PARIS — A man with a business suit readies to pull the pin from his grenade head while standing next to a giant skull, as a roaring lion greets visitors coming in the front door. Medusa and her Celtic-looking snake hair travels across the window to the red, white and blue barber shop pole that sits on top of the stenciled rose and thorns.
Those who have walked or driven past 20 Market Square in Paris have likely noticed the eye-catching mural on the front windows and doors to Explosive Ink. This is exactly what owner Carlos Portillo wanted, as he hopes people will walk into his tattoo shop because of the window paintings.
“I painted it myself. … If they can see that I can do that stuff on the window and on top of everything do it all backwards and reversed [maybe they’ll want a tattoo],” he said. “It was fun.”
Portillo moved into his shop space in July 2015 but only recently painted the windows and door and begun tattooing in earnest once again. He’s stop doing excavation work in hopes he can make a living by tattooing. Currently, he’s accepting walk-ins and people can also call the shop to make an appointment.
On top of the tattoo parlor, Portillo is renovating the space to include a beauty salon and art gallery. Jennifer Kimball will run the beauty part of the shop and will soon do an apprenticeship for body piercing, which will offered at Explosive Ink once she’s completed her training. Portillo said he expects the beauty salon to open within the next month or two, depending on when he can get the state inspectors into the spot.
The longtime artist first got into tattooing about eight years ago after an ex-girlfriend saw his artwork and encouraged him to get inking. Portillo began using his own body as a canvas, tattooing on both of his arms as he is ambidextrous. Later on, he tattooed at Mystical Emporium in Auburn and worked under award-winning tattoo artist, Nathan Howard.
Inside his shop recently, he showed off his first tattoo, a black and gray cross he drew freehand, which is a nod to his father.
“I grew up in church. My father was a pastor. If I was going to be forced to stay there, I was going to draw,” Portillo said, laughing. “I did that for my dad because he was a pastor and I was never supposed to mark my body.”
Even if Portillo’s father doesn’t approve of his tattoos, his mother and stepfather do, as his mother encouraged him to put color on his arm tattoos. They want him to give them some ink sometime soon. He had to talk his mom out of getting her eyebrows tattooed so she won’t always look surprised when she’s 80, Portillo said, as he raised up his eyebrows in demonstration.
Portillo grew up in southern California and came to Maine in 2001.
“It’s always a girl,” he said, smiling, about the reason he migrated to the Pine Tree State.
As far as the art gallery goes, he already has some of his more fantastical drawings – a dragon, a grim reaper-like figure and the like – hanging on the walls. He’s got wood burnings from his upstairs neighbor, Brian Bubier, in the shop and another woodworking artist’s furniture on display, including end tables.
He showed off a wood burned piece he created recently for a friend who lost her sister. It’s an image of a weeping willow, using the wood grain for the bark of the tree and a young girl – Carly named after his 5-year-old daughter – sitting on a swing attached to its branches. There’s a blank wall waiting for Portillo to paint a mural on and he also plans to paint a dual-sided folding screen “just to show off.”
The plan is to eventually get clothing in the shop as well. Portillo’s 13-year-old stepson, Kaiden Stack, wanted to make art with him, so they created an anagram with the image of the man in the business suit and grenade head and had it screen printed on T-shirts. The anagram reads “Dynomite” right side up and “Explosive” upside down.
Anyone wishing to make a tattoo appoint can walk into the shop or call Portillo at 207-583-7493. For more information, search for Explosive Ink on Facebook.