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[whitespace] Joe Leonard
Michael Amsler

Prickly situation: Monkey Wrench tattoo artist and owner Joe Leonard makes the latest addition to Solomon Loop's totem of flesh.

Getting the Buzz

I'VE ALWAYS DONE ART," says Monkey Wrench tattoo artist Simeon Schoeman as he frowns over the sore-looking, flamed-adorned forearm of customer Spencer Daniel. "But I never took it that seriously. Most of the stuff I've learned about art, I've learned from life."

Schoeman pauses to dip his electronic needle in red ink and sinks the tip artfully back into Daniel's wrist. "I love tattoos," he says, his multipierced face grimacing slightly in concentration as he re-inks a fiery motif that Daniel is having corrected. "It's self-expression." Daniel, who estimates that he has spent between $700 and $800 on adorning his body in the two years since he turned 18, winces slightly. "It doesn't hurt that bad," he states bravely.

Owned by Joe Loenard, this is not the tattoo parlor of Navy lore. There are no pin-up girls; no one is smoking; and the artist is not a burly shaven man in a sweaty undershirt. Instead, the sun is streaming in cheerfully through the clean windows of this upper-storied body-art shop. The floor is tidy; the artists, wearing surgical gloves, rest their hands on medical gauze; one wall is topped with a line of winning ribbons from the annual Tattoos and Blues event; and the stereo is on. OK, the stereo is really loud, but that doesn't seem to bother the toddler sleeping inside her stroller, nor does it drown out the conversations of the five people lounging on couches waiting their turns to be pierced and inked.

Both Schoeman and his colleague, Ro Manson, began their training at home. "I learned through trial and error," says Manson as he fills in a dancing black
figure on the upper arm of Charlie Reeves, 19, who is in for his first tattoo. "We used to hand-poke tattoos," says Manson. "It couldn't be any worse [than that]."

Renting a booth as do stylists in a hair salon, these men see as many as four clients a day, depending on the complexity of the image rendered. Unlike traditional tattoo parlors, there are no standard graphics at Monkey Wrench. Each client works up an image in tandem with the artist, drawn on the spot, and then buzzed in. Each man has his limits, too. "I won't do names or any racist slogans," says Manson. "No swastikas or the Iron Cross. I will do a reverse swastika--many cultures used that before Hitler. Also, I won't do anything negative like, 'I suck.'"

Manson sees the business potential in permanently marking one person with another's name, but nonetheless resists seduction. "That's not cool," he says flatly, and "it's not aesthetically pleasing." Schoeman--who also refuses to tattoo racist sentiments--won't touch hands. "They wrinkle up and fade in the sun. I also don't ordinarily do faces," he says, adding that he recently made an exception for a local Native American activist who had her face inked as part of a religious ceremony.

The image that first-timer Reeves has chosen is taken from the cover of Operation Ivy's Unity disc, and Reeves is certain that he'll like the image even after he can no longer remember to put the words operation and ivy together in the same sentence. "It says 'Unity,'" he stresses, pointing to his reddening shoulder, which is now worth $120 more than it was when he walked into the downtown Santa Rosa shop. "I know that I'll always like that." Monkey Wrench Tattoo, 1066 Fourth St., Santa Rosa; 575-0610.

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From the March 26-April 1, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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