Women Who Ink: Kat Marie Moya

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From the May 3, 2012 edition

Where do you start with Kat Marie Moya? Her fine art (currently showing in the influential lowbrow gallery La Luz de Jesus in Los Angeles) and Por Vida, the Day of the Dead celebration she organizes, possess most of her time these days.

But tattoo is woven indelibly in her creative self. She does exclusively custom work, and she thrives on the collaboration between artist and client. For her, tattoo is one medium among several.

Her studio in the Junctionview complex is tucked in a remote corner (nice for privacy, not great for bathroom access), its walls lined with her Cuckoo mixed-media series, its air filled with the scent of calming essential oil warmed over a flame. It is worlds away from the feel of a storefront tattoo studio.

"Maybe I just don't know the right way to conduct myself in a tattoo studio," Moya said. "I don't cater to the impulse buyer, and I don't mass-produce. I have a lot more of a quality experience with people who are willing to go through the wait period. I find they appreciate the work. It's a mutual appreciation that just feels like more quality than quantity to me."

Moya got her first tattoo when she was 17 (a friend fashioned a machine from the parts of a record player), and she started tattooing when she was 22. Most of the art on her own body was acquired between the ages of 18 and 22.

"Whether they're good or bad, I can time-travel to where I was in my life quite clearly in association with getting them," she said. "I remember the experience of my first one well; it's a 'good ol' days' kind of story for me now."

Getting more tattoos for herself isn't a priority -- "My money goes to travel and art materials" -- and she has grown more reflective about how she'd like to fill in her remaining "prime real estate."

It thrills her to find a client for whom a tattoo is an act of thoughtful, deliberate self-expression.

"I really enjoy tattooing people who are much older than me, who are getting their first pieces," she said. "Their ideas are all-encompassing philosophies, and it takes living your life to have those philosophies … I knew people who were covered by the time they were 25, just covered. It took me getting quite a few tattoos to realize the quality is in the patience and thinking about it and feeling certain."

One thing she won't do: Come up with your ideas for you.

"I think it's the easy way out to say, 'Put whatever you want on me.' It's an easy way out to expect me to do the homework for you. I really appreciate it when people put a lot of time and energy and patience into their concepts."

Potential tattoo clients (she's not taking on any new ones at the moment) should look around her studio for evidence that she practices what she preaches: Moya's mixed-media pieces are intricate, painstaking, layered, textured, researched. They are truly complete ideas, and ones into which she pours creative energy.

"I hope that it's the case that you can look at my fine art and not tell I'm a tattoo artist," she said. "A lot of tattoo-style art is pretty homogenized these days. Personally, I'm kind of tired of it. I'm tired of seeing it. Fine art came first. Then tattooing presented itself as a medium. It has enriched my life in so many ways."