To help kids get off the streets and provide them with jobs — that’s the ambitious goal of Atlanta’s No. 1 tattoo studio, City of Ink.
Co-founder Miya Bailey says he wanted to build a place where young artists could go to feed their families, a place where they could thrive and have their dreams come true. To shape American culture as we know it.
At one of his most notable shows, Before I’m Gone Vol. 1, Bailey was out to make an art collector out of the city’s residents. He was tired of people viewing art as a luxury. “Most people think they can’t afford art, so I did a series of art exhibits just for the first-time art collector.” The show featured art that anyone could afford, no matter their income — and it was a huge success.
Here, Bailey talks to CommonCreativ about what it’s been like seeing the black tattoo culture grow, his upcoming events, and what he thinks of the current arts scene in Atlanta.
CC: What drew you to tattooing?
MB: My vision for tattooing in the early ’90s was to help create an urban tattoo culture.
CC: What drew you to the Atlanta arts scene?
MB: When I moved to Atlanta in the ’90s, there wasn’t an art scene. So, my friends in art and I decided to create an Atlanta art scene by doing art exhibits once or twice a month for the last 15 to 16 years, giving local artists events to display their art. Dubelyoo from Arts, Beats & Lyrics was a person who helped in building the Atlanta art scene with his annual events, and we can’t forget Peter Ferrari’s Forward Warrior. He’s uniting artists of all backgrounds, and after all these years, City of Ink is still the creative hub of this beautiful city.
CC: What would you say defines Atlanta culture?
MB: The music, art, fashion, food, and nightlife defines Atlanta culture. People who open their own businesses and employ the people around them. That’s Atlanta to me.
CC: When did you and Tuki Carter open City of Ink?
MB: Tuki Carter and I opened City of Ink more than 10 years ago in Castleberry [Hill]. Then, Corey Davis and I opened up an Edgewood City of Ink about three years ago.
CC: City of Ink seems to create a lot of breakout stars. Why do you think that is?
MB: I take notice in artists who enjoy working longer hours than their peers. Those are the artists I know who have tunnel vision on their goals. I love a workaholic and a perfectionist, so when I see those traits in an artist, I will do everything in my power to make sure they have everything needed for a successful career in art.
CC: What makes City of Ink different than other shops in Atlanta?
When we opened City of Ink, I never thought about it as a “tattoo shop.” We only looked at it as ground zero for the Atlanta art scene, so we welcomed all visual artists. We are collective of creatives: photographers, filmmakers, musicians, rappers, poets, graphic designers, marketing, screen printing, etc. Everything visual art, we can provide the service.
CC: What inspired you to create the documentary Color Outside the Lines?
MB: It seems like no one else was willing to put in the work to share the history of black tattoo culture. I felt if I didn’t tell this story, this new generation of tattooists and tattoo artists wouldn’t know the pioneers who opened the doors for them so they could tattoo for a living today. We wanted to celebrate the lives of these living legends while they’re still here.
CC: Tell me about your show Before I’m Gone Vol. 1: The Art of Miya Bailey.
MB: I want my art in the homes of everyone, not just the rich. In fact, I think the poor might need my art a little more than the rich. Art can be used for healing, and my community needs some healing.
CC: How has the black tattoo artist community changed since you moved to Atlanta?
MB: We are the ones who actually started the black tattoo culture in Atlanta. Ms. Julia trained the first generation of black tattoo artists. Artists like Lord Yatta, Tuki Carter and Red Cooley came from this. It all started at West End Tattoo. That’s the foundation and starting point of the Atlanta black tattoo community, which inspired the rest of the country in the early ’90s.
CC: What are your favorite and least favorite tattoos to do?
MB: When I was an apprentice, I hated doing Celtic knot work and tribal. It was one of the reasons I started my own styles of tattooing. These same styles younger tattooist are using today. I love tattooing living things like animals and planets.
CC: What prompted you to open Notch8 Gallery with Sharon Dennehy?
MB: Sharon curated my return to doing art exhibits in big art galleries. She curated Windows to Nowhere at Nelson Street, featuring me and Corey Davis. So, when it was time to open our own art gallery, I knew Sharon would be the perfect business partner. It’s like we have one mind. We think so much alike, it’s crazy. That’s my twin sister for sure. It was only right, it felt natural to do it.
CC: Who are some of your favorite tattoo artists?
MB: I love Mike Giant, Jun Cha, Jose Lopez, shige, Corey Davis, Proph Bundy, Melvin Todd, Tuki Carter, and Russ Abbott.
CC: Who are some of your favorite Atlanta creatives?
MB: I love the art of Sanithna, Tiffany Cheresse, Fabian, Peter Ferrari, Brandon Sandler, Flux singleton, Goldi Gold, Chinese Foode, Corey Davis, Paper Frank, Chilly-O, Barry Duperon, Tim Short, FDA, Greg Mike and Nate Frost.
CC: Do you have any shows coming up?
MB: We do one to two shows a month at the City of Ink gallery. We also have one art exhibit monthly at Notch8 Gallery. My next solo art exhibit, Broken Stories, will be on Friday, July 7th at Notch8.