THE WOMAN WHO CHANGED THE TATTOO WORLD
Long Beach Post "Best of 2019" Reader's Choice awards:
Best Tattoo Artist
Up until the age of 17, Kari Barba had never seen a tattoo. And it certainly wasn’t something she had dreamt of as a viable profession. However, she had spent her whole life creating art. Drawing and painting came very naturally to her.
As fate would have it, Kari was at home drawing one day when her friend Neil, a tattoo artist, stopped by. He saw her work and suggested she try tattooing. So she gave it a go and the moment she tried it, she was hooked. It was a new and interesting way to create a different kind of art; a way of letting go.
She looked forward to marking the skin as her new way of artistic expression and it brought her art to an unexpected place. Kari Barba officially began tattooing in 1979 at the age of 19 and she hasn’t stopped or slowed down ever since.
Once her professional tattoo career started, it launched big dreams for Kari including leaving her native Minnesota for sunny California to open a tattoo studio. After losing her job, the perfect opportunity presented itself to make the dream a reality.
It took a while to gain footing and make a name for herself in the California tattoo scene. Two years passed before Kari even worked a local convention. She caught word about a great tattoo show coming into Long Beach, CA.
It was aboard the famous oceanliner, The Queen Mary, and thousands of people would be attending.
In the years leading up to the event, Kari had concentrated on drawing tattoo flash and had sold over 300 sheets to various vendors including Erin Carrafa and Spaulding & Rogers.
Spaulding & Rogers had a huge presence at the convention and the headline of the front cover of their catalog read:
Flash by the World Famous Kari Barba
That single opportunity is the precise moment she began her decade’s long legacy as one of the most formidable tattoo artists in the world.
By the following year, she went all out and opened her first shop, Twilight Fantasy, in Anaheim, CA, on April 1, 1983. The shop was started with pure gumption and her positive attitude simply stating “I think we can do this.”
She had no business background nor a college degree in art. Kari didn’t have the first idea about opening a shop much less running one. But clearly, along the way, she has done many, many things very, very right.
Despite that uncertain beginning in a very competative industry, Kari has successfully run her own business for 32 years. Outer Limits Tattoo is one of the most prestigious tattoo studios in Southern California.
Kari in action - prepping, laying it out
& getting it done to perfection
Of course there have been many bumps along the road. In the 80s there were men who refused to believe a “girl” could tattoo. There were the “good ol’ boys” of the industry that proclaimed it was a man’s world and a woman didn’t belong behind the needle and many of them refused to get work done
by a woman.
At that time, tattoos in general had a terrible reputation. The average person had the misconception that tattoos were for derelicts, bikers, and military roughnecks. The industry was saddled with a poor image of seedy backdoor tattoo parlors with less than hygenic conditions.
Thank god times have changed!!
Kari Barba has spent her career slaying all of those presumptions and prejudices. She has been a maverick, cracking open the industry which now allows equal access & accolades for professional female tattooists.
Kari was also a huge catalyst for dramatically improving the cleanliness of tattoo shops. By implementing sterile practices as standard for her own shops, others in the industry had no choice but to follow suit.
By creating magnificent works of art on the body, the world at large has since embraced her tattoos as a valid form of art and self-expression. Since the art is everything to Kari, it was only logical to start showcasing her talents outside the walls of a shop & she began entering competitions in 1985.
Her very first award was won at a convention in Seattle, WA. From that humble beginning, she has gone on to win 500+ industry awards including
Best Tattooist three times and has also won a Lifetime Achievement award. Kari is also the only person to have ever won First Place in EVERY category at a single tattoo convention.
The most recent title she received was being named as one of The Top 10 Best Tattoo Artists in Los Angeles by Form.Ink.
A unique addition to Kari's skillset are her qualifications to practice areola reconstruction, and related tattoos, for those who have undergone breast cancer surgery. This aspect of her profession is very important to her and an honor working with these women. She is extremely inspired by these special clients. Kari also regularly does fundraising to support breast cancer research and charities.
Through the years, Kari has truly enjoyed every tattoo she has done by creating a unique piece of artwork for each person. The intimate process of collaborating with her beloved clients, where their mind and hers collide and create, is what Kari loves most. She thrives on the diversity of her clientele and the endless options of art styles. She's constantly growing and learning and it is reflected in her ever changing style. Because she is able practice a her art with freedom, every day seems new and exciting.
Currently, Kari's most enjoys tattooing Realism, Portraits, Asian-styles, and Trash Polka. Challenges drive her. When she isn’t tattooing, she is still an active and prolific painter working in oil paints with a focus on details.
Please take a look at Kari’s impressive PORTFOLIOS to see what 36 years of professional dedication looks like.
If you are interested in a consultation or an appointment with Kari, feel free to contact her directly.