Tattoo parlours colonise the streets of Madrid

Tattoo parlours colonise the streets of Madrid

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Tattoo shops have quadrupled in the capital and the outskirts in the last decade and the academies are full of young people who want to ride the wave of a boiling business, but still do not shake the prejudices.

The new La Mano Zurda tattoo parlour in the center of Madrid is an example of the status these businesses have gained on the streets of the capital. The 209-square-meter store a five-minute walk from Puerta del Sol was a clothing store, one of many to close at a difficult time when retailers must compete with Amazon. Tattoo artists, however, are doing better than ever. In the last decade, the number of salons in the Community of Madrid has grown by four to 341 registered in the regional registry.

The owner of La Mano Zurda, Alfonso Ramos, was a graffiti artist in 1998 who began by tattooing friends “in an informal and unpretentious way.” Two decades later, Ramos has three studios with 23 tattoo artists, a tattoo school and a distributor of supplies. Ramos believes that neither politicians nor other businessmen are aware of the money that moves the world of tattoos in Spain.

One recent morning, while several of his tattooists at the Sol studio were drawing pictures on electronic tablets, he told this newspaper that in Fitur he once gave a talk about tattoo tourism and the audience reacted in disbelief. “The rock was hallucinating. They did not believe it,” says Ramos, who regrets that unlike the great capitals of Europe, Madrid does not have a major tattoo convention due to the lack of support from the administrations. “If the bullring moves people, how can a tattoo convention not do it?”
Tattooists and managers of the new La Mano Zurda tattoo parlour in the Sol district of Madrid.


There are no official figures on the business of tattoo artists in Spain, but the main associations speak of exponential growth in the last ten years, as is happening in other countries. In the United States, market studies estimate that the tattoo and piercing sector (another typical service of these salons) has doubled in value in the last decade, spurred by its popularity among millennials and Generation Z adolescents. Marketdata consultancy estimates that in the US there are more than 20,000 salons that generate more than 3,000 million dollars. Meanwhile, in Europe, one of the most cited indicators points out that 12% of the population is tattooed (in 2003 it was 5%), according to the data used by the European Union.

In Spain, industry sources feel that the tattoo culture is less than in the US and other European countries because prejudices still persist in certain professional fields, but they say that in a matter of ten years there has been a radical transformation. From being identified with urban tribes, the tattoo has become the mark of an entire generation.
Alfonso Ramos, owner of La Mano Zurda, in the chain’s lounge in the Sol district of Madrid

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“It does not matter if she is a posh from La Moraleja than a punk or a heavy from the suburbs,” says Fidel Prieto, spokesman for the National Union of Tattooists, UNTAP, and owner of the Acme Tattoo salon in Madrid. “Now you go to the beach and it is rare that he does not have a tattoo.” Even the former president of the Community of Madrid Cristina Cifuentes had visible tattoos. “I myself have tattooed a couple of politicians,” says Prieto, who prefers not to identify them and only says that they belong to Ciudadanos y Podemos.

Prieto, who has been tattooing since 1999, believes the industry will peak at some point. But others say they have heard that tattooing is a fad for years, and yet it has not stopped growing.

Social networks and the example of footballers and celebrities are among the causes of the boom, according to industry sources. In particular, they say that the exhibitionism of Instagram has encouraged many to get tattoos. Another important factor is technological advancement. The new machines, more versatile and faster, have raised the quality of tattoos. Styles have diversified and some of the best tattooists have been elevated to an elite admired by connoisseurs. Some in Madrid like the Spanish-Polish Robert Hernández have waiting lists of months and sometimes they sign their tattoos, like works of art.

In Madrid, the Chueca and Tribunal area is the epicenter of tattoo parlors, with 19 studios, according to data from the Community’s registry of tattoo, micropigmentation and skin piercing establishments, the REAC . (In the registry, 341 businesses carry out tattoos, 80% of the 424 registered at the end of December).

Tattoo house or skin piercing parlours

It has rained a lot since the time when the tribals became popular, says Adrián Saúl, director in San Sebastián de los Reyes of the Tattoo School, one of those that have emerged in the region in the last decade. “The tattoo was before a macarrada that had a boom associated with electronics and rock,” says Saúl. “The crisis did well because many talented young people came out of fine arts schools and have found tattooing a very lucrative way out.”

