The true story of Grape Ape Tattoo
Grape Ape Tattoo opened in 2008 as Rogue Parlour Tattoo, when James Peterson and Mark Pierce ended up stranded without a shop after the chaotic destruction of Bert’s Classic Tattoo, where they had been working under the world-famous tattooer Bert Rodriguez. Bert was known for operating the Tattoos and Blues convention and being a staple of tattooing in Santa Rosa, CA. Tattooing under the banner of Bert was a huge honor, and James and Mark wished the experience could have lasted but circumstances cut that privilege short. After reaching out to Danny DeRosa, a long-time New York tattooer also known for Smoking Guns Tattoo (and James’ uncle), James and Mark set up a small shop out of the way and grew from there, setting out on their mission to provide quality tattoos to the world.
Mark is an artists whose talents and interests extend into many fields including soap, music, and locksmithing in addition to tattoos. He and his wife currently own and operate Bisbee Soap and Sundry in Bisbee, AZ. Mark also makes a living as a professional fiddler and is known for playing bass for the legendary punk institution Zeke.
Before opening Rogue Parlour Tattoo with Mark, James owned 50/50 Art Gallery in Chicago and also worked in film production, as a gallery artist, and as an illustrator. After receiving his BFA in illustration at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, James completed projects for Disney and Esquire magazine, as well as a number of other gigs that kept him busy. During that time in Los Angeles, lowbrow illustrative art was growing in popularity and James’ efforts in the gallery world were better rewarded so he shifted gears toward painting. This era for James could be described as peak production years for paintings, and he worked 10 to 18 hours per day. Between 2000 and 2005, James showed with some of his favorite galleries, including La Luz de Jesus and Copro Nason Gallery, and contributed to shows with Cannibal Flower. James even was in the very first group show at the (hive) LCs check name. Once he had a number of shows lined up, he decided to pack up and paint in Mexico rather than live in LA. He lived in Puerto Escondido, enjoying the water in the morning and painting without interruption all day and night. He built a stack of paintings that all fit together like Russian nesting dolls, which he could easily transport back to the US to sell at upcoming shows. Painting went so well that he decided to take it the next step and go to graduate school for an MFA. He returned to the US and helped his brother shoot a feature film “Intellectual Oroperty” or “Dark Mind” link... and was accepted into the graduate program at the School of the Art institute of Chicago in 2006. His focus in graduate school was all about lowbrow/highbrow dynamics, pop culture, Marxism, and observing the system. He hoped to glean some inspiration from the ghosts of Chicago’s Hairy Who and the World Class Museum. While in graduate school he helped form the Micromentalists with Patrick Welch and opened 50/50 Gallery, hoping to share some fresh illustrative art with the community. However, James missed the West and decided to close 50/50 Gallery after a year when he was offered an opportunity to work in film in New York City, and he split his time between New York and Tucson, Arizona. In 2007 it seemed clear to James that the art world was sinking into a depression, and he became disillusioned with many aspects of the high-end art world. He had always been interested in tattooing, but his upbringing in a religious community prevented him from exploring that realm. During these years, his sense of disillusionment also extended into religious concepts, and soon James felt free to jump into tattooing, a profession he had been interested in since he was a young child. At age 28, he abandoned everything and committed to tattooing full time. He canceled and turned down gallery shows, film projects, university professorships, everything. That’s when he ended up working for Bert.
Rogue Parlour was was opened on a shoestring budget in2008. James and Mark had the first and last month’s rent with just enough money left to buy the items needed to start tattooing. They ate from fast food dollar menus and scraped by until the place caught on. Little by little, they got busy. Rogue Parlour was the only shop on a major street when it opened. *Markus leaving* When Rogue Parlour ultimately outgrew that location 5 years later, there were 7 tattoo shops that had popped up around it. James and Mark attempted to move to a high-end location and dumped tens of thousands of dollars into a venue that eventually had to be abandoned - the city took over a year to complete the street car tracks that were supposed to be finished in 3-6 months, making the road inaccessible. They simply couldn’t pay rent on a closed shop that was on a road no one could access; another tattoo shop along the train line had been burdened by the road closures even with a much lower overhead than Rogue Parlour had. However, with the scraps left from the ghost shop on a dead road, James and Mark barely were able to afford to start again in 2013 with another shoestring budget. They changed the name to Grape Ape Tattoo and the mission was rebooted. Slow, constant growth has served James and Mark well on Tucson’s revamped and rail-linked 4th Avenue, and they take pride in the work they do with both new clients and their many repeat customers. Grape Ape was the word that Sailor Jerry used to name his secret purple tattoo pigment. Grape Ape Tattoo stays busy with tattoos, but is still kind of a secret. Just like Jerry’s formula.