Harry Styles and David Beckham’s Tattoo Artist Talks Sleeves

Mark Mahoney, owner of the Shamrock Social Club, offers up advice for your next ink job

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Booked up until the third Sunday of good fucking luck, renowned tattoo artist Mark Mahoney has inked enough celebrities to host a well-attended tattoo Academy Awards. Like, if you could trademark tattoos and Instagram could monetize those trademarks, Mahoney would be richer than 27 Bezoses. He counts Angelina Jolie, Adele, Rihanna, Johnny Depp and Mickey Rourke among his clients. Oh, and Mahoney has stamped two swallows on Harry Styles’s thewy chest and stuck his needle into soccer superstar David Beckham.

Though he admits to being slower at the craft these days, Mahoney, now 60, has been inking for decades, having started out giving tattoos to members of the Hell’s Angels in Massachusetts. He's appeared in two Lana Del Rey music videos and had an artist residency at London's Mandrake Hotel. Next, he'll be a judge at the London Tattoo Convention.

At Shamrock Social Club, his Sunset Boulevard tattoo HQ in Los Angeles, he’s seen it all. Tattoos follow trends as much as any style-oriented business, but Mahoney is still a sucker for the classics. A chest eagle, for example.

But apart from all of the trend-chasing and bad art that graces a few too many lower backs, Mahoney thinks there are still a few choice, underrated spots for a tattoo. And he’s not afraid to dish out his opinion. ONE37pm caught up with Hollywood’s most in-demand tattooer for the most pertinent and permanent advice when deciding what you want to live with for the rest of your mortal life.

Can you share a little bit about your tattooing style? Where do you draw inspiration from?

Mark Mahoney: I think I have a classic drawing style. It’s not very experimental or trendy. I feel tattooing is timeless as classic style. My tattooing style won’t ever be the tramp stamp style that comes and goes. I get inspiration from film noir/old movies and going to church. That’s the combination.

Why not work with color? Do you have opinions on color tattoos? 

Mahoney: I do work with color but for me it is a lot harder to put in than black and grey. I think color tattoos look amazing, it’s just not for me.

What defines a 'good' and 'bad' tattoo to you? It’s subjective, of course, but what matters to you?

Mahoney: I get old school when it comes to looking at tattoos. I look for clean lines and smooth shading. The technical before the artistic. How it flows with the shape of the body, but at the end of the day a good tattoo is how the wearer feels about it.

Can you describe a tattoo you did recently that you loved?

Mahoney: The last tattoo I did on was my friend [and Smiths guitarist] Johnny Marr was a portrait of Aldous Huxley. Working from a beautiful photograph with dramatic light and dark elements on a guy as cool as Johnny Marr is a good day at the office for me.

What’s one tattoo trend from the last five or ten years that you appreciate?

Mahoney: I guess palm trees, they are trendy these days but always make a good tattoo.

What’s one that you’d rather not do anymore? Tiny tattoos that say, like, “WE COULD BE HEROES,” or little nautical compasses?

Mahoney: [laughs] Hipsters need tattoos too.

Do you get a lot of men intentionally working on a sleeve? What advice would you give them—or wish they understood about sleeves?

Mahoney: For me a sleeve is a hard time commitment. I’m a little slower of a tattooer. I really take my time so it’s a commitment on the customer's part. Scheduling is the hardest part about being a tattooer. Patience is a virtue I would say. The Sistine Chapel wasn’t painted in a day.

What area of a man’s body doesn’t get tattooed enough?

Mahoney: The chest isn’t done much any more. The chest eagle was one of those classic tattoos I always liked.

Which tattoo artists working today do you most admire? Have they worked for you or been tattooed by you?

Mahoney: Freddy Negrete, of course, who works at the Shamrock with me. Jack Rudy and I worked together in East LA at Tattooland as well and we all have many fond memories together. Also, Jose Lopez—there are so many amazing tattooers these days.

You’ve tattooed so many legends and celebrities over the years. Can you tell us a crazy tattoo story?

Mahoney: I was tattooing an older lady one day, putting a nipple back on her after she overcame breast cancer surgery and there was a huge fight happening out front with Mickey Rourke and some guy. The most important thing is to keep your cool. My customer is always my priority.

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