James Barrow moved to Nashville from Florida in 1997.
As a tattoo artist, he has floated back and forth through different parts of the country but has been based in Nashville since then.
James just recently became a part of the team at Avenging Art Tattoos on Nolensville Road in Southeast Nashville.
“The shop has got a great reputation,” he said. “The location has been a tattoo shop for years and years. Now, we’re working on some issues like cleaning the shop up and changing the face on it a little bit.”
James is also an award winning black and gray artist. He said coming from the Southwest, black and gray is very popular, so he had the opportunity to dive into that specific style.
A single father to a daughter, he has supported himself entirely since moving back to Nashville by working at a few tattoo shops and traveling around the Southeast doing guest spots.
“Nashville has been good to me.”
the ART of TATTOOING
At sixteen, James was hanging out at tattoo shops because many of his friends were tattoo artists then. He said they grew apart from each other and he went off to pursue a career in construction framing for houses.
“I started body piercing in 1999, and it all went from there. Four years later, I was tattooing. It has just kind of blown up.”
James went through a two-year apprenticeship at House of Pain and Body Piercing and started tattooing in 2003 in Roswell, New Mexico. After that, he opened up his own shop and began truly studying the art. He watched instructional videos, sat in with other artists and really dove into the community of tattooing.
He stayed in Roswell until 2010 when he returned to Nashville to help his mother with cancer treatment.
One of James’ favorite things about tattooing is having his expression of art on someone else permanently. He specializes in photorealism and black and gray works that range from horror scenes to skulls to flowers and animals with distinguished detail.
He said another rewarding part of the job is meeting people and having intelligent conversations with them while he’s working. He explained that it’s about building a reputation and building relationships with people so that they not only come back for another tattoo but can also tell others about his work.
He said the most difficult part of being a tattoo artist is all of the shop politics.
“When you’re someone that comes through in my position, and you’re there do to something that no one else in the shop is down with then it gets difficult. You don’t make as many friends as you’d think when you’re intended on being a fixer,” he said.
James has previously managed and owned shops and said there is always a lot of politics involved. Sober himself now for many years, he said a big problem is that drugs run rampant through the industry.
“We’re losing a lot of great artists because of street drugs and with prescription drugs being the gateway to heroin,” he said. “It’s terrible. There’s not a lot of help because whenever people do go for help they are given something else to be addicted to.”
James said since quitting drugs his life has improved drastically. He said he tries to be there for others by being outspoken about it without passing judgment.
“In New Mexico, someone had the balls to tell me to get the monkey off his back. Because of that, I’ll always have to balls to do that for someone else,” he said.
James won his first award in Knoxville for photorealism last year. This year he has plans to enter Full Moon Tattoo and Horror Festival this October. Later this year he’s also traveling around Florida going to conventions and doing guest spots around Disney World.
“I’m proud to call Nashville home, and I have for years,” he said. “My daughter has to have a stable place to be while I’m out and that helps me to stay small and keep my home values tied. I’m responsible for a human life, and I want her to be productive and everything she can be.”
James said through his art he’s lucky enough that he can provide his daughter with opportunities he didn’t have.
NASHVILLE and COMMUNITY
James said the big changes and integretions happening around the city are amazing and something that Nashville has needed for long time.
He said there’s always been a stigma around Nashville that there’s a bunch of country bumpkin, narrow-minded, racist people here but wants people to know that it’s not like that at all.
“In this line of work particularly, you have to be able to deal with everyone. It doesn’t matter if someone is White, Black, Asian, Hindu, or Christian,” he said. “And that’s amazing because for me, it makes me more worldly and it exposes me to other cultures. I can then use things that I see in other cultures in my art.”
James went on to say his definition of a community is an extended family.
“If you don’t love and respect the people around you then you have no sense of community, and you’re not contributing and doing your part,” he said.
“In Roswell, there are a lot of foster homes because the meth so bad out there so we’d gather up toys and take them to the homes. We’d do things for the community to let people know that you’re to make a difference,” he said.
He said while there his shop also did free breast cancer ribbon tattoos at the end of October.
“Get your hands dirty in the community. Do your part, and help care for people that really need it.”
James encouraged people to make a donation to local D.A.R.E. programs or to the lunch programs that go out during the summer months and feed kids that otherwise wouldn’t eat.
“There are people out there that need it and deserve it. I was one of them at one time, and there aren’t many people giving it back,” he said. “If you don’t show the community love, then in return it’s not going to show you any love.”
At Avenging Art Tattoos, they throw parties and put big bounce houses in the back and have big barbecues to show community appreciation.
“It’s not only thank you for your business but it’s also thank you for not vandalizing our shop, and a thank you to the gangs for not tagging us up and claiming us as their own.”
As far as his concerns for his community, he said he’s most worried about drug abuse and in particular the heroin and prescription pills epidemic.
James just recently lost a friend to heroin last month.
“They found him with a needle in his arm. He was a good stand up guy and would give you the shirt off his back but just got hooked on the bad stuff,” he said. “Now, his mother is crying down in Florida, and his brother doesn’t have his best friend now.”
He suggested that the law enforcement needs to go after the dealers and not the abusers on the street. He said the low-level people are users and if you cut the supply off, then they wouldn’t be able to use. He said hopes something can happen so that the uneccesary lost of life doesn’t happen like this.
In the future, James plans on going out to California to study full-color photorealism. He said apart from that, he plans on staying in Nashville to dig deeper roots.
You can visit James at Avenging Arts Tattoos at 3044 Nolensville Rd.
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