Spike TV’s “Ink Master” aired ten seasons from 2012 to 2018, and in 2017, Allegory Arts’ Eva Huber and Ulyss Blair appeared on the ninth season.
Huber was invited to the competitive reality show earlier—the producers of “Ink Master” had contacted her for more than 10 years, reaching out to her multiple times via email and even visiting her shop in New York to try to persuade her to be a cast member.
Blair proudly admitted that Huber was the main attraction.
“They wanted nothing to do with me,” he said.
The illustrated couple knew what to expect from the “reality” show — they knew there would be very little reality to it.
“Tattooing is an underground culture that is against the mainstream, and what’s more mainstream than being on someone’s TV at the end of the day?” Huber said. “I was a little nervous about [protecting tattoo secrets], but there’s nothing on that show that exploits that. It exploits what people can do when they’re under severe pressure.
“The circumstances are so constrained and trite — it’s not like working in a shop,” she said. “Everything is on their schedule, not how it actually is, which is our schedule and the client’s. On the show, you have 20 minutes to do this, where in real life you have 2 hours. We’ve worked our entire lives to be the best we could be, and a show like that has the ability to portray you as somebody you’re not. And a big part of tattooing is your reputation, so if they portray you as one way when you’re really another, just cutting and pasting certain things you say or do, people are going to think you’re something completely different.”
Droll and abrupt, Blair chimed in, “We didn’t even watch it. It’s not real. You know how a tattoo shop is. The banter is amazing. Everybody’s relaxed and comfortable. And you are there to do something that [both the artist and the customer] want to do.
“The big internal conflict that I had about Ink Master was that we have friends—we spent our whole life to something that we love. I’m completely enamored with tattooing. I’ve bled my entire life into it trying to get to a certain goal. And TV was not the goal. Being the best tattooer that I could ever be is the goal and I always fight for that.”
Huber declined the producers’ solicitations for more than a decade before finally agreeing to be a member of the show.
“They wanted a female to be on the show because that’s something that’s easily exploited,” she said. “But I didn’t feel like I was in a place where I felt like I could represent myself well enough.”
Then, soon after opening Allegory Arts, Huber agreed to go on the show to promote Florence and its new tattoo shop-art studio hybrid.
Blair is completely against “mainstreaming our weird little art culture,” but he said the recognition Allegory got from “Ink Master” brought people to Florence from all over the world.
“We wanted to bring a tattoo shop that felt like a business, not like a clubhouse.”
Both are true advocates of Florence’s growth. They really want to see the city brought to life with unique art and interesting people.
“When we were kids, it was just this bombed-out husk of a town,” Blair said before praising Florence’s progress. “We wanted to bring a tattoo shop that felt like a business, not like a clubhouse. I want to have a good, nice business.”
“It’s nice, too, bringing all the artwork and other artists that we’ve met while traveling all over the world to the studio because it’s also an art gallery,” Huber said. “It’s something that we have strived toward to set us apart. We’re licensed as a gallery and a tattoo shop.”
Eva pointed out the importance of original work.
“Our shop is just filled with artwork and pieces that we’ve collected from all over, and it’s also clean. It’s sterile. It also is very much a reflection of who we are, which are artists who have traveled to a lot of places. It’s a fine line. You don’t want to come across as hoity-toity, but we want to make people feel comfortable.”
It seems that Huber’s main drive is her passion for unique art—art that means something to someone, not just something pretty to look at.
“Everyone draws inspiration from really great references. And talking with the client and working with them is where the collaboration comes from.”
And that collaboration is what creates a unique piece.
“It doesn’t even have to mean anything, but it means something to you because you’re the only person walking around with it,” Ulyss said.
Original pieces of truly cared-about artwork are unique, special and very real. Although the couple didn’t watch much of “Ink Master” or many television shows at all, they don’t believe the producers portrayed them in a negative way. But they portrayed them in a very unrealistic way. Both are truly real, and real recognizes real.
So if you’re real, go see Ulyss and Eva at Allegory Arts in downtown Florence—and stay real.