Bridgeport tattoo artist makes his mark on ‘Ink Master’

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If you’ve been inked by ES Barraza at Forever Custom Tattoo in Bridgeport, chances are you’ve left a satisfied customer.

Question is, did Dave Navarro and the judges on Spike TV’s “Ink Master” come away just as impressed?

Tune in to find out when Barraza appears on the season premier of the reality TV competition on Tuesday, July 16, at 10 p.m.

A viewing party will be held on the re-run of the premier Tuesday, July 23 at 8:30 p.m. at The Armstrong Gallery, 305 Knowlton St., Bridgeport, where Barraza operates an artist studio.

Now in its third season, “Ink Master” sees top tattoo artists battle it out in permanent ink for a $100,000 grand prize and an editorial feature in Inked magazine.

“I haven’t seen myself on TV yet, but it’s definitely a life-changing experience,” Barraza, of Bridgeport, said in an interview last week. “It’s like the Olympics of tattooing.”

Each episode of “Ink Master” puts the artists through their paces as they compete in various challenges designed to test their technical skills, as well as their on-the-spot creativity. Artists work on actual human subjects; their masterpieces, as well as their mistakes, can’t be undone.

Artists face a tough panel comprised of Navarro, the inked-up guitarist of Jane’s Addiction fame, along with renowned tattoo artists Chris Nunez and Oliver Peck. The “human canvases,” as the volunteer subjects are called, also have their say.

For Barraza, 37, “Ink Master” was one of the biggest challenges of his life — a “tattoo boot camp” that put his skills to the test. But, if his days as a graffiti artist taught him anything, it’s that he had to keep his cool.

“I’m not going to lie, it was stressful,” said Barraza, who was chosen from a pool of 3,000 contestants worldwide to appear on “Ink Master.” “But for the most part, tattooing has a lot to do with keeping your composure — that’s something I’m fortunate to have.”

Barraza also relied on experience. A graffiti artist who studied at the now-defunct Connecticut Institute of Art, Barraza’s “artistic vision” involves “breaking the mold of the urban artist.”

“Yes, I know how to do graffiti, but I am also a trained artist … I’m able to dive into all realms of art,” said Barraza, who is known for “his use of bold, hard lines, and smooth shading, which creates a clean and timeless tattoo,” according the “Ink Master” website.

Although Barraza spends a lot of time inking tattoos for clients, he’s pretty inked up himself. Among his 30-plus tatts is a thunderbird on his right forearm that “represents the freedom and power of my art.”

Now, viewers — including Barraza’s friends, family and clients — will find out if he held the same power over the “Ink Master” judges.

Check out a preview of “Ink Master,” below:

Scott Gargan

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