Restaurants run as thick through Giovani Faenza’s family as the line art that would one day make his name in Columbus. His parents and grandparents both worked in the food industry, and for a time Gio seemed destined for the trade as well. And yet, even as a child, tattooing often occupied his attention.
“My mom always told this story where we’d go to a mall or flea market and she’d find me racing away,” Gio recalled during an interview recently at High Street Tattoo. “I’d seen some blue-armed old man and wanted to know everything about the blotches on his arm. Honestly, it never occurred to me I would want to tattoo; I just liked the culture and wanted to get tattooed.”
Many years later, while living in Oregon and working as a cook at a hotel, the spark of inspiration arrived. His tattoo artist at the time noticed his sketchbook of future tattoos and was impressed. The tattooer urged Gio to pursue the art form further, but he was hesitant: “I didn’t want to deal with the people or the blood.”
Gio gave himself his first tattoo — a hand-poked Dead Kennedys logo — but “I got it covered up, so I don’t count that as my first tattoo.”
The “real” first tattoo was a little more memorable.
Broke and newly arrived in Columbus, a stretch of non-stop rain kept Gio mostly inside his apartment on Miller-Kelton. When the rain stopped, a career burst auspiciously into existence.
“It was sunny a few days after that and there was nothing but gangsters on the streets,” Gio recalled. “I had enough stuff to do 40 tattoos, so I leaned out my window one day and was like, ‘Hey, I’m doing $50 tattoos all weekend if anyone wants them.’ And I ended up doing 39 tattoos.”
Most of those early pieces were black and grey, traditional-style works, and while his current strengths are more varied (he loves incorporating architecture into tattoos), he’s finding himself once again drawn toward black and grey tattoos.
Eighteen years in and long-recognized as one of Columbus’ best tattooers, Gio has once again come full-circle, re-inspired by the art form after stepping away from it as recently as October. It was then Gio announced he was handing the shop over to his pupil, Joey Knuckles.
Gio said he needed time to heal the crippling arthritis in his back and also pursue other interests. He picked up a part-time job as a cook at Whole Foods in Upper Arlington in part for the medical benefits. During his hiatus, he also consulted with restaurants on everything from crafting menus to designing dishes. (Over the years he’s also launched a food truck — The Pickled Swine — and was involved in realty. His Instagram handle is, after all, @gioofalltrades.)
But still the steady thrum of the tattoo needle buzzed around his head. When clients kept reaching out and showing love, he knew: The time had come. The King was back.
“I kept getting a lot of really nice letters and calls from people saying, ‘We love your work. My wife and I got our wedding tattoos from you, [or] my kid was commemorated, [or] I lost somebody and [he or she] was commemorated by you, so if you come back you’d be the person we want to tattoo us,’” Gio said. “I couldn’t turn my back on it even if I wanted to. Feeling that kind of love from the city has really helped inspire me. I’m tattooing as much as I can right now.”