Sandi Calistro on opening a new shop, traveling and creating art on canvas and skin
Art has been a part of Sandi Calistro's life since her earliest memories. A painter and tattoo artist, Calistro is known for her whimsical style. She is the co-owner of Kaze Gallery, which will be closing soon, and is in the process of opening a new studio, Ritual Tattoo & Gallery, with local artist Missy Rhysing. We caught up with Calistro, who was covered in paint from working on that new studio, to talk about her plans for the following year, her experience traveling around the world, and her thoughts on tattooing and painting.
Westword: When do you expect the new studio to be ready?
Sandi Calistro: Honestly, we were shooting for February 1, but now it's looking like mid-February, maybe. We still have the second space open, Kaze Gallery, so we have time to kill if we have to. We'll see whenever we're done.
How did the move come about?
The building that we have now, which is right next door to Root Down, it was purchased by one of the owners of Root Down. I think initially they wanted to expand Root Down into that area. But they gave us like another year and that was six months ago.
Is the new studio going to be different from Kaze?
It's going to be different. We basically shot off into two different tattoo studios. William [Thiedemann] and I own Kaze Gallery, and he's opening a shop called Mammoth American Tattoo, and then Missy [Rhysing] and I are opening Ritual, so it will be quite different. He's got a space over on Tennyson, it's like a house converted into a retail space, so it's really cool. And we've got the space over here. It's going to be a little different because it's not quite as open as Kaze was. We're still going to try and roll with the gallery stuff. That's our thought; we'd love to have gallery shows there still.
How did you get into art and tattooing?
As far as art goes, I was interested in art since I was a toddler, from the first time I saw the first piece of framed artwork that inspired me. After that I took as many art classes or whatever that I could. I never went to art college, though. But I've been doing art for my whole life. As far as I can remember, the first thing that sparked my interest as far as art was just seeing a framed piece of artwork that made me feel something. And I think that's the moment that I decided that I wanted to do it.
What was the most challenging part of the process of learning how to tattoo?
I think it's just the fear of the permanence of it, because you're obviously expected to do a perfect piece of artwork on someone's skin. It's just a lot of pressure. I think at first that's probably what I had the most trouble with. I got super nervous with the first, probably, six tattoos. I was beyond nervous, like shaking and everything. Luckily I got over that. My brother's got my first tattoo on his leg and you can see it was a little shaky. I fixed it later, but he had some squiggly lines on there. That's the worst part, I'd say.
As someone who does fine art as well as tattoos, obviously besides the canvas, what are some differences? Do you have to be in a different mindset to do each?
Yeah. I'd say the first thing I think of when you ask that is you're definitely catering to their thought of their design. When you're doing your own canvas piece of artwork, you're generating your original idea from your own head, but when you're doing it on a person you're collaborating with them almost. You're taking their idea and your vision and combining the two, so that's definitely a huge difference, just in the artwork itself. And then your tools are extremely different; you're using a machine, and the weight of the tool is a huge difference. And just the application is weird, making someone bleed and having someone in pain is a little weird. I have a harder time phasing that out than some people do. If someone's in pain I'm like, "Oh, are you okay?" But other than that, it really is the canvas, doing a piece of artwork on a canvas, versus the blood and the tattoo machine and a human being, you know?
Continue reading for more of the Q&A with Calistro.