Two years ago, Regina Larre Campuzano was passing through Oakland on a road trip when her car was broken into. She and her partner had only enough money to fix the windows so they had to stay a while. But Campuzano was quickly drawn to the city, and what at first was to be a temporary sojourn in the Bay Area soon became a permanent home.
“I’ve never been in a place with so many passionate and political and beautiful people,” she said on a recent Monday morning, just before starting her workday. “This city just makes me grow so much.”
Campuzano is now a well-respected tattoo artist at a majority women- and queer-run studio in South Berkeley called Modern Electric. Modern Electric made its debut in San Francisco, opened by distinguished artist Suzanne Shifflett in 2008. Last year, the studio moved across the bay to South Berkeley and is now headed by Aaron Nassberg. Campuzano, who’d helped open a record store around the corner, landed a spot in the studio right when it opened and has been tattooing there for the last year and a half.
Other artists at Modern Electric include Suzanne Shifflett, Tanya Wischerath, Sofia Blum (known for her meticulous stick-and-pokes — a form of tattooing that involves using a sharp point and ink), Natasha Hanna-Scott and Astrid Elizabeth.
While a newer artist in the Bay, Campuzano has been playing with tattoo ink since she was a teenager, first deciding she wanted to be a tattoo artist after she saw Miami Ink, a reality show documenting the happenings of a tattoo parlor in Miami Beach. When a tattoo shop opened near her middle school in Mexico City, the 15-year-old Campuzano presented its owners with a portfolio and asked for an apprenticeship.
Shortly after landing the job, she recalls her mother flouncing into the studio and threatening to sue if anyone tattooed her daughter before she turned 18. Campuzano stayed on, but under very strict supervision. The first tattoo she gave was a penguin on the shin of the studio’s piercer who was absolutely delighted to be getting ink from a quinceañera.
Despite having a natural talent for it, Campuzano grew disenchanted with the male-dominated macho tattoo industry and quit after a few years, soon moving to Ohio to study film and electronic music at Oberlin.
Campuzano says the Bay Area tattoo milieu is much more welcoming and diverse than other areas. While still fairly new to the scene, her strong black linework and creative uses of shading (like dot-work and whip shading) have quickly made an impression locally, as well as on Instagram. She is now often booked several months in advance.
Despite being booked up, Campuzano spends a lot of time with each tattoo. It seems clients are not only drawn to the beauty of her work, but also how she uses the process as an opportunity for personal metamorphosis.
“Before people even tell me what tattoo they want, the first question I ask is: if you were the most empowered, bold, self-assured, confident, beautiful version of yourself, and money was no issue, what would your body look like in term of tattoos?”
Often, she says, by guiding clients to consider their bodies in a more holistic way, people change their designs, coming up with something they feel deeply connected to.
“You’re changing yourself and your body forever — it is a really radically vulnerable act (…) we are not taught to be vulnerable in our society,” says Campuzano. “Because of this vulnerability we have an amazing potential for transformation and realizing where we want to be and getting a step closer to embodying that.”
Common themes running through her work include botanicals, animals, symbols from memories and lush nature scenes. She is drawn to designs that are full of life, finding permanent homes for them on the body where it’s as if the tattoo already exists.
“I want to work more reoccuringly with people who can really use tattooing to change their lives,” says Campuzano. Eventually she hopes to offer scholarships to people who need scars covered up or who are victims of human trafficking and have been tattooed by their abusers.
After the 2016 election, the artists at Modern Electric decided they wanted to be more proactive in the larger community.
“We have been given this really coveted artform – one of the few artforms people are actually willing to pay money for. We’re also trying to use [this art] to show a statement of values (…) and make sure we give back to the larger community.”
In the past year, Modern Electric has been throwing monthly ‘flash fundraisers’ where the artists offer a selection of designs for a sliding scale price, all proceeds donated to an organization or cause. Recent flashes have raised money for North Bay Fire Relief and the International Rescue Committee. Designs are always announced on Instagram.
Campuzano’s political leanings become apparent in her flash tattoos – like, say, a rose with a crescent moon reminiscent of a sickle. “I love socialism. That’s me right now: tattooing and socialism. Both are painful, take a lot of time but – if they’re done right – are very, very transformative.”
She is active in immigrant-rights work and is the co-chair of the Feminist Caucus for the East Bay’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
“It’s been really cool to see people get political because I can’t really think of anything that’s more political than skin. It’s a matter of bodily autonomy,” Campuzano says. “There’s just so much that goes into this body we live in, and changing it has huge implications. So why not make that explicitly political and make it count?”