If you told Pauly Lingerfelt twenty years ago he’d be a tattoo artist, he’d say you’re crazy. Today, that’s hard to imagine as his body is decorated with intricate images of faces, skulls, eyes, crosses, and countless other tattoos. Lingerfelt originally wanted to keep his love of art and tattoos separate from his professional career. However, after recognizing the artistry of tattooing, Lingerfelt’s personal hobby of creating art has manifested into public consumption.
After graduating from NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts) Lingerfelt landed a job sweeping, polishing, and tidying up a tattoo parlor after hours. Although tattoo parlor’s walls are plastered with an assortment of tattoo designs, (an ornamentation Lingerfelt identifies with) he still had little interest in the business. “It just looked kind of hellish” Lingerfelt said. Slowly but surely his interest grew as he met tattoo artists who integrated formal painting techniques into their work. Lingerfelt recognized this deeply rooted connection between artistry and tattooing and thought he’d give tattooing a go.
Before the Covid pandemic, a daily occurrence would entail an Instagram or email notification pinging Lingerfelt’s phone for an appointment request. Likely, this customer would want a tattoo resembling Lingerfelt’s aesthetic. Lingerfelt specializes in simplistic yet illustrative and oftentimes crude images using only deep black and gray ink. Picture a frizzy haired woman with the body of a speckled and striped snake, or a church sitting atop a hill detailed and shaded to emit a sense of eerie intrigue. These are just two of many tattoos on Lingerfelt’s Instagram page where clients draw inspiration for their desired tattoos.
Scheduled appointments are encouraged, but walk-ins are often accepted. Although appointments are usually guaranteed, the client’s behavior is not. Lingerfelt reminisced about his time working at a tattoo parlor on Frenchman Street. Many times, rowdy women with their gaggle of friends would wander into the parlor. Once the customer managed to situate themselves in the chair Lingerfelt’s patience and ability to work under pressure were put to the test. Sweating, wincing and yelping were just a few reactions Lingerfelt has been subjected to when etching his designs onto another’s body. “You can imagine it gets pretty personal” Lingerfelt laughs.
Evidently, the tattoo business has halted due to Covid – 19, yet has allowed Lingerfelt to express his art in new ways. Instead of an Instagram notification alerting Lingerfelt of an appointment, it now signifies a request to buy his art. Lingerfelt has been able to get back to what originally drew him to tattooing, “It’s definitely just been a time to sell and make art successfully which is beautiful” Lingerfelt says.
Lingerfelt affirms that tattoo shops shouldn’t be open for awhile. He walks through the incredibly rigid procedures when preparing to give a healthy person a tattoo. Gloves? Check! Sterilized needle? Check! Imagine the protection needed to give a tattoo amidst Covid – 19. A hazmat suit would be in order! That being said, Lingerfelt is in no rush to get back. For Lingerfelt, the most important change pre and post Covid didn’t cause his art to cease, just for his canvas to change.
This piece is part of the on-going series “Creative Labor Through the Crisis,” which is part of a Creative Labor course at Tulane University taught by Dr. Vicki Mayer and Kelley Crawford. Quotes and information are taken from interviews completed by Dr. Vicki Mayer and Kelley Crawford.