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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of June 19 - 25, 2002


Old hand, new blood, fresh ink

Hailey tattoo emporium hopes to elevate valley’s perception

Express Staff Writer

Amid downtown Hailey’s numerous restaurants and retail shops, a tattoo parlor may seem like one of the least likely additions to the neighborhood.

Urban Voodoo Tattoo parlor owner Rob Monahan works on Ketchum resident Roger Dubree’s leg in the newly opened shop in Hailey. Monahan works with Shane “Psyko” Gunderson at the newly opened business—the only in the Wood River Valley. Express photo by David N. Seelig

But the staff at the recently opened Urban Voodoo Tattoo says they hope to elevate the community’s perception of the ancient art, as well as convince them that their shop belongs there.

"As soon as you mention a tattoo parlor, people immediately think about biker hangouts," said Rob Monahan, owner of the shop, located on West Croy Street. "I wanted to make it where people could learn about tattoos and not be afraid of them."

Monahan has been working with tattoos since the early ’70s, when he took breaks from his career as an artist to draw tattoo designs for his friends. Oftentimes, he would be recruited to escort his friends to the parlors, and quickly became familiar with the shop owners, and the art itself.

"From there, I just got tutored in, and started doing it," he said.

After living and working as an artist in New York and California, Monahan moved to the Wood River Valley 12 years ago, where he took a "sabbatical" from art, opting for a career in construction.

But about four months ago, Monahan said he got interested in opening up a tattoo parlor in Hailey—a feat that has been tried before by others, but failed.

Interested in finding a partner to share duties with, Monahan eventually got in touch with Shane "Psyko" Gunderson, a talented, young tattoo artist in the area.

Gunderson, who also performs piercings at the parlor, says he fell in love with tattooing after getting the Japanese writing character—or kanji— for "dragon" on his back.

Interested in the process of tattooing, and the chance to apply his love of art toward a career, Gunderson said he tried getting an apprenticeship at several tattoo parlors, but getting such an opportunity is hard to come by.

One day, while reading a tattoo magazine, Gunderson came upon an advertisement for "The World’s Only Tattoo School," located in Detroit, Mich., which teaches its students in tattoo art, piercing and permanent makeup.

After completing the intensive courses, Gunderson came back to the Wood River Valley, and began playing around with tattoos for his friends, waiting for an opportunity to perform his art professionally.

As Monahan began looking for someone to share the shop with, several people he spoke to recommended Gunderson.

The two artists say working together at Urban Voodoo lets the parlor offer a variety or styles, ranging from Monahan’s "old school" design—comprised of the traditional-looking tattoos such as a skull and crossbones or kanji character—and Gunderson’s "new school" style—which is usually more cartoony and colorful.

"As we work together more and more, our designs and ideas are really starting to complement each other," Monahan said. "The parlor is evolving on its own because of that."

Converting the old 19th-century building, which at one time housed a bar called The Gem, into a state-of-the-art tattoo parlor has proven a big project, but Monahan said he’s happy with the results, and thinks customers will be, too.

"We wanted to change people’s perception of tattoo parlors, and the best way to do that is to provide a place that’s clean and sterile," he said.

In addition to an emphasis on the surroundings, Monahan said he and Gunderson enjoy working with any drawings or photos a customer might bring in to make sure they get the perfect tattoo.

"A lot of people will come in with something they want, and we’ll help them make sure they get exactly what they want," he said. "This is something really long-term, so we want to make sure they’re happy with it."

Having worked with tattoos for almost three decades, Monahan said he’s encouraged by the recent resurgence in tattoos—largely headed by 20-somethings both getting and creating tattoos.

"I started in the ’70s, and it’s nice to see the younger generations embracing this ancient form of art, and bringing it back to life, and even advancing it," he said.

Gunderson said working at Urban Voodoo gives him everything he could have hoped for in a job, and more.

"This way, I get to do what I love, get paid for it, and every minute of it is a blast," he said.

And just like any other job, Gunderson said the public’s tastes in tattoos are always changing, and that he and Monahan keep up with what’s popular through friends working in tattoo parlors in larger areas, conventions, and specialty magazines.

"There’s trends just like in everything else," he said. "These days, the big trend is to get an old-school design and rework it into a new-school piece."

But even tattoo trends are fickle, Gunderson said, and there’s really no way to predict what’s going to be all the rage a month from now.

"That’s today’s trend, but who knows what’s going to get hot next," he said.

Although tattoos are getting more mainstream exposure than ever before, Monahan said opening a tattoo parlor in downtown Hailey is still a little daunting, but that he’s confident this is the perfect place.

"People around here understand there’s growth happening here, and that they have to make room for that growth," he said. "I really think our town is ready for this."


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.