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Actor Dave Bautista opens tattoo marvel in Tampa

The “Guardians of the Galaxy” star has partnered with his personal tattoo artist to open a high-end tattoo studio on Kennedy Boulevard.
Marvel actor and former WWE star Dave Bautista watches as tattoo artist John Kural works to finish a tattoo sleeve on the arm of Mia Lanz, 41, of Tampa at DC Society Ink in Tampa. Bautista and Kural are the owners of the Kennedy Boulevard tattoo studio, which opened in January.
Marvel actor and former WWE star Dave Bautista watches as tattoo artist John Kural works to finish a tattoo sleeve on the arm of Mia Lanz, 41, of Tampa at DC Society Ink in Tampa. Bautista and Kural are the owners of the Kennedy Boulevard tattoo studio, which opened in January. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Apr. 15|Updated Apr. 21

TAMPA — On busy Kennedy Boulevard across the street from the University of Tampa athletic fields, three tall black flags with “Tattoo” emblazoned on them flap in the wind outside of a nondescript building. It’s the only indication that inside the shop, one of the world’s most famous movie stars has realized his dream of bringing a tattoo clubhouse to life.

Once inside, the name is revealed: DC Society Ink. Set in bold block letters against a charcoal brick wall with red backlighting, the logo looks like the cover of a comic book. It’s fitting, since the shop is the brainchild of Marvel actor Dave Bautista.

Bautista, who has a house in the Tampa Bay area, is the star of the zombie heist hit Army of the Dead and the Oscar-winning sci-fi film Dune, not to mention his star-making turn in the Marvel universe as Drax the Destroyer, the lovably dense alien in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. But this recent venture hits closer to home.

Actor and former WWE star Dave Bautista has opened DC Society Ink on Kennedy Boulevard near the University of Tampa. The high-end tattoo studio has industrial flourishes like chain-link fence paired with gleaming floors and gothic furnishings.
Actor and former WWE star Dave Bautista has opened DC Society Ink on Kennedy Boulevard near the University of Tampa. The high-end tattoo studio has industrial flourishes like chain-link fence paired with gleaming floors and gothic furnishings. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

He recently visited the shop while on a brief break back home in Tampa. Sporting a red Washington Nationals cap from his childhood hometown of Washington, D.C., he admits he is tired. He’s in the middle of an “exhausting” shoot in Atlanta for Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3, in what he has said is his last installment in the film franchise. He spends hours getting made up into the gray leathery skin of Drax, an alien covered in markings and tattoos, not unlike the former professional wrestler who plays him.

Related: Dave Bautista does not want to be a movie star

He will spend the rest of April wrapping up the movie, and also what sounds like a very funny Guardians Christmas special coming to the Disney+ streaming service later this year.

Then on May 2, he heads to Philadelphia to star in M. Night Shyamalan’s next film, Knock at the Cabin, another sign of his growing status as a respected performer in the entertainment industry. The lauded director praised Bautista, saying via Twitter, “You have shown strength not in the obvious ways but in choosing risky roles and making yourself vulnerable.”

So just as his acting career is really taking off, he opens a high-end tattoo studio in Tampa. It’s been a longtime dream.

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Related: Dave Bautista adopts abused Tampa puppy, offers reward

“I’m just the money guy,” he said, waving to the many architectural embellishments he dreamed up that took more than a year to put into a space that used to be a boxing gym. His partner in the enterprise is his personal tattoo artist John Kural, who has been operating in the Tampa Bay area for more than 25 years.

“This is completely personal for me. I don’t need this, my career is doing great, but this is like a clubhouse for me,” Bautista said. “I wanted to create an environment for people who want to get a tattoo but they don’t want to go into one of those tattoo parlors. It’s intimidating and scary and your average person is uncomfortable in that environment.”

Ishmael Dunbar, 28, of Bradenton uses his phone to take a look at a new neck tattoo from tattoo artist Rico at DC Society Ink in Tampa. In the background at left is Colin Jones, 28, of Wesley Chapel, who is getting a tattoo from tattoo artist Caleb Krieg, 37, of Bradenton. Dunbar’s neck tattoo is the name of his sister Destiny, who passed away two years ago.
Ishmael Dunbar, 28, of Bradenton uses his phone to take a look at a new neck tattoo from tattoo artist Rico at DC Society Ink in Tampa. In the background at left is Colin Jones, 28, of Wesley Chapel, who is getting a tattoo from tattoo artist Caleb Krieg, 37, of Bradenton. Dunbar’s neck tattoo is the name of his sister Destiny, who passed away two years ago. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

They have brought in more than half a dozen highly regarded tattoo artists who fetch up to $300 per hour to create intricate skin designs. The name DC Society Ink comes from Bautista’s childhood home (and his motto “Dream Chaser”), and also their hope that they create a space where tattoo artists and people who love tattoos feel comfortable hanging out.

“We wanted to make it a ‘society’ in that we have a feeling of family, but also a higher class society,” Kural said. “We wanted to create an experience.”

Actor and former WWE star Dave Bautista, left, and tattoo artist John Kural partnered to create DC Society Ink, a high-end tattoo shop in Tampa. Posters for Bautista's many movies line the wall.
Actor and former WWE star Dave Bautista, left, and tattoo artist John Kural partnered to create DC Society Ink, a high-end tattoo shop in Tampa. Posters for Bautista's many movies line the wall. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Tattooing goes back centuries, and in the past few decades it has emerged from the shady image of outlaws and subculture to a mainstream form of self-expression. Roughly 30 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo, according to a poll by market researcher Ipsos, and that number climbs to 40 percent for those under 35. Bautista’s Avengers: Infinity War co-star Scarlett Johansson has nine tattoos, including a huge piece across her back with a lamb surrounded by roses.

