Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have certainly heard of Paul Booth’s Last Rite’s Tattoo Theater, which has a reputation for housing some of the world’s top tier tattoo artists. Stefano Alcantara is a prime example of one of their premier artists, best known for his amazing photo realism. He has the unparalleled ability to utilize intense shading and vivid colors to make his tattoos look like actual three dimensional photographs on the skin. A true artist, with a commitment to constant improvement, New York is lucky to have this Peruvian import as a mainstay of its local tattoo culture. We were fortunate enough to gain access to this undeniably talented and creative mind.“ Live the life you love
—Stefano Alcantara ”
Have you always been artistic growing up and did you envision yourself practicing art professionally when you were younger?
I believe I did; I always knew I would love to do art all of my life but now I take it more seriously. I had two options when I finished school, in the direction of fine art or graphic design. At the time, I decided to go into the Graphic Design field for a sense of financial security. I was not ready to take risks. This mentality comes from my birthplace in Peru, where 80% of the population is poor or extremely poor, plus 10 years of war with terrorism in the whole country. My generation grew up trying to survive more than indulging in creative arts for a living, but that’s another history.
I was lucky, however, that I was brought up in an artistic environment. My great grandfather’s oils, water colors and drawings were hung on the walls and I absorbed the pride felt by my family with all the publications written about him. Even seeing his name in an encyclopedia made an impression on me and made me believe that Art is timeless, it can last forever for everybody to see it.
How did you learn to tattoo and when did you get started?
Since there was not a professional tattoo artist to learn from in my country at that time, I am self-taught. It all started when I bought a tattoo kit from a magazine and started to tattoo my friends! I don’t recommend that method at all, because it took me so long to learn. When I eventually traveled to the USA, I met tattoo artists who answered my questions. I was relieved that I finally had people to bounce ideas off of. When my doubts were put to rest, I felt I was prepared to open my shop in 1999.
What influenced your decision to move to New York and in what way is tattoo culture different here?
Paul Booth invited me for a guest spot at Last Rites. After my five days he asked me if i would like to join his crew. This was an honor for me, and I said ‘yes!’ right away. I made all of my moving arrangements within months and now I live permanently in New York.
The tattoo culture in the states is huge! The States are totally different than a conservative country like Peru. The work of American tattoo shops, tattoo artists, and the industry as a whole motivated me to get better. I wanted to build my shops in Peru with the same standard of quality, even without the strict health department regulations that American shops abide by.
What strikes us about your work is the use of color in photo realism. A lot of artists seem to shy away from the use of color in photo realism. Why do you think that is? How did you develop your amazing color technique in your realistic tattoos?
Well I learned all styles in my first years of tattooing, but Comic books were a big influence on my visual vocabulary. I used to say, you can learn more analyzing a Comic book than a tattoo magazine: there is great line work, color and composition. Later my tattoo style transformed into more of a New School style, concerned with lighting and perspective. I think this background, plus my passion for creating realistic portraits, helped me produce on a level with more depth.
Who are some tattoo artists that have influenced you? What do you like about their style and how do you incorporate that into your yours?
I have a lot of influences, but I would say every great artist contributes to my style right now. I feel myself like a sponge and everything I see I take in and it gets mashed together and incorporated in my memory archives.
Do you have a preferred style of tattooing?
Yes, my favorite right now is Realism. I love to do portraits of people, not exclusively famous people. Lately I love to tattoo from old pictures as reference, I think pictures on film have much better depth than digital images.
As, photographer I would have to agree with you. There is something magical about old pictures captured on film.
Anything you won’t do?
Now I try to approach every tattoo as a realistic depiction, it may be fantasy or surreal in subject matter, but I try to make it believable.
Are there any relatively unknown artists that you consider undiscovered talent?
Yes for sure! Several unknown artists surface on the internet, and are sometimes better than the artists that are famous right now. In Peru I know more than 5, at least, who could be in the top leagues but don’t have the same opportunities for exposure.
What do you admire most about Paul Booth and how would you say your style differs from his?
I admire his amazing talent! I believe he’s a genius and like ‘the Greats’ he is a perfectionist and you can see that in his work. His tattooing seems to get better and better and that’s incredible and admirable for a living legend in our industry.
What has it been like working with Paul Booth at Last Rites?
Working in Last Rites is like a dream come true, what can I say? Employment here was a huge step in my career bringing me to the next level. For some, this place may be the best in the world, but my nature is that I take it as a new start and learn from everybody here. I’ve come to focus on my art 100%. Before I moved, I was bored owning two tattoo shops because taking care of my business left me little time to grow as an artist. Now I feel like I started fresh and that sensation is priceless at that point in my life.
With talent as unbelievable as yours, how long does it take to typically get an appointment with you?
Thanks for the compliment, but I just do what I love to do. I have about two months waiting list at this time, and the summers are usually a three month wait.
Definitely worth the wait!
Between clients that give you concrete ideas about what they want and those who give you artistic freedom, which type do you prefer?
I have all Kinds of clients; pretty much all of them give me the freedom to execute their ideas in my style. I love when the client brings in a reference point and we can collaborate together. In the end, the tattoo will have a twist that is my own-even if the client starts out with an abstract or vague idea of what they want.
What is the most memorable tattoo you have ever done? How about the most bizarre?
The most memorable can be my first color portrait, it made me realize that’s where I felt the most comfortable, almost natural. Another memorable tattoo can be my first award in the USA which made me more confident that what I was doing was right.
The most bizarre… I think the stories behind the tattoos can be off the wall, but the results, for me, are still realistic.
And what about the most memorable piece you have on yourself? Who was the artist?
I stopped getting tattooed years ago because I was waiting for amazing work, and I’m becoming more picky every day. Actually I’m lasering a couple now so I can get a better quality of tattoos on my body… isn’t the phrase said, “the shoe makers children don’t have shoes!”? hehe
Are there any other artistic mediums that you dabble in besides the skin as a canvas?
Yes, I love to paint and draw. When I was a student in Peru I utilized all mediums, including murals and body painting. I even tried-with a comic book artist-painting with coffee like it was water colors. There are no limits to what you can use to create a piece of art. For years I painted with an airbrush and then acrylics, but recently I’m painting with oils and I really love them!!!
What are your favorite things to do for fun here in New York?
I love to EAT!!!! I love good food; you can find the best food of every part in the world here! That is priceless for me! Some of my hobbies are training Brasilian Jiu Jitsu at Renzo Gracie Academy when I’m not injured, haha.
What an incredible experience to speak with Stefano and learn about his inspiration and development of his craft. To see more of his amazing work please check out Last Rite’s Flickr photo-stream and their official website. Stefano also has a myspace page, facebook fan page and you can also keep updated by following him on twitter.
Photography: Maly Blomberg