Much of America's tattooing tradition comes from the military, with Navy sailors being a strong part of tattooing history. It so happens that Josh Gargalione's interest in tattoos was sparked before his service time, but he still sees the clear connection.
"A lot of it has to do with the rite of passage," says Gargalione, who goes by the name "Uncle Josh" and tattoos out of Phoenix's Leap of Faith Tattoo and Body Piercing. "Young men join the military, and the tattoos are a way of solidifying their masculinity and adulthood."
Uncle Josh spent over four years on active duty in the Navy, which happened to lead to him getting his first tattoo while in Singapore from legendary tattooer Johnny Two Thumbs, but that wasn't what initially got the 37-year-old artist interested in tattooing.
"I got interested in tattoos from my grandfather, who was a World War II veteran and got his tattoos in Hawaii," Gargalione says. "I'd always been interested in tattoos. I've been drawing since I was 8, and I used to draw designs on myself. Then I started doing some hand-poked stuff on myself."
These days, the Los Angeles native has been tattooing for over 13 years and enjoys the traveling aspect of tattooing, particularly when it allows him to go see the members of his family who still live in Southern California. As much as he enjoys heading out to Orange County to do guest spots at shops like American Vintage, Uncle Josh says the real benefit of tattooing is the people you meet through the art form.
"I met my wife through tattooing. I did her first tattoo when she was 18," Gargalione says. "It's crazy how many cool people I've met through tattooing that I never would've met otherwise."
Though Uncle Josh doesn't mind doing any style of tattoo, his two passions are styles you don't often see from the same tattooer.
"My passions are American traditional and black-and-gray portraits," Gargalione says. "I tattoo like I draw, and I love to draw both of those styles, but I do all styles of tattoos."
Before beginning his time at Leap of Faith, 4121 N. 19th Ave., Uncle Josh worked at Tempe's Lady Luck. Unlike many tattooers who sour on their former places of employment, Gargalione doesn't hold any hard feelings toward his old shop, it was just time for him to move on and learn elsewhere.
"I'm always trying to learn and get better. That's why I came here [to Leap of Faith]," Gargalione says.
What are some of your tattoos? Everyone I've worked with has tattooed me, I think. They're just from different tattoo artists. I like the John Wayne portrait on the back of my leg. The "mom" tattoo is special because my grandfather had the same one.
What's a memorable tattoo you've done? I've had some crazy ones, but one that was really memorable to me just because of how much of an impact the guy had one me was this Korean War veteran. The stories he told me, and everything I learned for him just had such an influence on me. His reason for getting his body covered in tattoos was to give the coroners a good laugh.
What's the most important thing to you about a tattoo? That the customer goes away happy and gets exactly what they want. Tattoos are magical in that a bad one can bring your self-esteem way down, but a good one can bring your self-esteem way up. I've tattooed women where you can see their attitude go from hating themselves to loving themselves because of the tattoo. Whether it's three dots or a full backpiece, I treat every tattoo with the utmost respect, because it's a life-changing event for that person.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
What do you look for in an artist or a tattoo shop? If I get along with the guy, mostly. I let the tattoos speak for himself and just make sure his work is solid. It's really about getting along with the person doing your tattoo.
Would you change anything about your tattoos or tattooing if you could? I wouldn't change the world. I am who I am, and every milestone along the way got me here. They say you shouldn't trust a tattoo artist who doesn't have some bad tattoos, because then they won't know what not to do.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to someone getting their first tattoo? Research. Research. Research. Check both their internet portfolio and their physical book, so you know what you're getting. Don't approach someone who has a book full of Japanese-style tattoos for a black and grey, find someone with the style you want. And go meet them in person before you get tattooed to make sure you get along.