An Interview with Matt Arriola

By Nicki Kasper


Let’s start with who you are and where you work….

My name is Matt Arriola. I work by appointment at Spotlight Tattoo in Los Angeles where I’ve been for almost a year.

Tell us about your tattoo history. Who do you credit for teaching you the trade? How long have you been at it?

I’ve been fascinated with tattoos since I was a little kid in Idaho… I can’t remember any special moment where I knew it was my thing, that probably came later as I got involved with skateboarding and playing music in punk and hardcore bands in Idaho. That’s what kind of led me into tattooing. I’ve  liked to draw since I was a little kid and when I was about 18 I decided I wanted to tattoo.

I went to every shop in town with a resume and a bunch of drawings asking for apprenticeships. Haha!! Totally the way you’re not supposed to do it! I spent every day and night copying my favorite artist’s work out of tattoo magazines I bought at the gas station. I think my friends and family thought I was nuts!! Anyway after many denials, I finally landed an apprenticeship with Sean Wyett at Black Cat Tattoo. I bailed out early on my apprenticeship and moved to Seattle. This was about 6 months into it. Once in Seattle with no money and a whole 7 months of tattooing under my belt I found it difficult to find a job. Haha!! Once again I was runnin all over the place with my tiny shitty portfolio trying to get hired. I did everything wrong but maybe I did the wrong thing fast enough and hard enough that it became the right thing?? Anyway…finally David Moerke gave me a shot at 85th Street Tattoo which no longer exists. I never apprenticed after that but God bless the Sarge for taking me in man, cause I was cold and hungry.


From that point on I met some very influential people and was able to learn a lot from them. This was about 2001-2002. I spent the next 12ish years working in Seattle… the last five of which I owned and operated Liberty Tattoo in the beautiful University District. I learned so much from everyone there!! That was probably the highlight of my career so far. I loved that shop. But as things go, I’ve never been one for sitting still so I sold it and moved to Brooklyn, New York and went to work at Three Kings Tattoo in Green Point. Had an amazing time working there, what a great crew of people. At the time it was owned by Matt Marcus, Myles Karr, and Alex McWatt and only had that one location. Huge crew. Lots of young tattoo artists and a couple old ones. Best place I could’ve started in New York. I was super busy with walk ins and just when the big custom stuff was really rollin, I once again got restless and decided to move back to Seattle.

God bless those dudes they ran a tight ship and treated me awesome and I made some of my best friends while in New York. I was there about 9 months or so…went back to Seattle and worked at Liberty Tattoo for a couple years under new ownership, and once again after I had re established my footing there, decided to move to Boise, Idaho to be closer to my family. While in Boise I got to work at Inkvision Tattoo. Business was really slow and to be fair my constant traveling did not help with that situation. I met my girlfriend in Boise. I had been traveling to LA and guest spotting at Spotlight for a few years at this point and Bob offered me a job, which I left on the table for about a year and a half. I decided it would be in my best interest to work in a bigger cultural hub like LA as I wasn’t ready to return to Seattle, I had no home base clientele anywhere at this point, and who can turn down working for Bob and Charlie Roberts!!! What an opportunity. So I grabbed it by the balls and moved from Boise to LA. I was in Boise for 7 months. During all of this time I was traveling quite a bit. Kind of a bunch actually. I’ve now been in LA for almost a year..


How old were you when you became interested in art? Was there someone in your life who helped get you started?

I’ve been drawing and painting pictures as long as I can remember. I don’t recall anyone helping me get started I think it was just a natural outlet for me. My family was pretty supportive for the most part so nothing really stood in my way or prevented me from doing it. I slowed down a lot through high school but by the time I was done with that, the tattoo thing became very interesting to me.

What made you want to start tattooing?

Skateboarding and music. I wanted to be a pro skateboarder. Then I wanted to be a rock star… Then I became a tattooer. Still kinda wish I was a rock star!!! Ha!!


What is your favorite subject matter to tattoo?

I love tattooing the standard archetypal images that have withstood the test of time. I like to see how well I can excecute one thing without a bunch of other things all around it. For instance, I think a lot of times just an eagle looks great without anything riding on it or smoke and lightning and crazy background everywhere. I like the impact and beauty of that one image, unmollested, whether it’s an eagle, Panther, dragon, spider etc…so a lot of the stuff I do you’ll notice is a single thing without other stuff and things all about it. Not to say I’ll never do background it looks great on a lot of Japanese tattoos it’s gotta be there!! And obviously I fuckin LOVE tattooing spiders!!! And Jesus. Anything having to do with Jesus. Christ heads, crucifictions, ressurection. Standard or psychedelic. Whatever as long as it’s not disrespectful to the Christ man. I would also like to do more Hindu and Tibetan and Chinese inspired tats. Big ones. I wanna do big tats.

What styles are you most drawn to and why?

I’m definitely most drawn to western tattoo imagery and Asian art. My earliest influences were Sailor Jerry and Ed Hardy. Nothing’s really changed since then. I still think that’s the shit and I try to find out what influenced those guys and then what influenced those guys and then those guys… and so on infinitum. I love religious art!!! East and west, although I have a very special place in my heart for Christian art.


What other mediums interest you?

Painting and writing. I think someday I’m gonna write a book.

What do you wish you had more time to focus on?

I wish I had more time to focus on tattoos and painting!!! I gotta travel less. I keep trying to stop. I don’t think it’s that beneficial for me anymore, it seems to get in the way of what I really want to do. It’s been valuable and I’ve learned a lot of things that I couldn’t have learned any other way and have met some of my very best friends and people that have changed my life, but at this point…I just want to tattoo, paint and be left the fuck alone. Haha!! Sounds terrible but it’s true..


Describe your perfect tattoo client… What do you wish all clients knew?

My perfect tattoo client would be fuckin loaded with way too much time on there hands maybe even jobless… They would have no other tattoos and would be completely obsessed with my artwork and would only want tattoos from me!! They would also be extremely popular with a million friends that were just like them!! And they would be fun to spend time with…all million of them!

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How can people contact you for appointments?

Email is best.

To see more of Matt’s work:

Instagram: @mattarriola

Facebook: Matt Arriola.

Check out Matt’s video interview & watch him do a TATMatt Arriola Video: $1.99


*Also– Pick up a copy of Matt’s issue, TAM #16 HERE, (w/Jason Brooks & Dana Helmuth), for an in-depth look at his life, career and excellent art! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED– BLOG SPECIAL $9.99

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