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Artist seeks approval for town’s first tattoo shop

By Betsy Levinson
Globe Correspondent / May 6, 2012
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A body art practitioner is hoping to open the first tattoo parlor in Concord this summer, if his application to the Board of Health is approved.

On May 15, Kurt Brown is scheduled to appear before the board seeking two approvals: one for himself as a licensed body art practitioner and a second for his proposed establishment in the Dino’s building at the corner of Main and Cottage streets in West Concord.

It used to be illegal in Massachusetts for anyone but a physician to give you a tattoo. But that practice was challenged in court, and the prohibition was overturned in October 2000. A superior court judge declared tattoos a form of expression, and struck down the state’s law as a violation of free speech. Local municipalities developed their own regulations regarding body art, generally known as tattooing and body piercing.

Concord’s Board of Health drew up its regulations about 10 years ago, according to the town’s health director, Susan Rask. They lay out the scope of body art establishments, standards of practice, procedures for licensing a business and more.

If approved, this would be the first tattoo business coming to Concord since the rules took effect, Rask said.

Brown’s application for The Gallery Tattoo Studio specifies that only tattooing would be done; no piercings.

Brown said he graduated from Massachusetts College of Art with a bachelor’s degree in illustration. He began freelancing, but maintained his keen interest in body art.

“It’s hard to start out,” he said by phone from his Cambridge studio. “You have to be apprenticed before you can work on your own.”

He became a landscape designer, but stayed in touch with his friends in the tattoo business, urging them to “get me in there.” He finally got his chance in 2006, but found the transition from illustrating on paper to skin frustrating.

“It’s not like drawing on a flat surface,” he said. “We practiced on oranges a lot.” He also said he had to “relearn color,” since with tattooing, he works “from dark to light” instead of the other way around.

Another factor, he said, is that “skin varies in how it holds the ink.” He said some is porous and takes the color well, and other skin types react differently. It’s an art that develops over time, he said.

He said elbows, not surprisingly, are tough to tattoo and the “ink doesn’t take well there, whereas, the inside of the arm soaks it up fast.”

Brown said his wife, a second-grade teacher, will handle the books at the shop, and he is looking for two more licensed practitioners to work alongside him when he opens, perhaps in July.

He said the upper floor above Dino’s is perfect, with 10 windows and plenty of room. He is currently booked with his regular clientele for the next three to four months, so when he opens in Concord, he will have a ready base of customers.

The local regulations run several pages, covering everything from sanitizing and disinfecting procedures for the furniture and instruments to requirements for “single use items including inks, dyes, and pigments” and standards of practice.

Brown is now accumulating gathering the various documents he needs before May 15. He said it’s “tough to cover all the bases, but it will pay off in the long run.”

He drives to work through West Concord every day, and loves the vibe in the neighborhood. He said he takes his son to Debra’s Natural Gourmet and other shops in the area, and is eager to join the local business community.

“It’s near the train in a great neighborhood,” said Brown. “I knew right away when I saw the space that this was it.”

Brown said his portfolio includes scenes of nature and wildlife. Other artists specialize in Japanese art, or other motifs. Women used to prefer their lower back for a tattoo, but now they want one on their side. Men still prefer their arm, he said.

“But it changes over time, like any fad,” he said.

Brown isn’t heavily tattooed himself. “I’ve been too busy to collect very many,” he said.

He said he cautions first-timers who come in wanting a “giant tattoo.”

“If an 18-year-old came in wanting a tat on her neck, I’d tell her no,” said Brown. “You don’t want to get a giant neck tattoo as your first one.”

He said there are “old stigmas about biker tattoos and prison tattoos” that are still in effect. Some job seekers may be turned down with obvious body art, he said, so he urges restraint.

“There is discrimination out there,” he said. “I don’t agree with it, but I understand it.”

He charges by the hour ($150 per hour) rather than for the piece. “You know the old saying, ‘cheap work isn’t good and good work isn’t cheap.’ ”

Betsy Levinson can be reached at betsy.levinson@gmail.com.

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