LI Ink Master Artist Goes Skin Deep

inkFrom a tattoo parlor in Bethpage to the national stage of cable television, Erik Siuda is inking his mark on the industry.

At Ghost Gallery Tattoo, 325 Broadway in Bethpage, Siuda concentrates on human canvases for hours on end and the intricacy of his style will be featured among other artists on Spike TV’s Ink Master, starting Tuesday, Sept. 2 at 10 p.m. Siuda is one of 18 contestants competing on the show, which is in its fifth season, in various tattoo challenges that not only test the artists’ technical skills, but also their on-the-spot creativity.

Siuda, 34, has been tattooing for close to 20 years. In that time, he has worked with legends in the inking world while developing his own distinct style. But even with a world of experience and knowledge under his belt, Siuda said television brings an entirely new level of stress to the tattoo chair.

“The simple fact that there’s a camera watching is enough to make it very stressful,” said Siuda, who will host a viewing party for the premier episode of Ink Master at Whoville Bar in Bethpage, on Sept. 2 starting at 8 p.m. “There aren’t many times I’m made to tattoo under a microscope. You want to impress the judges and you have to do every tattoo like it’s the best you’ve ever done.”

The judges Siuda’s working to impress, Chris Nunez, Dave Navarro and Oliver Peck, are legends in the industry who will nitpick every detail that Siuda inks to flesh. But Siuda said it is that scrutiny which pushes him to create his visually dynamic expressions, even as he navigates an intense rivalry with another artist in the show.

Siuda is pitted against fellow artist Don Peddicord, whom he originally met at a casting call for the show.

“He’s a very cocky person who likes to talk a lot. I’m much more modest and I let my work speak for itself,” said Siuda. “We started fighting back and forth on social media and it really plays out on the show. I think people on Long Island will be proud of how I represented myself.”

In representing the tattoo industry, Siuda has high standards for his work and has been known to refuse to ink a client with questionable intentions.

“When you tattoo someone, you have a huge responsibility to give the client a part of yourself. You want that client to walk out happy and to be happy 10 years from now,” he said. “I don’t really have a lot of younger clients. It’s universal for guys and girls, they hit 18 and they want a tattoo. I have a big emotional connection with my tattoos and some young people don’t understand that. And I definitely won’t tattoo names of girlfriends or boyfriends. I just say ‘no.’”

Siuda developed his style and skill in Brooklyn and New York City, where he was influenced by tattoo artists such as Sean Vasquez and Mike Bellamy — as well as Mike Rubendall of Kings Avenue Tattoo in Massapequa, plus many others. Tattooing came naturally to Siuda, who earned his art chops with graffiti and soaked in knowledge studying at the School of Visual Arts. Before opening his own shop, he apprencticed for about a year and a half — a long way from his high school days of keeping his passion a secret from his parents.

“My mom is a very high end salesperson, my dad is a jeweler and I had a very strict Catholic upbringing,” he said. “My parents supported my art, but they didn’t expect me to pick up tattooing. They were skeptical and nervous, but at 18 I was published in a tattoo book, after that they accepted it.”

Now, Siuda has a family — his wife is a New York City public school teacher — he pays his mortgage on time and has clients hail from all walks of life. Siuda said the tattoo industry is a far cry from its former image of freaks, bikers and criminals.

“Society has an entirely different outlook on tattoing now. When I was 18, I had a full sleeve and people would move away from me on the subway,” he said. “Now, it’s a subculture that has risen to the mainstream. I have clients that are doctors, lawyers, politicians — it has changed tremendously.”

The one constant in the industry, according to Siuda, is the artisitic freedom. And that is something — television competitions aside — that Siuda will always crave in his everyday life.

“It’s all about freedom and living free like a pirate on the high seas,” he said. “To be able to create something out of my imagination and place it on a canvas of human skin. There is nothing like it.”

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Steve Mosco
Steve Mosco, the former editor-in-chief at Anton Media Group, is a columnist for Long Island Weekly's food and sports sections. He fancies himself a tastemaker, food influencer and king of all eaters.

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