Carla Hopkins has had art in her life from a very young age. Her mother was a painter who had to quit painting because Carla wouldn’t keep her little hands out of the oil paints. Carla’s grandmother was an artist with an incredible talent for drawing, who also aspired to be a fashion designer. She is a huge influence in Carla’s life today, and is likely the source of her flair for incredible outfits. Not to mention, some of the pieces of the incredible outfits actually belonged to Carla’s grandmother.
Growing up in upstate New York, Carla had a great art teacher who was not only an advocate for the students and their programs within the district, but he also showed them how art could be a career. Carla attended the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, majoring in Sculpture. She does not sculpt today, well, not with clay anyway. After college, she made her way back to New York, where she convinced a tattoo shop to take her on, first as a shop girl, then as an apprentice. She learned to build her own machines there and make her own needles. That was nine years ago.
Today, Carla works at Portside Parlor, at 30 S. 2nd Street in Philadelphia. When you walk into the shop, you notice that it is not exactly like other tattoo shops. There are gorgeous hardwood floors which are inlaid with a stunning compass rose, incredibly high and beautiful ceilings and an antique velvet settee in the waiting area. You also notice that there is original artwork on the walls. The Portside Parlor does something very interesting – on First Friday (for those of you not in Philly, it’s – you guessed it- the first Friday of the month where art galleries all over the city open their doors for patrons and viewers) they close the tattooing portion of the shop and have an art show. The next show upcoming is “The City of Brotherly Love”; you won’t want to miss it, since Carla Hopkins has a piece in it.
Carla draws and paints, and her boyfriend is also an artist. You can see in her tattoos the incredible technical skill and trained eye that she brings to tattooing. Many of her tattoos are quite painterly and she easily cites influences from French and Dutch baroque painters’ freshly killed hare and insects, and metaphor, to Art Nouveau and Victoriana. However, that isn’t Carla’s specialty, although she is incredibly, amazingly talented in that area.
Her specialty is traditional Japanese tattoos, and I love the reason why she chose it. When she was about tattoo, she was told that if she really wanted to be a master, she needed to master traditional Japanese tattooing. Since her art school days, Carla wanted to follow in the footsteps of the masters like DaVinci, and so, the gauntlet laid down, she accepted. And master she did become.
The other thing that she really specializes in is cover ups. She’s masterful at seeing what can be done with a piece, looking for ways to hide it in her own beautiful art. I was truly amazed by what she showed me. She was teaching me to spot the tattoo in the coverup, and most of the time I couldn’t see it. On the left below is before, and on the right is after Carla Hopkins had her way with that tattoo.
She is a self proclaimed huge geek, and I have to say, she is definitely intellectually superior. Not in the sense that she behaves as though she’s superior to you but in a Garcia-from-Criminal-Minds sort of way. If she told you she hacked into the government’s computer system, you wouldn’t bat an eye. She knows a lot about art, history, a lot about pop culture. She is well read, has traveled extensively, including a stint in Europe tattooing for a bit under the top tattoo artist in France. In our brief time together, she taught me about what they’re doing with computers and art at RISD, about William Gibson and “Neuromancer” (she did the Molly Millions tattoo that Gibson himself saw and said it was the most like his vision he’d seen yet), and about the plumbers’ epoxy you have to use to make miniatures.
In closing, and at the risk of sounding gushy, Carla Hopkins’ talent will knock you out but her interesting conversation, wit and kind smile make her someone you’d be happy to have as a friend. If you’re in Philly and in the market for a fantastic tattoo artist, you can reach Portside Parlor by phone at 215-922-1313.