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Permanent Behavior: Repping 'Cali-Chicano' Tattoo Style

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 (Photo by Beth LeBarge, Design by Becca Kao/KQED)


“Permanent Behavior: Getting Tatted in the Bay,” is our four-part series, about local tattoo artists. In these stories, we dive into the permanence of ink as it resides on impermanent beings.

Read the transcript here.

Tattoo artist Miguel “Bounce” Perez has vivid childhood memories of art created by his family:  His mother drew “chola-style” portraits of women with feathered hair and sharp brows, while his uncles created lettering in “Cali-Chicano” Old English script. His father was part of a car club in his West Berkeley community, a neighborhood that was also home to a number of graffiti murals.

Miguel “Bounce”Perez at the new location of Philthy Clean Tattoo in Berkeley on Aug. 31, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

All of this poured into Perez, and laid the foundation for what he does today.

He’s a versatile artist, who sees collaboration with his clients as central to his work. He’s done touch-ups for people who’ve been incarcerated, and even inked a team of mathletes. His art is detailed and graphic, ranging from Mayan goddesses to anime characters.

Perez says he doesn’t have a “specialty,” but he’s often asked to do cover-ups of faded tattoos; a community service of sorts.

He’s also part of the art collective Trust Your Struggle, which paints murals in other countries that have been historically colonized and thus, under-resourced.

Miguel Bounce Perez works with Lindsey Tran to create her leg and sleeve tattoos at the new location of Philthy Clean Tattoo in Berkeley. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Given Perez’s experiences with both impermanent aerosol and indelible ink, I figured he’d be the best person to start this exploration into the culture of tattooing in the Bay Area, and what it feels like to create permanent artwork— if such a thing exists.

Below are lightly edited excerpts of my conversation with Miguel “Bounce” Perez:

Pen: Bring us back to the origins, how’d you get started in art in general?

Miguel: The first influences are like from my mom.  She used to draw these kind of chola drawings, you know, the Chicano style cholas with  feathered hair, all nice and detailed. I remember I used to  create my own little comic characters and my uncles drew too.  They all kind of did that same kind of that Cali-Chicano style. My uncles  did  the cholo letters. We’d see them around the house, like written on books and all this stuff. 

Pen: So how did, how did Berkeley, as a city, pour into your work as an artist?

Miguel: I feel like there’s a lot of murals around Berkeley that influenced me. The Che mural, the West Campus one, the recycling mural that was on MLK.  I went from seeing all the Chicano styles that my family was doing and seeing graff and murals on the street. I think that definitely seeped its way in.  

Miguel Bounce Perez tattoos the sleeve of Lindsey Tran at the new location of Philthy Clean Tattoo in Berkeley. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Pen: Miguel also came up with a crew known as Trust Your Struggle. The collective of artists do work for low or no cost in communities that could benefit from murals or other visual art that supports local culture. They started in 2003, and they’ve done work not only in the Bay but in Hawaii and the Philippines, and other places. 

Miguel: Trust Your Struggle it was definitely like-minded folks who had a lot of the same passions and same views on the world, politics and life and everything. I think we’re more just like a crew of homies.  Some of the earlier things we were doing was these mural tours.  We went started in Mexico and like worked our way down, on bus all the way to Nicaragua. Basically donated murals, linked up with different organizations and painted.

Miguel:  I remember one of the last ones we did in 2009, we went to the Philippines. We were meeting up with these orgs and stuff. Like this was the one we’d probably raised the most money for and we get out there and we’re like, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna do this mural for y’all, it’s free, blah, blah, blah.’ And they’re like, ‘Great, this is beautiful.’ And then we see like how they living and they’re like, ‘Oh shit. Like, they don’t need a mural. They need food, some clothes.’ 

Miguel Bounce Perez continues working on Lindsey Tran’s sleeve at Philthy Clean Tattoo in Berkeley. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Miguel: It humbled us. You ain’t gonna save the world with a painting. It might look pretty. So, some of us have got more into, actual legislation. My boy Rob [Liu-Trujillo] is, like, doing, like, children’s books.

Miguel: I’m doing tattoos, which is just like not like a political thing, but the thing that’s cool about tattoos, it’s always some transitional period in most people’s lives when they’re getting it. And it’s pretty cool to share that with them and even help guide them through it.  

Pen: That’s so tight, bro, like thinking about life in those transitional periods and change is the only constant. But to get something to signify that you’ve gone through a transitional period is to say that ‘I want something to last forever from this doorway that I’m going through.’ And you’re more or less holding that door open or helping construct the doorway.

Miguel: Even sometimes I’m closing it, like, don’t go through that door! I don’t know if you want that door. [laughs]

The neon sign for Philthy Clean Tattoo in Berkeley. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or click the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

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