Tattoo: Mark Mahoney’s Shamrock Social Club

The California Heritage Museum presents “Tattoo: Mark Mahoney’s Shamrock Social Club.” Primary photography by Markus Cuff. Exhibition on display through Mar 29, 2015. Museum hours: Wed-Sun. 11AM-4PM. The California Heritage Museum is located at 2612 Main St, Santa Monica, CA. Featuring portraits and ink masterpieces by Mark Mahoney, East, Freddy Negrete, Isiah Negrete, Louie Perez and Woo, and more, it’s well worth a visit.

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TATTOO: The Shamrock Social Club

October 18, 2014 – March 29, 2015

The slogan of the Shamrock Social Club, a tattoo parlor on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, is “a place where the elite and the underworld meet”. The store, frequented by members of Los Angeles’s famous street gangs, is also the tattoo parlor of preference for many major Hollywood celebrities.

Its proprietor, Mark Mahoney, is known as a “legendary” artist, who started professionally in 1977, tattooing full time in the motorcycle clubhouses in Boston. Mark came out to the West Coast in 1980.  He got to Long Beach where his friends were the outlaws, the L.A. punk rockers, and the old, gray-beard motorcycle guys. It was the first time Mark saw the fine-line, black-and-gray tattoos that were to become his trademark style.

His earliest clients included punk rockers such as Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. Later, he inked hip-hop rivals Tupac Shakur and the Notorious BIG. He tattooed a sparrow on Johnny Depp’s arm, after the actor played Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean.

tattoo banner

The Shamrock is three miles from the Dolby Theatre, where the Academy Awards are held. During the past decade, it has served a parade of Hollywood personalities, among them Kate Blanchett and fellow Oscar winners, Mickey Rourke, Angelina Jolie, Jared Leto and Brad Pitt. Its artists have even inked several celebrity Brits on a pilgrimage to the Strip: Fearne Cotton, Russell Brand, David Beckham, Harry Styles, and Adele.

As if adorning movie stars were not enough, Mahoney recently began a film career of his own, and will shortly appear in a cameo role in the New York crime drama Blood Ties.

Mahoney – mid-50s, slick of hair and pointy of shoe – began his career as a punk tattoo artist in Boston in 1977, at a time when the practice had been banned throughout his native state of Massachusetts due to an outbreak of hepatitis – supposedly traced to insanitary tattoo parlors. He moved to New York and later Los Angeles, where he developed his signature monochrome style, based on the body art of Latino prison-gang members.

Although Mahoney opened a tattoo parlor of his own in 1985, according to a recent profile in the Los Angeles Times, he was forced to give it up after four years because he was in the grip of heroin addiction. He struggled through rehab and returned to tattoo art, against the advice of counselors, who told him the work would send him spiraling into the same bad habits.

Mahoney proved them wrong, marrying and having two children before, in 2002, he opened the Shamrock Social Club on Sunset Strip, just yards from the Viper Room club, where River Phoenix died of an overdose in 1993. The establishment is called a “social club” because customers are encouraged to mingle and to play pool at the table in the waiting area.

The studio is decorated with images of three-leaf clovers and images of the Virgin Mary, relics of Mahoney’s Catholic Irish upbringing. Whether you’re from the underworld or the elite, a custom tattoo costs $500 for a single sitting, and into the thousands for more complex designs. Clients who want their bodies inked by the boss will wait as long as six months for an appointment with Mahoney, who typically works the late shift, from 5:30 pm to 1:00 am.

“I wanted a place where people would feel welcome,” Mahoney has said. “People remember the nights they got tattooed… I wanted to make that as memorable and as nice an experience as it can be.”

This exhibition was funded, in part, by grants from The Wells Fargo Foundation, The LLWW Foundation, Copyland Los Angeles, the City of Santa Monica Cultural Affairs Department, Tom and Mary Ann Hays, Dawson Design, Pamela Singleton, Helen and L. O. Harding, DLR Electric, Dermot H. McQuarrie, The Victorian/Calamigos Ranch, Grand American Inc., as well as generous corporate, foundation and private individual donations.

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