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Longtime tattoo artists open Mohawk Revenge in Hadley

  • Al Valenta, left, Cassandra Setter (holding son, Dexter Cox, 1) and Joe Cox of Mohawk Revenge tattoo shop in Hadley<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • The Mohawk Revenge tattoo parlor in Hadley<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

Local tattoo artists Al Valenta and Joe Cox remember a time when tattooing was something simpler, something reserved for those on the fringes of society and a far cry from the celebrity and glamour of the industry today.

The pair recently joined forces to open Mohawk Revenge, a new tattoo parlor on Route 9 that aims to bring that old-school style back.

Valenta owned Loonar Tattoo in a mall-type structure at 206 Russell St., (Route 9) in Hadley for three yaers, from 2010 until this year. (The shop had been open at that spot under another owner since 1999.)

Meanwhile, Cox — a Massachusetts native who previously owned Cobra Chrome Tattoo in Holyoke — had recently moved back into the area with his girlfriend, Cassandra Setter, and their son Dexter, 1 ½ , after living and working as a tattoo artist in New Orleans for the past four years, where they owned the Hubba Hubba Tattoo shop.

He said the couple decided to move north when they realized the did not want to raise their son in New Orleans.

Initially, he planned to open a tattoo shop locally on his own, but instead decided to join forces with Valenta, a long-time friend.

“I couldn’t put a tattoo shop down the street and compete with him,” said Cox. “It’s just a rude thing to do.”

“So I said, ‘Why don’t we get the old shop back, and join forces?’” said Valenta. “And we were like, brilliant idea!”

Valenta closed the shop in February, in preparation of going into business with Cox. The pair on March 1 opened their new shop under the new name and in the larger location, just a few doors down at 206 Russell St.

In addition to Valenta and Cox tattoo artist Brian Papa will soon be joining them when he moves back to the area from Seattle.

Cox and Valenta said their new shop to focus more on the traditional style of tattooing, which they feel is becoming lost under a new wave of artistic sophistication in the industry.

According to Cox, the original culture of the tattoo industry was much different than the one seen today because tattoo style back then was very naive and the people who did it were tattooers, not artists.

“Now you have artists doing it, and it’s becoming more sophisticated, which is in some ways good,” said Cox, “But the naivety of the work originally is what’s attractive about it, and when you have artists taking something that was naively drawn and making it better, it takes some of the tooth out of it. You’re taking something that’s kind of low-brow and trying to make it high end.”

Cox, who attended art school at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and has had his paintings displayed in art shows, noted the stark financial difference between people who get tattooed and those who buy fine art. He said he believes tattooing should be more affordable.

“I think people take tattooing way to seriously now,” said Cox. “Not that it shouldn’t be done well; of course it should be done well and clean. But it should also be fairly affordable. I mean, I’m not going to tattoo someone for a dollar, but I’ll work with people.”

He said he thinks the current trend of sophistication may begin to alienate and frustrate people who simply love tattoos.

“I think the simplicity of it needs to come back,” said Cox. “The sophistication isn’t really doing much for it. The people that will always get tattooed, when and if the popularity and the craze of it goes away will be the same people that always have: mechanics, musicians, artists, kind of people on the fringes.”

“When I started getting tattooed, I was doing it because it was fun, kind of edgy and dangerous,” said Valenta, of the traditionalist style. “And that’s kind of what we’re going for with the new shop, that’s what we want to get back to. It’s a handcraft, passed down from one person to another. The process hasn’t changed, but the attitude has.”

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