Local artists find body best canvas

Cory Sheppard, owner operator of Punkteur, shows one of his finished tattoos of an anchor on the inside of his elbow.

Cory Sheppard, owner operator of Punkteur, shows one of his finished tattoos of an anchor on the inside of his elbow.

Melissa Dunson

The next door neighbor, postman, emergency room doctor, Mr. Rogers and your grandfather are all part of a growing culture consisting of millions of individuals infiltrating society.

The citizens of Joplin have no reason to fear this growing army of peaceful aliens, their common bond is borne from the ancient art of body modification, specifically piercings and tattoos.

Cory Sheppard, owner operator of Punkteur, a local tattoo and piercing parlor, said there is a whole culture of people bound together by their love for body modification. Conventions dedicated to this ancient art travel across the country bringing their culture with them.

“There’s definitely a world of these people,” Sheppard said. “There’s millions of us all spread out.”

Through society’s growing acceptance of tattoos and piercings and the proliferation of body modification magazines like Skin and the online Body Modification Ezine, an increasing number of people are taking the plunge and getting the piercing or tattoo they have been dreaming about. Sheppard said the parlor’s average customer age ranges from 18 to 35-years-old, but has worked on someone as old as 70-years-old who wanted Sheppard to touchup a tattoo from World War II.

Despite body modifications’ growing popularity, Punkteur’s staff thinks a strong stigma is still associated with the owners of visible tattoos and piercings.

“The shop creates a huge bubble,” Sheppard said. “People walk in here and think we have all the coolest stuff, but if they saw me on the street, they wouldn’t talk to me.”

Sheppard attributes the attitudes to stereotypes and the fact most people are afraid of change.

“People won’t even look you in the eye,” said Derek Wieberg, tattoo artist apprentice at Punkteur.

Sheppard said the sad thing about those stereotypes is unless two people just really rub each other the wrong way, body modifiers are a welcoming and easygoing group.

“These are the nicest people you’ll ever meet,” Sheppard said. “It’s those people who stop and say, ‘Oh my god’ – nobody wants to hear that. They assume we’re the crazy people because we put ourselves through pain, but we’re just a bunch of artists.”

Body modifiers consider themselves artists in the purest sense whose clientele are their walking canvases.

“I’m an artist anyway, the thing with art is though, most artists who draw on a canvas don’t get to be famous until their dead,” Sheppard said. “This is a little more sacred to me, it’s living art.”

Wieberg said his passion for tattoos started as a passion for art.

“I draw on everything, why not people,” he said.

Besides copying pre-made designs from magazines or their design catalogs, the staff of Punkteur does custom work, originally created by the tattoo artists’ minds. Sheppard said popular tattoos include hearts and butterflies on the lower back for women and tribal designs for men, but Sheppard said he gets bored of these popular designs, and when body modifiers get bored, they begin to practice their art on each other.

“I would much rather do custom work,” he said. “Anytime we’ve got nothing going on and we’re bored we start piercing and tattooing each other. I would get a tattoo from any of the people here.”

Sheppard is happy to help his customers in any way he can and will tattoo any part of the body, but said as a matter of principle he won’t do anything racist, hate based or that he feels is vulgarly offensive or thinks will ruin their life. He thinks it is a good tattoo artist’s job to make sure the customer really understands the implications of the tattoo they are about to get and to intervene when necessary.

“Occasionally I make decisions for people,” Sheppard said. “My favorite thing is to tell people that this tattoo will last them longer than the $20,000 car they bought.”

As for his tattoos, Sheppard said he doesn’t and won’t regret any of them because they all represent important things in his life.

“I’m putting everything on me I want to take with me to the grave, it’s a map of me,” he said. “The only reason to ever regret is because of other people’s opinions, and I think I’m solid enough not to cave. This is between me and God.”