If you take a quick stroll through Arlo DiCristina’s Instagram, you’ll immediately bear witness to the type of hyperrealistic, super-surreal tattoos that you’d expect to come from the grizzled old fingers of a tattoo veteran. If you continue scrolling, however, you’ll no doubt happen upon repeated photos of a smiling, clean-cut dreamboat. That’s Arlo.
DiCristina is a young man whose hands and eye are beyond their years. A master of photorealism, turned slightly askew, he has the ability to add a bizarre twist to the familiar. His surrealist renderings cross the boundary between dark and light, much like the grayscale tones that grace his portfolio. Outside his studio, Arlo is an adventurer, a wanderer, and a reminder of the power of positivity in an ever-changing world. As laid back as he is driven, as serene as he is focused, Arlo exemplifies what it is to be an innovator, a risk taker, and an icon. —Nick Fierro
You started tattooing at a young age. Can you remember your first?
I was in high school, and I had my buddy order a tattoo machine for me because I wasn’t 18 yet. I didn’t even look at the directions or anything. Right away I found a very trusting friend and wound up doing a compass rose on his shoulder. It turned out absolutely horrible. At that point I knew I needed to get some training, like an apprenticeship, or at least watch some YouTube videos or learn how to actually set up my machine. I’m more of “hands on” kind of guy, so I went the apprenticeship route.
Did you see a future in tattoos back then?
I mean, it was never one of the booths at career day in school. At the time I thought, “Hey, my buddies are all going to be blue-collar workers, I’ll probably be a blue-collar worker too.”
When did you develop an interest in drawing?
What got me into art in general was probably Pokémon cards or skate decks. I would sit there with a skate magazine and I would draw all of that stuff, which was kinda weird. I was definitely drawn to that kind of stuff, it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly, but weirder things tend to get more of a reaction, and art is supposed to be about antagonizing or provoking a reaction.
Did you seek out a formal apprenticeship?
The first shop that I tried to get an apprenticeship at was right across the street from where I was living. I was right out of high school and was going to be joining the ironworkers union. It was the best shop in that town, and I went in and actually got an apprenticeship. By the end of the first day, I was like “no way.”
What was the problem?
I had just gone through high school and braved through all of that hazing bullshit when I was a freshman. So there I was, entering the tattoo industry, and it’s back to that ridiculous shit.
What sort of vibe did the shop have?
It was a bunch of adults trying to belittle me, and I realize that I was just a kid back then, but I had developed a little awareness of adulthood and how they should act. So I wound up not taking the apprenticeship.
Were you self-taught from that point?
Well, my next apprenticeship was sort of the same story. This guy would try to preach at me. He was a nice guy, but that’s the thing, they’re all nice guys. They’re all just a product of what they’ve been exposed to. If that was the norm for them coming up, that’s what they’re going to continue to do. It made the process a lot tougher, because instead of trying to build you up, they were constantly breaking you down. From that point I went off on my own and started to do things my way.
The macho attitude didn’t motivate you?
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