Tattoos are no longer taboo, and that's good news for tattoo artists. However, as demand for ink increases, the competition will eventually level out. Soon tattoo shops will have to be much more than just another chic storefront where you can get a heart with "Mom" in the middle. That's why MANIA INK, located at 1810 Doctor M.L.K. Drive in Milwaukee, caught my attention. Owner and tattoo artist, Jesse Engelbrecht operates MANIA as an art gallery as well.
Most tattoos are thought out by the individual getting it (hopefully), but that doesn't mean there won't be a steady dose of patrons getting an impulsive, everlasting memory forged upon their lower back. I think we'd all appreciate the former to be more prevalent, and MANIA INK's gallery helps the patron to appreciate that intricate work and patience that comes with each design.
With a clean, safe, and purely artistic space, MANIA INK provides an excellent atmosphere to get a tattoo, whether it's your first or fiftieth. You can also count on a solid playlist while you're there, with music ranging from The Vince Guaraldi Trio to Earl Sweatshirt. That fact alone should be enough to bring you in. Check out our featured interview with Jesse E. and be sure to also look through our pictures of the shop.
Check out some shots of MANIA's gallery & tattoo parlor below.
MM: How are you doing?
MI: Things are great, life is beautiful. My family is numero uno, my artwork is number 2. Between the family and the studio I don't really get out too much. I have to try very hard to keep a level perspective, so rest is important as well, though, I am not a fan of sleep. One of my favorite things to do is work all day, through the night, and as the sun rises, take a nap, and do it again. However, that can get you into a rather intense state of mania, so.... self explanatory on why I decided to name my work, my studio that in 2009.
MM: What was the meaning behind your first tattoo? And what made you decide to be a tattoo artist?
MI: I was in New York, Brooklyn to be exact, Williamsburgh to be more exact... I had two, count 'em, two art shows at once so I decided to ball it out with my wife Jean Marie and son Simon. At the time, I had figured out how to convert these old tapes of my punk rock band, the Deadbeats, to digital. In true mania style, I made about 300 remixes and various versions of each song, and right before it took a turn for disco, I stopped. At any rate, I was listening to the songs non stop, literally, for about 6 months, only to have been beaten recently by Wiz Khalifa mixtapes reigning in at 9 months straight. After a family intervention, I have had to lay off the Wiz, at least, around them. While I was lost in improvisational punk rock guitar playing for about 7 years, various drawings would bust out of nowhere. My first tattoo was one of them. It was sort of, but never officially, our band dog logo, the slushy dog smoking a blunt and drinking some sort of toxic slush. When I got the tattoo, I decided to leave the blunt off, only cuz I work with kids, and also didn't want to have to answer for it or explain anything to anybody, and ultimately, a few sentences later, it was no big deal to leave it off of there. I love my first tattoo and fell in love with tattooing right then. I decided to become a tattoo artist because I did not know what the hell else to do. I chose it and I'm sticking with it. Its a very intense challenge, but well worth it. Also, inside my heart I desired for my artwork to have an intensely personal meaning for others. I also crave societal interaction, even on a small scale, and tattooing has offered freindships and collectors of my art, that they will where on there skin! hahaha.... never stops being craziness.
MM: Let’s talk about the art behind tattoos… Most people without tattoos just see them as a permanent mark on a body; obviously tattoos tend to mean a great deal more to the person getting them. How does the art of tattoos influence you to bridge a connection to the canvas where you bring together both art and meaning?
MI: Its actually a lot of fun, but also a great challenge in patience, courage, and concentration. Sometimes, solving the problem takes forever, sometimes it takes much less... gotta catch a groove, cant force it. I must focus and improvise. I cant be afraid of the outcome. The creation of a custom tattoo, or the tattoo flash I do, is a very artistically physical process. There is a ton of drawing, layering, refining, composition, contrast, and positive and negative space or skin... I truly love making a custom design for people that blows there mind. Pretty much all I want to do is make a nice tattoo that has all the elements and meaning, will heal and age well, and will be artistically satisfying and noticeable from across the room. Clear and distinct.
MM: Your space, Mania Ink is really more than just another tattoo parlor… Where did the idea come to portray it as a gallery as well?
MI: I just have so many drawings that it made sense. Also, I have done art shows and had large studios for many years, so really, its just natural. I need that wall space as part of any studio, which is the second reason why I chose this location. First reason is that the wonderful person that offered it to me for a fair price had "Mania" in her last name.... I could not argue with that, so, it was really pretty logical. Its funny, at the time, I was telling a few people, I should do this in Riverwest...they all said no, wouldn't work, bad idea. Since then, there has been 3 tattoo shop openings in the exact area I was thinking....right by my house. However, that would be boring. Instead, now I get to work on a street honoring a genius, Dr. Martin Luther King, and the statue is right by my studio, which I love.
MM: In today’s world, tattoos have become much more acceptable as a norm and so there has been a great influx in tattoo shops. How do you plan to continue to grow?
MI: I'm not really trying to grow in the sense of building a tattoo empire. I am very content to offer what I do, and where I do, and hopefully I can continue to carve out a nice clientele. I do need to continue to generate more funds as always, but the grind never stops, and for me, college degree or not, to quote Joe King, "its either punk rock or welcome to Burger King Ma'am, may I take your order." Its really true though, the artists that I love and respect do what they do regardless of fame and fortune, and its all or nothing. This really is all I have, because its everything I have to offer rolled up into one nicely rolled.... uh... art piece.
MM: Any crazy tattoo stories you’d be willing to share?
MI: Winter, 2015, February 24th... I had a very busy week, and it was the week of my birthday. The day before my birthday, I was drawing all day and pull one of those before mentioned mania style sessions....hadn't eaten a thing for about 12 hours, at least. Sun comes up, Jesse goes to bed.... for five minutes! I get back up. It's a big day, and actually, there is no longer time for sleep. Back to the studio! Early, prepared, check. Gonna clean up around here and get this old nasty microwave out of my life! So I was carrying it out, and I noticed this haunting patch of thick ice on the hill in the alley... no problemo, I will be careful right?. Carried the microwave across the ice very carefully, set it down and said, God Daaaamn that is some slippery looking ice. Took one step and......hit the concrete exceptionally ungracefully. As I lay on the ice, freezing and in great pain, I screamed out many unpleasant sounding things. After a few minutes, I was able to roll over and stumble back to the studio. I had a tattoo to do in a few hours that was about 400 words, if not more, on this guys ribs. Wait, whats that noise, somebody knocking on my door? A tattoo.... oh man, I am in a lot of pain.... but, yes! I need them duckets! Tattooed for the next 8 hours straight... Turns out my wrist and elbow were fractured at the very least, damn near broke my hip, whiplash or something in my neck...so much pain and huge bruises! It sucked really bad. Changed my life. However, turns out you don't really move your elbow and wrist when you are tattooing, but my own art making slowed to a crawl, and when that happens to an artist it is always very difficult to get back in there and catch the groove, but you gotta.
MM: Favorite spot/thing to do in MKE?
MI: The record stores, and I am talking vinyl. Hanging down by the river in Riverwest is awesome. Mainly I enjoy chilling in my spaceship.