After three weeks of intense competition on Season 12 of “Ink Master,” a Bushwick tattoo artist was unexpectedly eliminated because judges felt his tattoo lacked surrealism, therefore missing the mark on the challenge.
Big Jaz was a contestant out of 18 others with the most experience— he’s been in the business for 25 years. When asked about the outcome, he says he doesn’t regret anything but left feeling robbed.
“I was definitely cheated. Maybe I didn’t have enough drama,” says Big Jaz.
Originally from Rhode Island, Big Jaz began tattooing there before making his mark in Brooklyn. For two decades, Jaz has owned shops all over Brooklyn in areas such as Crown Heights, Clinton Hill, Williamsburgh and now his Electric Gorilla Tattoo shop on Suydam Street is right here in the heart of Bushwick.
The producers of Ink Master were aware of Big Jaz’s reputable work and approached him to join the show. Yet, the veteran tattoo artist was still hesitant about being on Paramount’s hit reality television show before he was convinced it would be good for his Bushwick shop.
“These shows can make you look a certain way but I ended up looking like myself,” says Big Jaz.
Fans immediately took a liking to Big Jaz and his catchphrase “Ooh Baby.” Just like the fans on social media, locals expressed disbelief over the elimination. However, people were most sad about no longer seeing Big Jaz’s great personality on their television screens.
“It was great rooting for him and I’m proud of him because he’s an ‘OG’ in this and deserves the recognition. He handles pressure very well and I was probably more nervous than he was,” says Michael McConnell, co-owner of Electric Gorilla Tattoo.
What many contestants would find challenging, wasn’t for Jaz. They had under an hour to come up with a tattoo idea and draw it. Jaz says he stayed ready to avoid having to get ready. As for the long hours, the Brooklyn tattooist didn’t mind it because of his work experience.
“I work a lot of conventions so I tattoo on the fly anyway. Most people need a couple of days to come up with a design but not me. The two designs I did, I whipped them out real fast and they came out good,” says Big Jaz.
On Ink Master, the contestants are put through a series of high-intensity timed competitions to see who is the best overall artist with a chance of winning a $100,000 cash prize and crowned “Ink Master.” While Ink Master has never been easy, the “human canvases” the artists are required to work on can come with their own challenges. When asked whether his fidgety canvas could be a part of the reason he was eliminated, Jaz stands firm on his tattoo being perfect.
“The tattoo still came out perfect. I wouldn’t have changed anything. But, I think no matter what I would’ve done, I would’ve been kicked out anyway. Even if the client was perfect, I think it was just my time to go,” says Big Jaz.
For the declared ‘Electric Gorilla,’ he took on this experience to show the new generation of tattoo artists that he could compete without relying on new age technology.
“These kids use iPads and all of these gadgets. I don’t use any of that, everything I draw here is straight from the soul. It’s not looking at an image on Pinterest or Google and trying to duplicate that. Anyone can do that, but does it have soul?” says Big Jaz.
After changing locations over the years because of Brooklyn’s expensive real estate prices, Big Jaz has settled in Bushwick. At Electric Gorilla Tattoo, soulful work is a requirement.
Big Jaz points to his apprentice’s legs filled with sticker tattoos she’s done on herself as the reason why she’s here.
Delaware-native, Hannah Grant took a shot in the dark when she sent Big Jaz a direct message on Instagram to talk about possible apprenticing. After an impressive drawing test, the rest was history says Grant as she shadows the Brooklyn tattoo vet.
“It’s been inspiring. I’ve learned so much. I’m excited and intimidated. This is what I want to do for a living, it’s a career, not a hobby for me. So working with somebody like Jaz who is old-school, knows what he’s doing, and has the soul is great,” says Grant.
Back in Brooklyn, Grant says watching her mentor overcome the pressure-filled competitions on television was motivating. Everyone at the shop is glad to have Jaz back because as McConnell says, he is the life of the party.
“Jaz is a great reminder of what New York stands for. It’s a melting pot of cultures and people. Although we’re different, we have an understanding. That’s why people gravitate towards him because he’s just authentic,” says McConnell, as Electric Gorilla Tattoo aims to protect New York’s originality while everything around them changes.
While the competition is still underway, Big Jaz roots for his fellow tri-staters, Pon from Queens and Connecticut’s Holli Marie.
Viewers will get a chance to see Big Jaz earn back his bragging rights on Ink Master’s spin-off show involving a grudge match that will air in September.
For future Ink Master contestants, Big Jaz leaves you with this:
“Stay true to yourself. Don’t let the judges make you feel a certain type of way. They’re just judges going off of what they feel at that time. You’re good, you wouldn’t be there if you weren’t.”
All images courtesy of author.
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