Outside of legends like Ed Hardy and Sailor Jerry, Opie Ortiz probably has his artwork and tattoos displayed on clothing, posters, and everything else more than just about any other tattoo artist.
Don’t laugh. Decades ago, Ortiz did a lot of the artwork for a band named Sublime from his hometown of Long Beach. Millions of sold albums later, it’s hard to walk down a street in SoCal (or through a college dorm anywhere) without seeing one of Ortiz’s designs, from the band’s signature sun to the iconic back tattoo.
“I created something, but to me it holds way more spiritual essence than any kid saying ‘Oh my god, you did the Sublime stuff,'” Ortiz says. “I’m appreciative to that, but it means a lot more to me. An artist doesn’t just create art. He creates it out of emotions. That shit was created out of emotions and friendships and love and hate and all that.”
While Ortiz doesn’t have a problem with Sublime fans appreciating the art he created for the band, he’s not looking to have hundreds of bros flock to him for Sublime tattoos. After all, those designs were created from the heart, they weren’t meant to become the images for an entire movement.
“I have people come up to me and tell me how Sublime changed their life or helped them in some way and that my art was a big part of that,” Ortiz says. “That’s cool, but that’s not why I did it. There’s a lot of meaning behind it to me that people don’t see.”
But Ortiz is engulfing himself in the Sublime world once again. The veteran tattooer teamed up with Troy Holmes (Bradley Nowell’s widow) and Sullen Art Collective to put together a limited edition clothing line. Don’t expect the same kind of Sublime shirts you’d find at Hot Topic or Target, as Ortiz and Holmes have been planning this for quite some time and are calling in help from some talented friends.
“Troy and I have been trying to do a limited edition line for about 10 years now, but we were never able to get it on the board with any companies,” Ortiz says. “Troy linked up with Sullen, and she liked the clothing they were doing, so we’re doing it through them. Instead of doing all the art myself, I picked some artists who I respect, and I’m sure the band respects.”
To kick off the release of the new clothes, Sullen and Ortiz will host an art show and release party at Collective Ink Gallery in Garden Grove focused on the 20th anniversary of Sublime’s self-titled final studio album. Similar to the clothing designs, Ortiz curated the art show to feature dozens of the top Sublime-loving tattoo artists. It’s something no tattooer would’ve been able to do 30 years ago, when Ortiz first started slinging ink, but that doesn’t mean he likes the current state and popularity of tattooing.
“It changed for the lame,” Ortiz says. “It went totally mainstream. When I got into tattooing, it was underground. It meant something. Now, it doesn’t mean shit unless you can look at it and say ‘That’s a [tattooing legend] Bob Roberts sleeve’ or anything like that. I won’t knock the people turning out quality work because quality work is quality work, but it’s all gotten lame and I think it’s the shape of things to come. It’s going to keep going up before it comes down to reality again.”
As Ortiz sees it, the time before every barista and soccer mom could go on Instagram or Pinterest and pick out a tattoo for themselves was really when tattooing was coolest. Considering that his music-related designs are among his most well-known, it’s not surprising that what brought him to think tattoos were cool in the first place was their visibility on rock stars of decades past.
“They’ve always been connected because of punk rock and rock ‘n’ roll,” Ortiz says. “Guys like Ozzie were heavily tattooed rock stars in the public eye, and I gravitated toward it because you wanted to know who did their tattoos. I think they go pretty much hand in hand, but now you have hip hop and rap and all this other stuff and it’s all blended in. They’re all getting tattooed, and it’s cool in that sense, but I think the rockers are the ones who inspired it all. The only ones who had tattoos back then were gangsters, bikers, and rockers.”
Still Life Tattoo, 1500 PCH, Unit F, Seal Beach, 90740, 562-296-8066, @tattoosbyopie