The Beast Within - Robear of NY Ink

Published: 27 April, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 211, May, 2012

A fine arts student, licensed New York real estate agent, gay rights activist and cancer survivor, NY Ink’s floor manager is a man of many facets. Maybe that’s why he needs two names – RoBear and RoBeast.

A born and bred New Yorker, the Big Apple’s influence on Robert ‘RoBear’ Chinosi never falters – “It’s the capital of the world to me in so many different ways” – so it seems only fitting that after only a couple of auditions he was chosen to join Wooster Street Social Club as floor manager on TLC’s aptly named show, NY Ink.

“Ami and TLC saw some footage of me in action [and] they showed up soon thereafter to meet me in person at High Roller Tattoo. They walked in and I greeted them like I would greet everyone, with a smile. I said ‘Hello, how can I help you?’ I did a brief consultation of tattoos with them and then showed them around the shop. The next week were the finals at a bar while we were all enjoying a good cocktail and I was hired for the job the next week.”

Although RoBear was accustomed to working as a manager at a hot NYC shop, namely High Roller Tattoo, nothing can really prepare one for life in front of a prying lens.

“The first couple of days I wasn’t as comfortable working in front of the cameras, but soon took them out of the equation. My job is to make sure everything is set up properly, broken down correctly and everything is sterilized; I am running the floor of a 6,000 sq ft tattoo shop in NYC and that was always my priority, forget the cameras and just do the job I was hired to do. This process is not quick or easy and isn’t glamorous at all, so focusing on that responsibility made it easier to just go on with my daily routine and make sure I was doing everything right.

“A part of me felt it was a little invasive at first, but that is what I signed up for. At times of vulnerability or weakness, it’s not ideal to have it be shot, but it’s those times where you are victorious and prevail that make it worth it.”

Having no say in what episodes look like when they’re aired, it’s easy to imagine the artists of NY Ink might sometimes feel like they or certain situations were represented unfairly, so it’s almost odd to hear RoBear say, “I think they portrayed me well and have no complaints.”

“The show is filmed 12 to 14 hours a day, five to six days a week and three to four months straight, so there is a lot of footage from a lot of different circumstances… I think I was edited to be a little more short fused than maybe I am on average, but what you see is what you get and those feelings, emotions and situations happen. I go through moods where I think more rationally or sometimes more aggressively; I am as good as I am bad and it all depends on the people I am working with.

“I do watch the show to see how the episodes were made, edited, executed and how they represented our lives in making the show and running Wooster Street. I get a kick out of it, actually. Sometimes I laugh at my facial expressions and sometimes I cringe when I see a shot where I can tell that I’m tired and cranky and have had bad day.

“The guys are at times such immature asses! When they get out of control, regardless if the camera is there or not, I confront them, tell them to grow up. I have a softer and more joking side, but I take business very seriously and I am there to run the shop… they are not used to having someone like me around, so I am used to getting all types of attention, whether it’s them poking fun that I carry around a bag or I am putting on eyeliner. I am somewhat of a rarity in the tattoo industry. And at then end of each day, if there is something learned from each other and more is understood, tolerated and accepted, that is amazing.

“We all come from extremely different backgrounds and all have such very strong personalities, it’s inevitable that we fight. Tattoo shops are not structured places of work, it is somewhat of a free-for-all creative place where amazing art and things happen, and artists are often a little nuts, but that is what makes them great artists, but also pains in the ass.”

Tattoos Telling Tales

Rapidly running out of prime real estate on his body, RoBear’s love affair with ink started at 17 with a Gemini symbol.

Deeply involved in the creative process behind each of his pieces – “My body and skin is the canvas I am giving to my artists, so we come together as one so that we are both happy with what we create.” RoBear’s tattoos are a depiction of his life.

“I sometimes find myself staring at all my tattoos and going back in time through them [to] the ups that were so high when I felt true bliss, happiness and a sense of calm that could never be taken away from me. [And] the horrible and horrific downs where I was weak, vulnerable, beat up in so many different ways because I was gay.”

One look at RoBear’s body of work and you know exactly what he’s talking about. Like the pin-up of the friend who first dubbed him ‘RoBear’. “She’s a pastry artist in NYC, so I did

a traditional piece with her in an apron, holding a beautiful cake and looking as sexy and beautiful as she really is. Without Natascha, the name RoBear or RoBeast simply wouldn’t exist, so it is a well-deserved piece that has such sentiment.

