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Meet 14th Street

Lost Gem
Rising Dragon Tattoos 1 Tattoos undefined

Rising Dragon Tattoos

A native New Yorker with over thirty years of industry experience, Darren Rosa is the owner of Rising Dragon Tattoos. He is proud of his hometown, and would not think of having a shop anywhere other than “the best” city in the world. Raised in Washington Heights, Darren recalls living a fairly “sheltered” adolescence because his artist mother did not want him out on the streets, exposed to the drugs, gangs, and violence of the 1970s and 1980s. Instead, he spent his time indoors, watching his mom complete her projects. From there, Darren admits he is not certain how much was nature and how much was nurture, but he developed a strong affinity for art, always painting and sketching, which he acknowledges “wasn’t good for [his] grades. ”While in college as a pre-med student, he decided to test out a new artistic medium and picked up a tattooing kit - the same kit that he then used to create custom designs for people in his childhood bedroom, making him one of New York City’s first tattoo artists. Out of respect for his mother – who was trying to study for a master’s degree - Daren moved his operation out of Washington Heights and up to an apartment in Inwood. However, the new spot was a long train ride for many of his clients, and he knew that “the action” was downtown in the “groovy” Union Square area, so he relocated again in 1992 to 19th Street. When 1997 rolled around and tattooing became legal in New York City, Darren figured he would need a ground-level storefront to meet demand, so he moved into the notorious Hotel Chelsea. He stayed there until finally landing on 14th Street in 2008, the present location of Rising Dragon. I asked Darren if he ever spent time around Union Square when he was growing up. A wave of nostalgia glossed over him as he smiled and disclosed that he had bought his first boombox nearby, back when the neighborhood was packed with haggling electronics retailers. Though the neighborhood has changed dramatically since then, Darren affirms that the move was good for business. Without too much competition on the street, his clients do not have to “price shop” and the environment is more relaxing. As I walked around Rising Dragon, I noticed quite a number of Japanese artworks on the wall, which Darren displays to honor the Japanese reverence for nature and their “complete language for covering the body, ” with timeless subject matter and “passionate symbols” that speak to the soul – inspiration for any artist. I also observed how clean Rising Dragon was. Darren explained that many fail to realize tattooing is much like a surgical procedure, so at Rising Dragon they take great care in preparation to ensure cleanliness and professionalism. The “family” of seven to eight resident artists – depending on how many guests they are hosting at the time – all do homework, practicing designs in advance, boasted Darren. To them, it is not about money; it’s about dedication. Darren confessed that in New York “tattooing’s more complicated now” than it was when he first started. The introduction of technology has made images of designs readily available to clients via Google and Instagram, forcing artists to broaden their repertoire. Darren finds that these days seventy-five percent of his clients request tattoos of lettering, words, and phrases. He finds that the increase in text is “a reflection of our time. ” With literal “text as a message gaining importance, ” it is something people want to carry with them on their bodies. With such a commitment to excellence, anyone could feel comfortable entering Rising Dragon. Darren shared that until a few years ago, it had always been a dream of his for a celebrity to walk through the doors, more specifically either one of his favorite actors and fellow New Yorkers, Robert De Niro or Al Pacino. One day, he got a phone call from the receptionist alerting him that a young man had come in with his father to get a tattoo. The father turned out to be none other than Robert De Niro. Darren said he “tried to play it cool, ” but was too giddy, so he and De Niro spent the son’s session talking about their mutual affection for New York. Even though he’s already met one of his major life goals, Darren assured me he is not going anywhere, giving clients the security to form lasting relationships with their tattoo artists. On behalf of Rising Dragon, Darren firmly asserts, “We’re New York and we’re here to stay. ”