Ahwatukee tattoo studio draws clients from near, far

DarkArt Tattoo owners Allen Gregg and Mark Melanson have not only built a distinguished reputation for their Ahwatukee studio but have the awards to prove why. (Courtesy DarkArt Tattoo)

Tattoos have come long way since the days of rudimentary butterflies and the like, and a studio in Ahwatukee Foothills has become renowned for creating original works of art instead of cookie-cutter stencils on skin.

DarkArt Tattoo Collective at 4923 E. Chandler Blvd., has seven artists, each with his or her own studio, who draw clients from all over the Valley and beyond. “All of our artists actually reside in different parts of Arizona,” said co-owner Mark Melanson of Queen Creek. “They typically bring all of their clientele here.”

When asked what sets this shop apart, co-owner Allen Gregg of San Tan Valley said, “The trophies in our rooms. We go to some of the biggest conventions in the world.”

Gregg, Melanson and the others attend major tattoo competitions in places like Los Angeles and Philadelphia as well as local ones, racking up accolades for everything from best small color to best black-and-gray to best horror tattoo of the day.

“Everyone here is unbelievably talented,” said Abby Danis, one of the shop’s artists and Gregg’s fiancée.

DarkArt Tattoo Collective also has broken down the intimidation barrier, she added. The bright and expansive lobby feels more like an upscale salon, with plush Victorian-style sofas and chandeliers, and the studios are tidy and clean.

“We have a very ardent desire to create a space for clients where they feel at home coming here and they feel comfortable,” Danis stated. “They can tell we all work together as a family and we want our clients to feel like they’re a part of that.”

Angelo Lambrou said the shop has “a great environment.”

“They make you feel welcome,” he said. “They go through the entire process of the setup in front of you; they open the needles in front of you; they make sure everything is nice, clean and sterile.”

According to a 2019 poll of about 1,000 people by Ipsos, 30 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo, up from 21 percent in 2012.

When Melanson started getting tattooed in his teens, he said, it was “more rebellious,” he noted. Now it’s mainstream, he said, and people from all walks of life get them.

And, they’re doing larger, more intricate and more realistic work than ever. Though Gregg and Melanson said there are no big trends like in the past (think lower back and “tribal” tattoos), portraits—especially of a loved one who has passed—are always popular. So too are women-empowerment themes, such as a woman’s face on a superhero.

Though the minimum cost at DarkArt Tattoo Collective is $100, most clients get entire back pieces or custom sleeves (where an entire arm is covered) that can take 40 to 60 hours.

“Most of the people that come in to get tattooed, they’re sitting here for eight-plus hours at a time,” Melanson noted, adding that most become repeat customers.

Lambrou hired Melanson to do a Greek mythology-inspired back tattoo, which is nearly done, as well a leg tattoo. “I went through Mark’s Facebook profile and his portfolio, and I was blown away with his artwork and contacted him,” he said. “This is the only place I’ll ever go for tattoos.”

DarkArt Tattoo Collective’s artists work one-on-one with clients to develop a unique artwork rather than copying from something they found online.

Artist Joseph Parris of Arizona City said he is skilled at covering tattoos that didn’t turn out well, showing before-and-after photos of a crude, poorly drawn design that he masked with an attractive, detailed floral bouquet. “I try to design stuff to camouflage whatever it’s covering,” he said.

Unlike some unsavory shops, DarkArt refuses to tattoo anyone under the influence. “We all have families; all have kids,” Gregg said. “We have similar lifestyles to everyday workers. We don’t allow any drugs or drinking—none of that here.”

“It destroys a community and puts a bad name on these owners who are trying to do the right thing or change the tattoo industry,” Melanson said.

He added all the artists require clients to fill out a consent form noting medical concerns but they can work with those.

There’s also a mental health aspect, Melanson said.

“A lot of people use it as therapy,” he said. “It’s a release for them. Your head starts mellowing out…. People have said to me in the past, ‘It’s relaxing; it’s calming.’ They’re stressed out and it takes away all of that.”

“Me, personally, I hate getting tattoos. It hurts and I don’t like it. But I like the aftermath.”

DarkArt Tattoo Collective

4923 E. Chandler Blvd.

(at S. 48th St.), Ste. 303, Ahwatukee.

Hours: Noon to 8 p.m. daily

Info: 480-572-1201; darkarttattoocollective@gmail.com

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