“The inspiration for my back [done by Cory Good and Tony Silva] was to represent a bright and positive angelic side of myself, but also have the darker side included. I am a Gemini after all; we have that duality. To me, the angel wings and skulls represent the good and bad, not only in myself, but in life, the world and everything that we come across in life.

“My two most recent portraits [of Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner] are from my favorite shows of all time, The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman… I am obsessed with supernatural and superhero abilities. As a child, I would watch the shows and actually pretend I was bionic by jumping off the roof of my house, trying to bend and break things and pretend I was running 60 miles per hour like they did. I learned that I wasn’t bionic after spraining my wrist and breaking my ankle!”

However, one of RoBear’s most powerful and inspiring pieces is also one of the simplest – the word ‘Survivor’ on his upper chest.

“In 2010 I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and had a six-inch malignant tumor growing in my stomach and back; I didn’t even know it until I complained to my doctor about a pain in my side. After X-rays, an MRI, CAT scan, PET scan and biopsies, I had to immediately have an invasive surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering here in NYC to remove it or I would die. It was one centimeter from metastasizing to my bones, so we caught it in time. It was one of the most horrible experiences. Cancer is a lifelong battle. As of right now it has yet to come back, but I must keep on top of this and go back to the doctor for scans every three to six months due its rarity and high rate of return.”

Fight for Your Rights

Armed with the ability to reach mass audiences, RoBear has often expressed his desire to positively represent strong gay men who just so happen to love getting tattooed. Judging by fan feedback, he’s doing a darn good job.

“I learned very soon after the first season started airing that I was considered a role model, which I am proud and honored to be. In the States, the rate of young gay suicide is on the rise, so being someone that they look up to and draw strength from is amazing. They are not alone. That makes it so worthwhile if I can represent and show people that you can do anything, be anything and not be intimated or scared. You can take that negative and make it positive if you stick with your dreams, passions and loves. It makes you a force to be reckoned with and you become unstoppable.

“I remember many years ago I went into a tattoo shop and the guy was extremely rude. I wanted to get a cat in memory of mine who had passed at the age of 18 – R.I.P Mona Moose – but I didn’t want a realistic portrait and wanted it to be edgy and medieval and not just a domestic tuxedo-colored cat on my arm because she lived so long that she was magical and had mystical qualities. He just started drawing something right there and then went into the back and a few minutes later I heard him say to his co-workers, ‘This faggot wants an evil cat.’ Well, as soon as I heard that, I just left. It’s funny because as I was driving away I saw him outside the shop, holding a drawing in his hand, looking for me. What a loser!”

Today, RoBear’s stomach tattoo is a reminder of the strength of those before him. Reading ‘Silence Equals Death’, it was “inspired by a pro-gay symbol used by activists in the 1970s that was a huge start of ending the labeling of gays which set forth a massive change for freedom for the gay community and for us to a have a voice and be heard.”

Skills to Pay the Bills     

In addition to working in tattoo shops over the past five years, RoBear also has 15 years of experience in construction and design management, interior design and fashion styling, is a licensed real estate agent, and is studying towards a fine arts degree with a minor in business, which he hopes to follow with a master’s in studio art or business administration. Phew, that’s a mouthful.

 “I need to stay stimulated and like to have my hand in all different things. I cannot stay stagnant – one stops learning and growing if they do only one thing.

“My passion is to really utilize my creative artsy side with my strong business skills. I have made it a point to educate myself on many different industries and love that I can be creative, manage and do everything from soup to nuts.”

Multi-faceted indeed.

Robear Is Born

When I was 16, I met a girl named Natascha at BIGLYNY – Bi-sexual, Gay, Lesbian Youth of New York – held at the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center on West 13th Street in NYC. She came up to me and said ‘You’re cute and furry, what’s your name?’ I said Rob and she said ‘No, you’re Robear’ and growled at me! Well, it was love and true friendship at first sight.

The Real 666

My mom always jokes around and reminds me that I was born on the sixth month, weighed six pounds and at 6:01 – so I’ve always been a little bit of a badass. 666 is not the devil’s number, it’s mine! [laughs]

Inked by Massacre

Megan Massacre, my friend and co-star, did a hybrid animated-type of portrait of myself when I was a teenager and crossed it with a Living Dead Doll, which I used to collect. She is such an amazing talent and we just laughed and had a great time while she was doing it. I gave her most of the creative control with that one, but had her put a knife in my hand to represent my dad being a butcher in NYC for the past 50 years.

Wooster Street Social Club

43 Wooster Street
New York
NY 10013


Text: Barbara Pavone; Photography: Crew at High Roller Tattoos