Theme Park Dog - Pooch

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

The annual visits to Disneyworld as a kid conspired to make him fall in love with theme parks… not for the speed and excitement, but for the art. Today the American artist and tattooist, Pooch, mixes Walt Disney with H.R. Giger to create his own Coney Island on canvas.

You instantly notice the love for roller coasters when you click yourself to Pooch’s website. Pooch Island, as he calls it, is an homage to the traditional funfair and an obvious reference to the theme park in Coney Island, New York, where all kinds of weirdness, including tattoo artists, existed back in the day.

“The reason Pooch Island came to life was of course my theme park-inspired paintings. The website undoubtedly had to be like an amusement park, so my web designer and I worked out the site together,” he says. “Since I grew up in Florida we visited Disneyworld basically every summer, and I liked the three dimensional art they had created there. I didn’t care much for speed and excitement; it was more the visual thing. It’s influenced me a lot. I’m not a Disney fanatic, but I appreciate his vision and there’s something about the park I like.”

The happy-go-lucky Disneyworld of song and glitter is however not what’s depicted in Pooch’s paintings. Even though there are roller coasters he has other influences as well… much darker ones.

“My biggest influences come from tattooing and the surrealist painter, H.R. Giger. Why I started painting has a lot to do with him. I didn’t want to do anything too reminiscent of his work, however, but he had this undefined 3D aspect, something that reminded you of a theme park ride. It’s not a roller coaster per se, swhat he does is more like a house of horrors. Combine that with Disney and you get what I do. I’ve always been interested in Coney Island as my parents are from New York. It had tattoo artists and was a little more of a freak show on the outskirts while Disneyworld was commercial – I wanted to introduce darker stuff, of which there were a lot in Coney Island.”

The designs are not just dark, but also extremely detailed, which makes him approach a new painting somewhat like tattooing.

“I start by drawing my idea on paper. Then I transfer it to canvas using a projector. After that I start painting everything in brown, a little like when you do black and grey tattoos. The only time I don’t use brown is when I paint in greyscale, then I start with black. I like to sit with a painting for a whole day – something you can’t do when you tattoo since the customer will be in pain. With painting it takes a couple of hours to find your flow and when you do you want to stay there.”

He found his style around 2000. Since then his level of activity has (like a roller coaster) gone up and down. He’s had exhibitions in Los Angeles, Seattle, and on home turf, but he’s not been painting so much at the moment since his tattoo studio, Altered State, in Lake Worth, Florida, keeps him more than busy.

“Tattoos are so popular right now, that’s almost all I do. I tattoo five days a week and you really should be off work to properly get into painting. If you want to put together an exhibition you need to paint constantly for six months. I’m hoping to stock up on paintings, though, but most of what I do right now is pre-ordered, so it’s hard to find the time.”

Coney Island

Due to Coney Island’s location – easily reached from Manhattan and other boroughs of New York City, yet distant enough to suggest a proper vacation – it began attracting holidaymakers in the 1830s and 1840s, when carriage roads and steamship services reduced travel time from a half-day journey, to just two hours.

The original Coney Island Hotel was constructed in 1829, with The Brighton Hotel, Manhattan Beach Hotel, and Oriental Hotel opening soon after, with each trying to provide an increasing level of elegance. Coney Island became a major resort destination after the American Civil War, as excursion railroads and the Coney Island and Brooklyn Railroad streetcar line reached the area in the 1860s, and the Iron steamboat company arrived in 1881. The two Iron Piers served as docks for the steamboats until they were destroyed in the 1911 Dreamland fire.

When the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company electrified the steam railroads and connected Brooklyn to Manhattan via the Brooklyn Bridge at the beginning of the 20th century, Coney Island soon turned from a resort to a location accessible to day-trippers from New York City, especially those escaping the summer heat.

Charles I. D. Looff, a Danish woodcarver, built the first carousel at Coney Island in 1876. It was installed at Vandeveer’s bath house complex at West 6th Street and Surf Avenue, which later became known as Balmer’s Pavilion. The carousel consisted of hand-carved horses and animals standing two abreast, with a drummer and a flute player providing the music; a tent-top provided protection from the weather. The fare was five cents. From 1885 to 1896, the Coney Island Elephant was the first sight to greet immigrants arriving in New York, who would see it before the Statue of Liberty became visible.

In 1915 the Sea Beach Line was upgraded to a subway line. This was followed by upgrades to the other former excursion roads, and the opening of the New West End Terminal in 1919, thus ushering in Coney Island’s busiest era.

Nathan’s Famous original hot dog stand opened on Coney Island in 1916 and quickly became a landmark. An annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest has been held there annually on July 4 since opening, but has only attracted broad attention and television coverage since the late 1990s.

Between about 1880 and World War II, Coney Island was the largest amusement area in the United States, attracting several million visitors per year. At its height it contained three competing major amusement parks, Luna Park, Dreamland, and Steeplechase Park, as well as many independent amusements.

Astroland served as a major amusement park from 1962 to 2008, and was replaced by a new incarnation of Dreamland in 2009, and of Luna Park in 2010.

The other parks and attractions include Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, 12th Street Amusements, and Kiddie Park, while the Eldorado Arcade has an indoor bumper car ride. The Zipper and Spider on 12th Street were closed permanently on September 4, 2007, and dismantling began after its owner lost his lease. They are to be reassembled at an amusement park in Honduras.

On April 20, 2011, the first new roller coasters to be built at Coney Island in 80 years were opened as part of efforts to reverse the decline of the amusement area.

Altered State Tattoo

2402 N. Dixie Hwy, #8
Lake Worth,
+1 561 585 4741


Text: Simon Lundh; Photography: Pooch