New York Groove - Stefano Alcantara

Published: 17 September, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 216, September, 2012

Nobody can deny the fistfuls of talent that Paul Booth has brought to the table over the years. But currently treading the boards at the Last Rites Tattoo Theatre and touring the US until there’s no stone left unturned, is Stefano Alcantara.

One of the things you have to deal with in this line of work is being pursued by far too many people who think OK is good enough. For the most part, OK is good enough for most people… and this makes me sad. Not gun-to-the-head sad, but sad in that far too many people are quite happy accepting OK as being all they can get. But as fortune would have it, I am also pursued in equal amounts and am quite happy to associate with just as many who believe their best will never be achieved, no matter how long they live – it’s these people who shine like underwater halogen lamps in the face of the 40 watters that actually make it worth getting up in the morning (or the afternoon). You can take the man out of the band and all that…

Today is a good day. With some stitching together of schedules via my buddy Kevin Wilson at Sacred in NYC, I am introduced to the man who has piqued my interest for quite some months on the run now, Stefano Alcantara. A new name to some, a very well-known name to others, he is intent on rattling his cage until the paint falls off the bars leaving some of the most heartfelt art on the floor for others to see where he has come from and where he’s going. So just what is it that makes a Peruvian native leave his world behind and head for New York in search of something he knows is inside somewhere, but can’t quite reach without a little assistance?

“I am definitely a totally different artist from when I arrived at Last Rites. In that environment, surrounded by such amazing tattoo artists and fine artists in the gallery, I was influenced on a daily basis. I arrived as a color artist, and my tattoos were very bright and colorful, but over time, my style became more rich and my colors more muted.

“I knew I wanted to work at Last Rites. When I got the invitation to do a guest spot I had my shop and my apartment in Peru, but after the invitation to be a permanent artist there, I never went back. Leaving my life in Peru shows how dedicated I was to work there. I automatically felt that New York City was a home for me and I still love it. I believe that if you picture yourself a certain way in your life, with no doubts, it will happen!”

The call of the wild was strong in this one. With not too many backward glances to Lima, Stefano left behind the two studios he already owned. Even a man who has never left his hometown can accurately imagine the culture shock between Lima, Peru, and Manhattan. I take my hat off to him – that’s a big jump. It takes a man of serious dedication to know that what he needs can’t be found around himself and make the moves to remedy the situation.

“Yes it was a huge jump for sure – I love my country, but New York is the centre of the world and I felt that I had reached the highest level I could reach in Peru at the time. I had the best two shops down there, but I was turning into a businessman more than an artist. One day I thought that I would rather grow and look for a bigger challenge, than be in the business just to make money. I love to have new beginnings and learn from the best. Let’s be honest, what could be a better home than Last Rites? It’s one of the biggest names in the tattoo industry.”

The man has a good point. At which juncture I have to admit, I know next to nothing about tattoo culture in Peru beyond the basics (note to self: fix this; note to others: read the box copy).

“In the 10th century, Peruvians in high levels of society had sleeves and hand tattoos so there is a tradition there. But in the modern era, Peru doesn’t have a big tattoo culture.

“When I opened my shop in 1999, I was the second shop in all of Lima, the capital city. Now, the next generation of artists are coming on really strong and they are doing amazing realism. But more impressive is the group of young artists who are doing a unique style mix of new school/ cartoon/ graffiti – I haven’t seen this style anywhere but in Peru at the moment.”

There’s obviously a whole sub-culture of a sub-culture that needs looking at here. As we’ve seen time and time again, the future can spring out of the most unlikely of places when it comes to tattoo. I wonder does he think he can be part of that? In fact, working alongside Paul Booth must have it’s own set of very large bonuses if only by default.

“Yeah, I studied advertising and graphic design in Peru so I knew how to promote a brand and how to manage a business. I learned some good things from Paul – one of them is how to maintain a high reputation by fostering talented artists who have potential to grow and do their best. That’s not something you can get from everybody.

“When I moved to the US nobody knew me, so to gain recognition I felt like I needed the exposure in conventions, and winning some awards helped me build my name. Now though, I don’t really like to compete because my best reward is completing a piece that I’m proud of that made my client happy.

“I also prefer and enjoy guest spots more than conventions to get inspired or learn. Because you can be so busy at conventions, sometimes there’s not even time to leave the booth or have lunch, so conventions are rough!”

It’s clear to me now – as it has been for some time – that Stefano isn’t a man happy to kick back on his heels and let life come to him. There’s a plan in operation here. Rather than a grand plan though, it appears to more along the lines of each day being taken on its own merits.

