All is solemn, still and shrouded in the serenity of semi-darkness.
In this surrealistic setting, you catch sight of a statue of a raven, regal, its beak wide open as if to cry out in warning.
A bouquet of dead red roses tied to a midnight-black diaphanous drape.
Butterflies, wings unfurled in kaleidoscopic glory, entombed under glass.
A skull gazing, eyeless, at a bunch of bottles of ink.
And a black-clad woman with a shock of long, purple hair who is reposing on a lipstick-red loveseat fringed in gold.
Her image is reflected in a floor-to-ceiling fancy-framed mirror that would look equally at home at the Palace of Versailles or in a carnival fun house.
Welcome to the studio of tattoo artist Tina Rakotoarivony, whose ink includes the wild red rose climbing up her left forearm.
Tina, who describes herself as a woman who speaks her mind and who follows rules, opened Tina R Tattoos in 2020, some two decades after she got her first tattoo, a black rose that is in full bloom on her chest.
“I got it when I was 18,” she says. “It’s a traditional style. I designed it to work around my entire body – I just kept extending it.”
She holds out her right wrist — it’s inked with a four-sided treble clef, a reference to her musical career.
Tina, a New York City native, spent the first 16 years of her life in Manhattan.
That’s when her parents, who are from Madagascar, decided to move to Middle Island, which, as its name implies, is smack the middle of Long Island, or depending on your viewpoint, right in the middle of nowhere.
A music major at Stony Brook University, Tina always figured she’d be a singer in a band.
Which she was. For a time.
“I met my husband when he asked me to be in his band,” she says. “It was dark, heavy metal. I sang and also played keyboards every once in a while.”
Tina, who was always drawing, decided to become a tattoo artist.
“My husband encouraged me to do it,” she says, adding that she initially hesitated because “I was afraid of hurting people.”
After a two-year apprenticeship in New Jersey, Tina moved to Astoria and started working for The Queens Ink Tattoo.
“Opening my own shop was a calculated risk,” she says. “But calculated risks are OK.”
Inspired by the Gothic aesthetic and nature, Tina creates realistic designs that range from birds and berries to budding flowers.
Recently, she inked a black snake that slithers from a woman’s hip down to the ankle.
The 10-hour procedure was done in sessions of three to four hours each.
“I love challenging myself because it helps me see how I’ve improved artistically,” she says. “When I’m putting designs together and perfecting techniques, there’s always a learning curve.
Tina flips through one of her look books.
A sinister skull. A cute kitten. An avian artwork featuring a bevy of birds – a cardinal, a robin and a blue jay. A daring dragon fending off arrows with its curvaceous claws.
Tina sketches the design then creates a carbon stencil to transfer the outlines of the image to human flesh, filling it in with colors.
“People always ask me whether it hurts to get a tattoo,” she says. “It feels like a cat scratching you on a sunburn, but the pain goes away.”
These days, Tina’s taking things one tattoo at a time.
“I have no idea where all this is leading,” she says. I didn’t even know that I was going to be here. I don’t know where life is taking me.”
She’s not overly concerned; things will work out one way or another.
There is one thing, though, that she needs to address.
She’s been so busy and booked that she hasn’t had time to add any tattoos to her own body, which is the repository for at least 10 (some are on a large scale and could be counted as more than one).
Tina glances at the raven statue and throws her purple mane over her shoulder.
She doesn’t have a raven tattoo – yet.
Copyright 2023 by Nancy A. Ruhling