Colorado Tattoo Convention brought tattoos, barbering and lots of lucha libre to Denver

Violetta from Unity Tattoo of Wheat Ridge at the Colorado Tattoo Convention. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)
Matthew Kremer of Denver's Urban Element Tattoo at the Colorado Tattoo Convention. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)
Matthew Kremer of Denver’s Urban Element Tattoo at the Colorado Tattoo Convention. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)

The Colorado Tattoo Convention returned for its third and largest year at the National Western Complex.

The event attracted more than 200 tattoo artists from across the country and more than 8,000 attendees throughout the weekend of Sept. 30 through Oct. 2.

April Cordova of Utah's Eternal Art and an artist from Arizona's Shades of Grey collaborate on a tattoo at the Colorado Tattoo Convention. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)
April Cordova of Utah’s Eternal Art and an artist from Arizona’s Shades of Grey collaborate on a tattoo at the Colorado Tattoo Convention. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)
But it wasn’t just about tattooing.

“We try to bring together that whole art culture together,” said Hilda Arellano, one of the event’s organizers. “From the piercing, to the art, to the tattooing and barbering–it is all art. We are bringing a whole different genre and community that is all about art.”

The weekend put a variety of subcultures under one roof. Swing dancers opened the festivities on Saturday, followed by a pinup girl competition in which artists were free to participate.

Sunday featured lucha libre wrestling. A tricked out car, motorcycle and bicycle showcase and a subculture media gallery ran all weekend.

Lucha Libre at the Colorado Tattoo Convention. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)
Lucha Libre at the Colorado Tattoo Convention. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)

New this year was a barber contest. On Saturday, barbers and stylists were invited to compete against one another, bringing a whole new demographic to the convention.

The event has grown significantly in its three years–and its second since coming to the National Western Complex. In 2015, about 150 artists and just over 8,000 attended. By the close of the convention on Sunday, the final head count hadn’t yet come in, but organizers estimated the this year’s attendance was much higher.

When Rito Ramirez first organized the festival, the previous, 7-year-old convention had run itself out.

“We saw the opportunity and seized on it,” said Angelo Ramirez, son of the convention organizer, Rito Ramirez. “It’s about bringing the community together.”

Ink Fusion paintings by Colorado Tattoo Convention artists are raffled off. All proceeds go to charity. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)
The convention raffled off the above Ink Fusion paintings by attending artists. All proceeds went to charity. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)

Ramirez emphasized that despite Denver’s many newcomers, some of the artists in attendance had been tattooing in Denver for 30 or 40 years.

“It’s more of a lifestyle than anything,” he said.

Matthew Kremer of Denver's Urban Element Tattoo at the Colorado Tattoo Convention. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)
Matthew Kremer of Denver’s Urban Element Tattoo at the Colorado Tattoo Convention. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)
But some local shops were new–both to the convention and to the city.

Wheat Ridge-based Unity Tattoo has been around for just over a year. Apprentice Gabrielle said they were taking advantage of the exposure and networking afforded by the convention. And they stayed busy, too. Gabrielle said the artists performed about eight to ten tattoos throughout the weekend.

Violetta from Unity Tattoo of Wheat Ridge at the Colorado Tattoo Convention. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)
Violetta from Unity Tattoo works on a customer. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)

Mammoth American relocated from Providence, Rhode Island, in July. Carey Bledsoe said Denver afforded job opportunities and a wide tattoo audience. Plus, her native husband and the shop’s owner, Kevin Bledsoe, wanted to get home to Colorado.

Kevin Bledsoe of Mammoth American tattoos a fellow artist at Colorado Tattoo Convention. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)
Kevin Bledsoe of Mammoth American tattoos a fellow artist. (Chloe Aiello/Denverite)

“There used to be such a stigma around tattoos that is fading away,” Arellano said. “In Colorado, we are more laid back, even businesses are accepting [tattooed employees].”

As for next year? Arellano said the plan is to make Colorado Tattoo Convention “bigger and better,” and, of course, more widely inclusive.

Multimedia business & healthcare reporter Chloe Aiello can be reached via email at caiello@denverite.com or twitter.com/chlobo_ilo.

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