Permanent sketches


Wells & Co. Custom Tattoo opens with ‘Body Rock’ photo exhibit

By Gary Spencer

Photo: Photo of Absinthe Junk’s Blair Breitreiter on display starting Feb. 3 at Wells & Co. on Third Street; photo: Christopher Corn

Tattoos are arguably more popular than ever in modern culture. It seems that everywhere you go, tattoos are instantly recognizable on young and old, male and female, and across a breadth of ethnicities. Tattoos have gone from a novel pastime among the 19th century upper classes, to skin deep stamps of the rebellious, criminal, and deviant, all the way to genuine and expressive works of art that know no particular lifestyle or socioeconomic status. In recent years, some tattoos have been recognized as high art, resulting in exhibitions in major art museums and historical societies throughout the world. This Friday, Wells & Co. Custom Tattoo plans on furthering the recasting of tattoos into works of high art with its own photo exhibit calledBody Rock: A Photographic Exploration of Rockers with Ink,” an event that coincides with the company’s grand opening in its new downtown Dayton location.

Wells & Co. Custom Tattoo is the brainchild of award-winning tattoo artist Chad Wells, once an understudy of renowned Dayton tattooist Glenn Scott, who worked for nearly 20 years in several Miami Valley tattoo shops, receiving accolades from industry publications and gaining clients from all across the country. After a false start in the late ’90s with his first operation, Wells is trying his hand at the tattoo business again, with an eye on the future.

“Ten years ago I decided to open a private, cozy, high end tattoo studio in my hometown of Vandalia, where the name Wells & Company was born,” Wells says. “Now I’ve decided to relaunch Wells & Company as a vehicle to groom and promote artists that have high skill and that are aligned with my vision of building a better tattoo community.”

With this focus on growth and on promotion for the next generation of tattoo artists, Wells & Co. sought to expand into downtown Dayton, finally finding a sister location in the Fire Blocks District of East Third Street that would allow the company to expand beyond the realm of a traditional tattoo shop.

“We wanted to create a tattoo shop that was distinctive and unlike anything that Dayton had ever seen,” Wells says. “We knew that it was super important for us to showcase our artists, but also the communities that our artists come from. Everything is custom and one-of-a-kind and installed with the intention of showing off our town’s history and cultural stamp. Our art gallery is another way to tie the local community to the space, and it gives us the opportunity to feature art in the space that resonates with our vibe and values.”

With this new Fire Blocks location now locked in, Wells & Co. is celebrating the grand opening of its new location with a party and the photo exhibit “Body Rock.”

“Because of my background as both a tattoo artist and a musician, it made sense to try to find a way to blend the music, art, tattoo, and photography for the first show,” Wells explains. “Music was my introduction to tattooing. People like Jamy Holliday, Mitch Mitchell, and Louis Lerma gave their bands instant credibility by wearing their hearts and skulls and daggers on their sleeves. Tattooing’s current massive popularity is 100 percent a result of the musicians and the sports icons who carried their ink into our homes through TV and magazines.”

With this concept in mind, Wells enlisted local photographers with the right pedigree for ‘Body Rock’ in order to morph the exhibit from idea to reality.

“I approached Jennifer Taylor, a beloved member of the community of local live music photographers, to work as curator for the ‘Body Rock’ show,” Wells explains. “I mentioned a few names who I liked personally, and I set her loose to put together the type of work displayed. The photographers for the show are Jennifer Taylor, Christopher Corn, Bill Cunningham, Jan Underwood, and Gary Mitchell. The work is all focused on tattooed musicians.”

Overall, the ‘Body Rock’ exhibit doesn’t necessarily set out to break any stereotypical preconceptions of tattoo art; instead, it is a celebration of the art form and its continued life, even after its subjects kick the bucket.

“It certainly has more respect now than it’s ever had, and traditional art galleries, curators, and some museums do display and present tattoos and artworks by tattooers, but it’s still a fairly fringe thing in the institutional art world,” Wells says. “The level of artists entering the field of tattooing is higher than ever, with many of them coming from traditional fine art or commercial art backgrounds, but the tattoo itself is only going to exist as long as the person who wears it is alive and kicking. Through photography we get to keep some of those tattoos and will certainly have a lasting value, and those types of photos are highly sought after and hopefully will be one way for our ‘folk art’ to have a lasting place in serious collections. The tattoo is traveling with you to the grave. It’s one of those rare items that you can take with you!”

‘Body Rock: A Photographic Exploration of Rockers with Ink’ opens Friday, Feb. 3 at Wells & Co. Custom Tattoo, 110 E. Third St. in downtown Dayton. The event begins at 7 p.m. and is free and open to the public. For more information, please visit or

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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at

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