“Ha, ha. Yes, I am always thinking a few steps ahead for my future. I’m in a transition right now, from a routine of set hours, to touring and getting accustomed to life on the road. After my US tour, I want to enjoy life at my own pace, creating my own art and schedule. Next year my plan is a world tour with no limits!

“I have to say though, during my travels at different shops and conventions on the US tour, I got totally inspired being surrounded by talented artists and good friends. I don’t have one specific person who I’ve learned technique from or anything, but recently I had the great opportunity to meet Boris Vallejo. He was my biggest inspiration when I started drawing and discovering that I wanted to devote myself to art when I was about 17.”

There aren’t many who would disagree that Vallejo isn’t a good choice of icon to have. And one of the great things about having an icon who came up the hard way, is seeing first-hand just how much work has been put into a life to become that icon. Talking of which, there’s a story about Stefano’s great grandfather that’s alluded to on his site – and I think the story needs bringing out into the open because it raises some interesting questions…

“I love telling this story! A weird thing happened to me when I was around 15 years old. I confused one of my great grandfather’s portrait drawings for my own. I stumbled upon a collection of my great grandfather’s sketches in my house, saw a portrait of a female face and thought to myself, ‘when did I draw that?’ But it was his work. I analyzed his style and I felt it was exactly how I would have done it.

“After seeing this, I felt connected to his art and then hearing stories about him from my uncles, I felt like I knew him. He was an artist, a drawer, a painter, and his work still amazes me.”

Every artist should have a story like that lurking in the background. Somehow it makes the dots join together to give a more cohesive picture. Personally, I’ve never believed that great artists are made, only born. I think you can learn enough to be masterful in any life, but to be a true great, you have to be born that way. Nature or nurture? If you’re in the market to become one of the icons of the blank generation, both is a fine idea.

Shine like halogen.

Lima, Peru

The city of Lima, the capital of Peru, was founded by Francisco Pizarro on 18 January 1535 and given the name ‘City of the Kings’. Nevertheless, with time its original name persisted, which may come from one of two sources: either the Aymara language lima-limaq (meaning ‘yellow flower’), or the Spanish pronunciation of the Quechuan word rimaq (meaning ‘talker’, and actually written and pronounced limaq in the nearby Quechua I languages). It is worth noting that the same Quechuan word is also the source of the name given to the river that feeds the city, the Rímac river (pronounced as in the politically dominant Quechua II languages, with an ‘r’ instead of an ‘l’). Early maps of Peru show the two names displayed jointly. Are you still with me here?

In 1940, an earthquake destroyed most of the city, which at that time was mostly built of adobe and quincha. In the 1940s, Lima started a period of rapid growth spurred by migration from the Andean regions of Peru, as rural people sought opportunities for work and education. The population, estimated at 0.6 million in 1940, reached 1.9 million by 1960, and 4.8 million by 1980. At the start of this period, the urban area was confined to a triangular area bounded by the city’s historic centre, Callao and Chorrillos; in the following decades settlements spread to the north, beyond the Rímac River, to the east, along the Central Highway, and to the south. The new migrants, at first confined to slums in downtown Lima, led this expansion through large-scale land invasions which evolved into shanty towns, known as pueblos jóvenes.

Lima’s architecture is characterized by a mix of styles. Examples of early colonial architecture include the Monastery of San Francisco, the Cathedral of Lima, and the Torre Tagle Palace. These constructions are generally influenced by the Spanish baroque, Spanish Neoclassicism, and Spanish Colonial styles. After independence, a gradual shift towards the neoclassical and Art Nouveau styles took place. Many of these constructions were greatly influenced by French architectural styles. Many government buildings as well as major cultural institutions were contracted in this architectural time period. During the 1960s, constructions utilising the brutalist style began appearing in Lima due to the military government of Juan Velasco. Examples of this architecture include the Museum of the Nation and the Ministry of Defense. The 21st century has seen the appearance of glass skyscrapers, particularly around the city’s financial district.

Privately-run broadcasters and newspapers dominate the media scene, with the state-run media having relatively small audiences. Lima is home to dozens of radio stations and several TV services. Many radio stations and regional newspapers are available in the provinces. Defamation remains a criminal offence. “Too many legal proceedings and vexatious applications continue to hamper the free flow of information… encouraging self-censorship on the part of journalists and bloggers,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in 2012. Physical attacks and verbal threats against journalists are commonplace, with topics including corruption and drug trafficking considered particularly dangerous to cover, reports US-based, Freedom House.

Last Rites

511 West 33rd St.Suite 3N 
New York, NY 10001,
United States
(212) 529-0666


Text: Sion Smith; Photography: Stefano