At his school, young people with a talent for drawing learn, such as Acis López, 31, who recently left his job as a delivery man in Casas de Fernando Alonso, a small town in Cuenca. “Before, I used to paint murals. I have decorated my house that looks like an Egyptian temple, but I really wanted to dedicate myself to this, ” he says while painting in class on a synthetic fabric that imitates human skin. In addition to the four-weekend course at Tattoo School, López is studying a three-year master’s degree in illustration. “For a tattoo they ask for an ass, triple what they give you for a mural, and they are willing to pay for it,” says López.
Sara Morillo, a student at the Tattoo School in San Sebastián de los Reyes, rehearses on synthetic skin.
Sara Morillo, a student at the Tattoo School in San Sebastián de los Reyes, rehearses on synthetic skin. SANTI BURGOS

His teacher, Israel Blanco “Mr. White ” estimates that tattoo artists in Madrid commonly earn between 1,000 and 3,000 euros a month, while those of the elite pocket much higher amounts. But he cautions his students not to get carried away by the promises of high salaries and the growing glamour of the profession. “You have to dedicate many hours to it,” says “Mr. White ”, 38 years old, 15 of them in the world. “At the beginning, they will have to make a lot of hearts and Chinese letters, because in the end, it is what feeds you,” he adds.

Tattoo School usually has students from abroad. In the “Mr. White ” of six students, there is a 29-year-old Brazilian, Diego Moreiro, who says that he took the opportunity to take the course during a trip to Europe because Spanish tattoo artists have a very good reputation. He says he combines two jobs in his city, near Rio de Janeiro, as a math teacher at a high school and as a tattoo artist in a small studio. He claims to be thinking of abandoning mathematics despite the prestige they have acquired in the age of algorithms and big data: “Today I make more money with tattoos.”

But some veteran tattooists believe the bubble has led to a damaging drop in prices. “The cake is not as big as it seems,” says Suso, one of the tattoo artists in the salons of Mao & Cathy, the pioneering studio in Spain, operating in Madrid since 1992.

A minor festival

The tattoo artists believe that the sector in Madrid would be even bigger if they had the support of the administrations. They give the example of the Barcelona tattoo convention, within the Baum Festival of urban arts, which has been placed within the European tattoo circuit after 21 editions. In last year, more than 300 tattoo artists from around the world participated and received the visit of 18,000 people, according to the organisers.

Meanwhile, the organisers of the equivalent festival in Madrid, the Mulafest, complain that the strict sanitary controls discourage the big tattoo artists. Spain is one of the countries in Europe with the most restriction for the use of tattoo inks. According to industry sources, inspectors in Madrid have ruined issues in the past due to their excessive zeal. This year Mulafest will celebrate its eighth edition at the Ifema fairgrounds, from April 26 to 28.
A drawing on pigskin in a class at the ArtCampus tattoo training center in Madrid.
A drawing on pigskin in a class at the ArtCampus tattoo training center in Madrid. ANDREA COMAS

During Mulafest, tattoo artists have a permit from the Ministry of Health to use European inks, but inspectors carry out controls to ensure that the inks do not stay in Spain, which annoys the tattoo artists, according to the organisers. “We have found a good balance between the demonstration of his art and the need for control,” says Consuelo de Garrastazu, head of the Department of Environmental Health of the Madrid City Council.

Others believe that Mulafest is still a very young convention that will gain weight over the years. “With time and a good distribution of international magazines this may change”, says Miquel Garreta, organiser of the Barcelona convention. “The truth is that today there is incredible competition. Every weekend and only in Europe there are several conventions in both large and small cities ”. The London Convention is attended by more than 400 artists and more than 20,000 visitors.

Some believe that public support will come when the administration begins to become aware of the size of the sector. For now the State is not quantifying it. In the National Classification of Economic Activities, tattoo artists appear in a disaster drawer heading, along with astrologers, spiritists, shoe shine or valet parking.

The Spanish Tattoo Federation (FET) regrets that there are no more official figures because in the end the contribution of the sector is undervalued. “The growth of this profession has been exponential. We generate a lot of jobs, ”says the secretary of the FET, Pilar Navaz, who estimates that on average each study employs four people.

Associations are organising to enhance the sector and achieve changes in regulation. Its main claim is that Spain adapts its legislation to the more permissive European ResAp 2008 recommendations, but Europe is constantly analysing the effect of inks and does not rule out a hardening with respect to those already approved. The European Chemical Substances and Mixtures Agency (ECHA) has proposed to the European Commission to restrict the use in inks of more than 4,000 substances due to their health hazard. The consultation period ends in June this year.

Other claims of the union in Spain include the creation of a Professional Training course for tattoo artists, as Andalusia has already done, as well as a more demanding sanitary hygiene course. They also ask for economic stimulus measures, such as the reduced VAT that other cultural sectors have.

They are proposals with broad support. However, there are those who regret the direction the tattoo has taken. Like other purists, Suso points to a better, more genuine stage, before Instagram or schools arrived: “It has always been a business but the quality of work or creativity does not matter, but how famous you are.”

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