Dr. Woo is Los Angeles's Most In-Demand Tattoo Artist

Dr. Woo is Los Angeles's Most In-Demand Tattoo Artist

The artist talks about branching out on his own, and setting up a secret shop in one of the city's most-visited neighborhoods.

The artist talks about branching out on his own, and setting up a secret shop in one of the city's most-visited neighborhoods.

Photography: Robin Harper

Text: Ian David Monroe

Tucked away in the courtyard of Los Angeles’s famed Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard (the west coast’s version of Broadway) sits Dr. Woo’s brand new studio. It is impossible to find. “Up the stairs, to the right at the door, left at the garden, behind the bamboo,” were the directions of one hotel employee. “Just across from the pool,” said another. “Let me walk you there,” a third finally offered.

As one of L.A.’s most in-demand tattoo artists, Dr. Woo likes that his space can't be found—it is called Suite X at the Hideaway, after all. "The only people that find this place, find it on accident," chimes his assistant, adding, "We don't have a public phone line. It would just be ringing all day." With over one million ardent followers hooked to his Instagram account, that seems about right.

That feed, @_dr_woo_, if you don't already follow it, acts as a digital portfolio of his delicate, highly-detailed, single-needle work. Poke around some photos and you'll find a pup on Miley Cyrus, a bird on Sam Smith, and a camera on Brooklyn Beckham. By using only one needle, Woo is able to create intricate, often geometric designs that have an uncanny lightness. They are at once modern and timeless (everything you want in art), which is why so many are clamoring to get an appointment.

The juxtaposition of Woo’s serene private studio enveloped by the bustling consumerism of the street outside, hiding in plain sight, could not better reflect the state of his career. Mention Dr. Woo to anyone and they will instantly know his work—thanks, in large part, to his endless celebrity clientele. Tell them you have an appointment, and they'll ask you how you did it. In this regard, he is at once accessible and unreachable, and on a daily basis, conscious of over-exposure, of being only a flash-in-the-pan. There are fine lines in his work, and a fine line in his own celebrity status. "That hype can accelerate so quickly [today], but it could also just stop in seconds. It's easy to get distracted by all the things around. So sometimes you need to settle, you have to nurture those things, but at the same time take time for yourself, and just be calm. Not be in a tornado." For those lucky enough to invest in a Woo original, that desire for longevity should be comforting. Framed art can be taken down. Tattoos are forever.

Images courtesy of Dr. Woo

The new three-room, artfully decorated space marks an important moment in Woo’s life—a leaving of the nest, if you will. Previously, he spent a decade working at the Shamrock Social Club, under the tutelage of living legend Mark Mahoney. On his day-one mentor, Woo has nothing but the very best to say, “I owe everything to Mark and the Shamrock. That’s my foundation of tattooing, and that’s where I learned everything, and that’s the Holy Grail, in my eyes, of classic real tattooing and art.” There were practical reasons for going solo. "I really could have stayed and worked at Mark's forever So, you know it was tough to leave, but everyone grows and you go in different in directions. I started there when I was young, and now I have two kids, I have a wife, my own family."

To celebrate his branching out, Woo hosted a private party at the studio last week (April 18), sponsored by Beats. Father John Misty performed a few tracks and Zane Lowe DJed. While professionally the event marked an opening, it could be better described as a housewarming. “I have friends and designers who will just hang on the couch with their laptops and just work down here. I have friends, if they are having a meeting, they can have a meeting here. It's just kind of an interesting place to come and spit ideas you know,” he says of his workplace.

Even when friends do not populate the studio, their presence is everywhere. “My friend Nate Kostechko painted that. This is by my jiu-jitsu teacher, who is also a fashion photographer, so he took this photo. My friend Andre Vippolis shot that. These incense chambers are from Shin [Takizawa Shinsuke], he owns a sick ass brand called Neighborhood, so I collect those. My friends helped me build my motorcycle. I mean, everything in here represents a community of friends that come together."

There are traces of his family, too. Colorful drawings done by his son hang right next to the outlines of his own work. "I love looking at his art because it's pure. There are no obstacles there. He's just pouring out what he feels. It's very honest. Parents are always proud of their kids."

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