Five years ago, Winston-Salem native Andre Phillips walked into Liberty Tattoo Company shop at 416 N Liberty St. and his life changed forever.
“I did a painting and brought it in there,” he related. “They said I had skills and that I’d be a good tattoo artist, so they started training me.”
Last week, Phillips’ career came full circle when he opened the doors of RAW (Running All Winston) Talent tattoo and piercing, 416 North Liberty St., the very location where he had first honed the craft. The previous owners had relocated to Fifth Street, and Phillips says he jumped at the opportunity to realize his dream of becoming a full time shop owner.
“I like being downtown and when Liberty moved, I was just like, ‘This is the perfect opportunity to get that place,’” he said. “At the time, I really didn’t think about (the significance), I just thought it was already a tattoo shop before, but then I started thinking, man it’s a little deeper than that. It’s full circle – this is where I started.”
Phillips, an avid graffiti artist and painter, had been selling his work for some time in the form of hand painted sneakers and t-shirts. He has held an array of non art-related occupations since graduating from Glenn High School in 1999 – from retail associate to factory employee to construction worker – but said nothing really resonated with him until he discovered tattooing.
“I just feel like this is what I’ve gotta do. This is the only thing that I’ve done that I put long hours in, that I’m feeling dedicated to,” said the 32 year-old. “…A lot of artists, I feel like they just do it for a dollar. I’ve never done it for the money. I do it because that’s what I love to do.”
Following his apprenticeship at Liberty, Phillips, who lists color work and black and gray portraits among his specialties, spent time at several different local shops, and says he built a strong following for his work.
“It was like word of mouth just spread like wildfire,” he remarked. “It kind of just took off.”
A year ago, Phillips said a conflict with the owner of the shop he was working with at the time prompted him to strike out on his own. He spent months traveling around the country, working as a guest artist. The experience helped to broaden his horizons as an artist, Phillips said.
“Being around other, different, established artists and things like that, you can really pick up a lot of skills,” he stated. “…I’m constantly learning new things, new styles, new techniques. I always say if you feel like you can’t learn nothing else, you might as well quit because you’ve reached your full potential.”
Like tattooing, becoming an entrepreneur is an ongoing learning experience, Phillips said.
“A lot of days, I was furious, a lot of days, I was happy,” he related. “It was like an emotional roller coaster just getting open.”
On Sept. 21, after months of preparation, RAW Talent opened its doors.
“That feels crazy – that feels good, actually,” Phillips said of officially being a businessowner. “I’m the boss for a change.”
Phillips envisions RAW Talent – which is currently home to four artists – as being a break from the norm, a colorful combination of tattooing and visual art. The walls are adorned with graffiti art murals he painted himself, including a massive self portrait in the lobby. Phillips plans to participate in future Gallery Hop events and host art shows to highlight a ever-changing collection of local visual artists’ work.
“I wanted it to be like an art gallery,” he explained. “I wanted it to be more in tune with the arts instead of just tattooing. All of my artists in here are artists outside of just tattooing.”
RAW Talent Shop Manager Wilfredo “Fredo” Felix, a fellow graffiti artist, said he is excited about the concept of the shop. Felix, who met Phillips while shopping for spray paint, has been tattooing since his older cousin gave him a tattoo gun at the age of 14. A talented artist whose childhood work was showcased at the Dixie Classic Fair, Felix said he fell in love with tattooing right away.
“I started doing it like underground for like two years,” recalled the city native, who got his start tattooing friends and neighbors. “I just like building that relationship with my client. Everybody has a different story, and a reason why they’re getting that tattoo at that time. It’s therapeutic, it’s an escape and I just love getting into that realm, that world, with my clients. It marks that place in their history.”
Felix, the father of a two-month old girl, has a unique connection to the shop’s inception. He gave Phillips his first tattoo in 2007. The 25 year-old said he is thrilled to now occupy a booth in the shop of a friend and an artist he describes as “phenomenal.”
“This is nice right here,” he declared. “This is my new home for my art and for my clients to come and express themselves by getting tattoos.”
RAW Talent is open Monday-Saturday from 12 – 9 p.m. For more information, visit facebook.com/RawTalentTattoos or call (336) 602-1177.