Spiritus Tattoo’s Mike Moses brings worldwide following to Columbus

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From the April 10, 2014 edition

Mike Moses hated New York City. Don’t even get him started.

“New York, man, it’s just too much,” he said.

In fact, he initially fell in love with Columbus because it was opposite of the Big Apple in many ways: easy access to nature, cleaner air, a more affordable cost of living (“Columbus … is just metropolitan enough,” he said).

In the year or so since moving to Columbus and opening Spiritus Tattoo with Kat Marie Moya, Moses still feels like he’s getting his feet under him in his new home. He has tattooed only about 24 people from the Arch City, but he hasn’t needed to do more. Most of his clients come from out of the state or country, and his wait list runs months-deep.

His Instagram account, in fact, has more than 33,000 followers. When he recently told those followers he’d bump one to the front of his wait list if they got a tattoo of Samus from one of Moses’ favorite video games, “Metroid,” many responded.

Denver resident Justin Elza, 31, was the lucky recipient. With only two weeks’ notice, Elza flew to Columbus for a Wednesday appointment.

“Being a huge fan of his, and ‘Metroid’ in general, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that,’” Elza said. “He has a style unlike any artist I’ve seen. I love what he does; he has these sick outlines and he’s able to get so much detail that other tattoo styles aren’t able to get.”

Moses’ unique style didn’t come fully formed, though.

Initially, he approached tattooing as an art kid might (he spent three years in art school before dropping out to be a tattoo apprentice in Richmond, Virginia). He admits he knew “absolutely nothing of the industry or the traditions of it,” despite his mentor’s admonitions otherwise. That art-school-informed, distinctive style didn’t go over well in Richmond, which was used to a more traditional approach, Moses said. So he moved to New York, but barely saw a client for his first year there.

“I was doing more traditional-type stuff when I came to New York because I had tried fine-line noodly shit for the first half of my career and a lot of people hated me for it,” he said. “I was doing a lot of stuff I probably shouldn’t be doing, stuff I wouldn’t do now.

“[But] it takes your entire life and career to really find your groove.”

He kept learning about the form, and continued expanding his art into other disciplines beyond tattooing. Eventually he felt more comfortable incorporating some of those earlier aesthetics into his tattoo work, and his fan base likewise grew.

Now he finds his career in a place he could only have dreamed of in Richmond and New York City, able to work on whatever art he’s interested in. On a recent day, that meant a trip to Olentangy Indian Caverns for research and exploration for an upcoming musical project (“Good luck finding something like that in New York; there might be a bar called The Cave, but it’s a completely different excursion”).

In Columbus, he’s finally found a place for all that and more.

“My side projects probably outnumber how much I tattoo,” he said. “I like it that way. I love tattooing and I love my career and I’m very thankful for it, but I’m just not a two-dimensional person. I want to do more things.”