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Pastor Ian Carrol of Greater Chicago Church in Oak Park has been sitting for about two hours, arms folded, looking relaxed.
Carrol is no stranger to sitting for a tattoo. The native of Ireland has a Celtic cross on his inner forearm. He has other tattoos as well. The new one he got last Friday at RockStar Ink on North Avenue in Oak Park is a Latin Bible verse.
“I have a two-year rule – if I’m still thinking about it after two years then I’ll get it done,” he said.
Carrol, pastor of the church formerly known as Vineyard Oak Park, met the owner of RockStar, Shannon Kozuch, at A Day In Our Village. Her staff did face paintings for about 200 kids. Her tattoo studio opened last October in a two-story former mortgage business at 6549 North Ave. There’s actually another tattoo studio just a few doors down the street. Oak Park is synonymous with many things – good schools, nice homes, Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway. But tattoo salons?
That fact wasn’t entirely lost on Kozuch, a Chicago native who also works at a real estate firm, which she calls her “grown up job.”
“I love my grown up job. I truly enjoy working with those people, but here – this is mine and we’re together,” she said of her artists.
Kozuch said the village was open-minded and helpful when she first approached it about starting her business. The village did insist on one thing – the word “tattoo” can’t appear in the name. Its blue star-and-feathers illustrated logo is part of a huge front window. Just inside is a foyer that looks more like a lounge. The chandelier above sets that mood as much as the corner couch along a mirrored wall stretching from floor to ceiling.
The first floor includes a conference area that doubles as a staff lunch room. Upstairs just beyond the black stairs is where the art happens.
The walls are soft shades of burgundy. Kozuch’s artists each have a station. Their original drawings – some already or soon to be on someone’s body – decorate their wall space. On the opposite side are offices or private studios for their clients, or first-timers who wish to shed their tears outside the presence of others.
Anyone can come in and everyone has the potential to be a rock star, says Kozuch. The staff came up with the company’s name.
“As a child growing up in your teen years, you idolize rock stars, not just as musicians but that image, like a basketball or football player,” says senior artist Chrome, a biker looking dude but with the mindset of a poet or philosopher. “These are superstar rock stars. We thought as a tattoo company, some people view it as not so nice, some as a rebellion, and some people view it as a true art form. We thought, rock star – everybody really wants to be that. And we felt, that’s perfect.”
Chrome, (Kevin Kaminsky is his birth name), admits that his nose ring, piercings and Mohawk cause some people to stereotype him and his work; perhaps too does the tattoo covering much of his back and head. The design looks like shooting fire and sharp blades combined.
An 18-year veteran tattoo artist, Chrome doesn’t let the negativity dissuade him – rock stars don’t sweat that kind of stuff. Once people get to know him and the studio, attitudes change for the better, he said.
If RockStar Ink thus far doesn’t sound like a stereotypical tattoo place, that’s the idea, Kozuch insists. It’s what she had in mind when starting the business. Skulls and bones on the walls? Not at RockStar Ink. A testosterone-, male-dominated environment? Not here.
Kozuch’s “crew” is both male and female. It’s all about the comfort level of the clients, she says. She’s been in such hardcore studios and really didn’t feel comfortable. Women are a growing clientele for tattoo studios, including for RockStar Ink, Kozuch said.
More women are becoming artists as well. One of RockStar’s interns is Sarah Burden, a.k.a. Lil’ Burden. Everyone seems to have a nickname here; Kozuch’s also known as Axeman. Burden, an Oak Park resident, has wanted to be a tattoo artist since childhood. She studied art at the Art Institute of Chicago and, based on the drawings at her station, is highly skilled.
“I had been looking for an apprenticeship for years,” said Kozuch, who first met RockStar’s artists at A Day in Our Village. “For the first time ever I felt like they were taking me seriously as an artist. Because at some shops when I went in, I’m not sure if it was because I was a female but I got a vibe that they weren’t taking me seriously. But (RockStar) was willing to work with me and teach me because they saw in my drawings that I had potential.”
With maybe a half-hour or so to go, Carrol still sits patiently while Mr. Kim, one of RockStar’s artists, continues the Latin script circling his right leg just above the knee. There’s no pain the pastor said. RockStar Ink doesn’t charge for tattoos, just chair time. The artists come up with their own designs and have their own distinct styles or themes, Kozuch said. They’ll also give a client their original tattoo design as a framed drawing or painting. If a client has their own idea, staff will talk with them and work out a design.
She said she could have opened her studio anywhere but chose Oak Park because of the community’s diversity. She jokes about not being a very artistic person but Kozuch is learning to draw block lettering. As for the future of RockStar Ink, Kozuch just wants the business to grow and continue becoming a part of the community. As for what makes a rock star, she can’t come up with a one answer.
“Rock star is a state of being; it’s about being personable and genuine. It’s about being talented and sharing that with people. It’s about so many things,” she said.
Photos by JASON GEIL/Staff Photographer | Click here to buy one of these photos and see more in our photo store.