By Dave Fountinelle | firstname.lastname@example.org
When you first pull up to Dedication Tattoo in Armona, CA, you’re greeted by a rather unassuming-looking shop, sandwiched between a pizza place on the left, and a beauty salon to the right. However, once you open the doors and venture inside, you have just entered the unofficial museum-of-the-mind of shop owner Chadley Rees. Death Metal hemorrhages from speakers in the back, spraying the large, open studio in waves of aural carnage. On the walls, various samples of Chadley’s other artistic productions: oil paintings, charcoal sketches, painted skulls, and so on, hang like prime cuts in a meat locker. A halo of Marvel comics circles the top of the walls, representing some of Chad’s favorite stories and characters, such as Thor, Infinity Wars, and his favorite – Juggernaut. On the big screen TV could be playing anything from a Dodger’s game, to a YouTube video about comic books, to one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films. This is Chadley’s labor of love, and it represents not just a look at who he is, but also what inspires him.
“I’ve always been really into comic books and anime artists,” Chadley tells me, as he prepares his work station for his next appointment. Breaking down, sterilizing, putting it all back together, and getting everything ready to go. “And, of course, I was always fascinated with dark, evil, medieval types of themes. The first professional artist who inspired me to want to tattoo was Paul Booth.” Booth is a legend of the tattoo industry, whose trademark style is black and gray work and dark, evil themes. “Currently, I would say some of my biggest influences in the industry are Ben Kaye and Robbie Latos.”
Like most originals, Chadley draws inspiration from his favorite artists but is always careful to respect their style. Potential clients looking for someone to “do something just like the one this guy did” will have to go somewhere else.
“Sometimes someone will bring me a picture of someone else’s work and ask me ‘can you throw this on me, just like how it is here?’ and I’ll tell them, ‘I can do something similar to that, in my own style or whatever, but if you’re looking for someone to just trace that on you, I’m not your guy, sorry.”
It was 13 years ago when Chadley first started tattooing, and he’s been making a living at it for 7. In 2006, he had a 1-year apprenticeship at a studio in Key West, Florida. There, he studied the traditional Asian tattoo style. He then moved to California and worked briefly at a couple of different studios in Fresno and Lemoore. Ultimately, none of these places provided the right environment Chadley was looking for. He was frustrated by what felt to him to be a lack of mutual support among artists.
“I want to work in an environment where everyone lifts each other up. Where artists support each other and freely exchange ideas. There are so much jealousy and negativity in this business, I want to work with people who want to see everyone succeed.”
And it was with that goal in mind, creating a place where other talented artists could ply their trade in an environment of positivity, creativity, community, and encouragement, that Chadley got together with some other local artists and opened Dedication Tattoo in July 2015.
In the 4 years since Dedication opened, those other artists have left to pursue their own individual career goals. Walking through those doors today and into the big, open, clean studio, Chadley holds shop to the right while body piercer, Jason Perkins, sets up shop to the left. But there’s always space available for a local artist to show off their skills and be a part of the Dedication team. When I ask Chadley where he would like to see Dedication Tattoo evolve over the next 4 years, he tells me,
“I don’t have a financial goal in mind, you know? Like, I don’t think about it in terms of ‘I want to open 5 more shops’ or ‘I want to be doing these kinds of numbers each month’ or anything like that. What I want is to see Dedication continue to be a place where artists can come in and bring their own styles and elements to the shop, share their knowledge and techniques, come together and grow as an artistic community, and just continue to produce consistent, quality work and grow.”
As for where Chadley would like to see his own career progressing, “I really just want to continue to have opportunities to learn more and grow as an artist.”
Part of that growth for Chadley is continuing to focus on his other artistic endeavors besides tattooing. Namely, his painting and drawing. He sells his paintings through his Instagram page, ChadReesArt, and there are always loyal fans volunteering as a model for his art, or a canvas for “something new I want to try.” Chadley is a multi-faceted artist, and whether it’s his unique and high-end tattoo work, beautiful oil paintings that range from haunting skulls to mesmerizing images of swirling galaxies, or even individual pieces like his painted animal skulls, all of his work is a one-of-a-kind exhibit from the vault of his mind.
So, what does Chad like best about working in the south Central Valley?
“I love the small communities here. I love to work with the same people. That return business, that loyalty, it means so much to me. Knowing that they were happy enough with what I did for them that they want to keep coming back to me with all of their ideas and projects because they trust my ability to turn their vision into a finished product. It’s crazy, I’ve been doing this long enough that I’m starting to tattoo the sons and daughters of some of my first clients. It’s very humbling to get that kind of love from people, and I appreciate all of it so much.’
Alright, so then what don’t you like about tattooing down here?
“The small community, haha! It’s really a double-edged sword, man. The downside is that there just isn’t a very big client pool compared to big cities. That kind of forces you to have to be good at everything because you can’t really afford to turn down business. Whereas in a big city, an artist can focus on developing their ‘signature style’ and just doing that particular style of tattoo, and if their work is good and people like it, the business will just keep coming. It’s not like that here. I would love just to do skulls and decay and darkness and evil and all that, but you gotta do those infinity knots and butterflies on the ankles if you want to pay the rent.”
Despite these unique challenges, Dedication Tattoo continues to carve out space for itself in the South Valley. July marks their 4th anniversary, and Chadley says they have a lot of different promotions and events planned to celebrate the milestone with the clients and community that has helped make it all possible. To learn more about these upcoming events, follow @Dedication_tattoo_. To check out Chadley’s work, follow him on Instagram @chadreesart. For samples of Jason Perkin’s piercings, follow him @bustanuthead. You can also like their Facebook page. For more information, or to book an appointment, call (559) 587-5419