”
But while Arvizu’s unique style has given him an extremely loyal clientele, it’s also put him in a bit of a strange spot in OC’s tattooing scene. While many tattooers tend to hang out with artists who do similar styles of work, Arvizu’s crowd is pretty limited. The self-described “super-awkward” tattooer may not have dozens of other artists to share tips and tricks of his style with, but he’s found a home at Shipwrecked Ink Tattoo Studio in Sunset Beach. With the Riip Beer Company’s brewery just across PCH and the sandy beach a block behind the shop, things could certainly be a lot worse for Arvizu.
“I can’t complain, dude,” Arvizu says of Shipwrecked’s location. “We have a brewery across the street and the ocean on the other side, so I can just go catch some waves or grab a beer if someone cancels on me.”
Shipwrecked Ink Tattoo Studio, 17185 Pacific Coast Hwy., Sunset Beach, (310) 488-4951. Instagram: @spacehustle