Tucson's Southbound Studios provides a forum for tattoo artists to showcase their work

You can buy a unique piece of art from Southbound Studios gallery and get a tat
2013-03-24T00:00:00Z Tucson's Southbound Studios provides a forum for tattoo artists to showcase their workGerald M. Gay Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 24, 2013 12:00 am  • 

At Southbound Studios, you can take an original work of art home with you on your leg, back or arm or buy an equally unique piece off the wall instead.

The space, which opened eight months ago next to the Second Glances resale store on East Broadway, exists as both a tattoo shop and an art gallery.

Creating images on skin is the bread and butter for the business, which employs three full-time tattooers, Adam Scott Bramley, Janessa Bates and owner Tracy Ledbetter.

What sets it apart is its dedication to other artistic mediums.

Once a month, Southbound holds openings for local and national artists, who use its walls to showcase and sell their works.

Last month, the pop folk drawings of Bisbee artist Kate Pearson went on display.

Last weekend, a show, dubbed "The Wolf at the Door and Other Friends," featured the quirky, anthropomorphic characters of watercolor painter and former Tucsonan Amy Shapiro.

Shapiro flew in from Brooklyn, where she works at Graceland, a tattoo parlor and vintage hair salon, for the opening.

Out of the 23 pieces she brought with her, with prices ranging from $60 to $120, about half of them sold.

The rest will remain on the walls until the next exhibition rolls around.

"I love this concept," Shapiro, 32, said of Southbound. "I am happy that my paintings get to find good homes this way."

Ledbetter said the popularity for the art has been growing, which is exactly what she hoped for when she opened.

She was never worried about attracting customers for tattoo work.

Ledbetter has been involved in the Tucson tattoo scene since 1992.

Before opening Southbound, she worked at Black Rose Tattooers on South Sixth Avenue downtown for 14 years.

"My client base is ginormous," she said.

The trick was finding a way to utilize what she had to celebrate different types of creativity.

"I really wanted a space that was more about the art and less about the money and foot traffic," she said.

Ledbetter was especially interested in promoting the works of her fellow tattoo artists.

"Most tattooers have art school experience," she said. "We turn to tattooing to utilize our skills in a way that allows us to make a living. I wanted something that could show what tattooers were capable of."

Today, Southbound serves not only as a gallery space but an incubator for new works.

All three tattoo artists at the studio have experience in other mediums.

Ledbetter, 49, is a nature illustrator who was on her way to studying scientific illustration at the University of Arizona before turning to tattoos for a living.

Her works have been featured at galleries around town, including the Porter Hall Gallery at the Tucson Botanical Gardens in 2012, where she displayed a series of insects and flowers in a show called "Bugs and Blooms."

Bates creates paintings using acrylics and watercolors.

Bramley draws in graphite and ink and hand cuts stencils for aerosol projects.

In addition, Ledbetter rents a room in the back of Southbound to her friend, Diane Bombshelter, a velvet painter for the last six years.

Using acrylic paints on stretched black velvet, Bombshelter - who is not a tattoo artist - creates kitschy pieces featuring Lon Chaney-style monsters, tiki scenes and images of President Obama and firstlady Michelle Obama.

Two of her works, depicting classic country singers Mac Davis and Tanya Tucker, will be featured at the Lubbock Arts Festival in Texas next month.

Bombshelter, 44, spends a few hours creating each day to the steady hum of tattoo needles at work.

She said Southbound has been good to her.

She participated in the first exhibition that the space held last September, which featured works from all of the artists in the shop.

Beyond that, people who come in for tattoos have been quick to notice her creations.

"It seems like they've been selling as soon as I paint them since being here," she said. "Before I was working out of my home. This has provided more visibility for me."

Ledbetter said that increasing awareness is part of the mission at Southbound.

She's been amping up the store's social media presence since opening, to promote its ongoing activities.

She also signed Southbound up for the Tucson Artists' Open Studios tour on April 13-14.

It will coincide with the studio's next art opening, featuring San Diego artist Aiyana Sphere on April 13.

"For me, it is a matter of keeping this ball rolling," Ledbetter said. "However it grows or whatever it becomes is going to happen naturally. I just want to expose as many people as I can to as much art as possible."

Southbound studios

1136 E. Broadway, 623-8288.

The next opening at Southbound Studios will take place at 7 p.m. on April 13 and will feature the work of Aiyana Sphere in a show called "Rainbows, Glitter, Day Glow, Googlie Eyes, Magic & Naughty Bits."

Southbound will also be part of the Tucson Artists' Open Studios tour on April 13-14.

• Follow the shop at facebook.com/SouthboundStudiosTucson online.

Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at ggay@azstarnet.com or 807-8430

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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