Bautista’s tattoo shop has a steampunk vibe, with gleaming black terrazzo floors and industrial flourishes like exposed duct work and a chain-link fence offering a peep at the artists at work from the lobby. There are nods to the owner’s movie career with his movie posters along the walls, such as Blade Runner 2049 and the 2019 buddy action comedy Stuber.

It also has luxe touches, with oversized black velvet seating and customer consultation tables that are handmade slabs of knotty oak and cedar held up on cast-iron bases made of cogs and gears. A soundtrack plays hip-hop and rock, but you won’t hear that buzzing sound so readily associated with typical tattoo parlors. The tattoo machines are specially made to operate silently as tiny needles jab skin with ink, like mini sewing machines. Kural thinks the quiet is a good stress reducer.

Movie posters featuring characters played by actor and former WWE star Dave Bautista line the walls at the entrance of DC Society Ink in Tampa. It is decorated with industrial flourishes combined with luxe velvet seating, gleaming terrazzo floors and handmade wooden tables.
Movie posters featuring characters played by actor and former WWE star Dave Bautista line the walls at the entrance of DC Society Ink in Tampa. It is decorated with industrial flourishes combined with luxe velvet seating, gleaming terrazzo floors and handmade wooden tables. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Mia Lanz, 41, a Tampa fitness and life coach, was in the shop recently to have Kural continue work on her first multicolor series of images over the length of her right arm, called a “sleeve” in tattoo parlance. She will be needled over the course of four to six hours in multiple sessions.

“When people are younger and get tattoos they usually regret it,” Lanz said as Get Back, the hit song by rapper Ludacris, played over the shop’s speakers from her Apple Watch playlist. “In my case I’m a little older, and that’s when you know what you want.”

In an earlier session she had a vivid multicolored tiger tattooed on her lower arm, and Kural was adding a three-point crown to the tiger, a bright pink hibiscus and a hummingbird to the collage that ran from her shoulder to her wrist. Every image has meaning to Lanz, who projects herself as a fierce single mom of two “princes.”

Pictured in a mirror on the wall, Mia Lanz, 41, of Tampa gets additions to her tattoo sleeve from tattoo artist John Kural at DC Society Ink in Tampa.
Pictured in a mirror on the wall, Mia Lanz, 41, of Tampa gets additions to her tattoo sleeve from tattoo artist John Kural at DC Society Ink in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“Some people hang their art on the wall and some people wear it,” Lanz said. “It’s like an expression of what they have been through.”

The artists at DC Society Ink do everything from vivid watercolor tattoos to time-consuming “dotwork” that uses a series of small spots to create a striking visual effect. Russian-born artist Julia Penza, who moved from fine art to creating delicate and intricate images on skin, is one of their most recent hires.

They’ve also enlisted Big Jay the Barber, whose real name is Justin McNab. He made his name helming Razorz Edge Barbershop, a favorite of WWE wrestlers and local celebrities. For DC Society Ink, he performs scalp micropigmentation (called SMP for short) on balding customers who get a close shave on the hair they do have. The barber then enhances the hairline using micro-needles to deposit pigment on the scalp.

Tattoo artists, pictured through the fence in the lobby of DC Society Ink in Tampa, work on clients at the high-end tattoo studio owned by actor Dave Bautista and tattoo artist John Kural. At left, tattoo artist Vianna (Vee) Castro, 29, of Brandon works on the leg of Dayron Perez, 29, of Tampa. At right, tattoo artist Julia Penza, 38, of Hollywood works on the arm of Kjersti Schwartz, 37, of Wesley Chapel.
Tattoo artists, pictured through the fence in the lobby of DC Society Ink in Tampa, work on clients at the high-end tattoo studio owned by actor Dave Bautista and tattoo artist John Kural. At left, tattoo artist Vianna (Vee) Castro, 29, of Brandon works on the leg of Dayron Perez, 29, of Tampa. At right, tattoo artist Julia Penza, 38, of Hollywood works on the arm of Kjersti Schwartz, 37, of Wesley Chapel. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“It’s a cosmetic tattoo that makes it look like you just got a fresh buzz cut,” McNab said as he patiently worked the head of Willie Cameron, a custom wheel and tire shop owner from Clearwater. It can take three to six hours over two or three sessions to slowly fade in a series of dots in a procedure that starts at $1,200.

“I was amazed to see after, what it comes out to be,” Cameron said. “I’m like, ‘Man, that looks just like hair.’”

Kural has been Bautista’s personal tattoo artist since 2006 and said he was “honored” to have been asked to join him in the enterprise. Bautista said it was a natural extension of their relationship and his circle of friends.

“This is a personal investment. It’s not going to be making me big money, I know that,” Bautista said. “But I have an investment in this because this is my community and this is what I love. These are my people.”

Actor and former WWE star Dave Bautista sits at the front desk and entrance to DC Society Ink in Tampa. Bautista and John Kural opened the shop in January. The name is a play on Bautista’s personal mantra “Dream Chaser” and the fact he grew up in a rough neighborhood in the Washington, D.C., area.
Actor and former WWE star Dave Bautista sits at the front desk and entrance to DC Society Ink in Tampa. Bautista and John Kural opened the shop in January. The name is a play on Bautista’s personal mantra “Dream Chaser” and the fact he grew up in a rough neighborhood in the Washington, D.C., area. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
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