Beyond The Ink
Local entrepreneur Paul Perry speaks about art and overcoming stereotypes
Story by Tonya L. Thompson | Photos by CASEY HILDER
When entering the door of Sacred Art Studio in Horn Lake, Mississippi, the clichés that many people associate with tattoo shops are oddly absent. There are no offensive slogans hanging from cheap plaques or half-drunken clients stumbling around with flasks. Instead, golden, earth-toned walls, accented with a magnificent wood carving by Bubba Black of Bubba Black Originals encapsulate an elegant and warm atmosphere, while the smell of coffee from the adjacent Holy Ground Coffee Shop invites visitors to taste the award-winning brews served behind the hand-carved mahogany bar.
Behind the front reception counter made of rustic knotty alder, the shop’s 32-year old owner, Paul Perry, speaks with the relaxed professionalism of a man who never meets a stranger. “I’m here all the time so I want to make it feel like home and I want people to feel comfortable when they come here,” says Perry. “We try to treat everyone nice and make them feel at home…to make it more like a 5-star art studio, where everyone is welcome.”
If the sentiment of “home” is the intent of the place, it’s a successful ambition. As last year’s winner of the DeSoto Times Tribune’s award for best coffee house in DeSoto County, Sacred Art’s Holy Ground Coffee Pub feels more like a superbly furnished European salon than an adjacent business to a tattoo and piercing studio. Heavy mahogany doors that were refinished by Paul, Old Europe-styled lighting, and a carved fireplace mantle complement free Wi-Fi, as vegan delicacies and espresso drinks are served from behind cabinetry hand built by Perry’s close friend, Chris Blankenship.
The pub’s staging area features weekend performances by local and traveling musicians from a variety of genres — from acoustic to rap to spoken word — and the walls are adorned by pieces created by local artists who want to showcase their work. The room is part of the studio’s effort to bring together the area’s art community in a welcoming, neutral space. “We opened up the coffee shop last April and we have open-mic night every Friday night,” says Perry. “We have local artists bring in their art and anyone who wants to perform here or hang their art here can contact us through our website or on Facebook.”
Throughout the rest of the studio, some of Paul’s original artwork lines the walls, along with pieces featuring a plethora of topics, ranging from the Virgin Mary to pen-and-ink skateboard art.
Then, there’s the traditional Normal Rockwell Americana print, The Tattooist — a common thread that connects all tattoo artists, particularly those fascinated with the evolution of the tattoo in rural America, a concept that is especially important to Perry’s own experience in the industry.
“I used to own a shop in Memphis,” says Perry, who now lives with his wife and three boys in Southaven. “I was born and raised there but I moved down this way and I like it so much better. Now, I stay here because my clientele here keeps coming back to me. Even if I were to take this business and move it across the street, I still wouldn’t do as well as I do here.”
When asked if he believed the shop would attract more clients if it were in different location within a larger city, Paul agreed that it might, but was quick to state his priorities as an entrepreneur. “Big cities would be the key, but with shuffling kids, and with my family here and my wife’s family here…well, that answered the question for me right there.”
Since the studio features custom tattoo design work, few clients come in for tattoo flash (commonly chosen tattoo replications, such as butterflies and skulls) and almost everyone wants an original, hand-drawn piece from one of the studio’s five artists. “We specialize in custom art and our clients are not the traditional clients you’d expect to see,” says Perry. “We get a lot of the older crowd…judges, attorneys, ambulance drivers, paramedics, firefighters, cops, preachers. A good friend of mine is a preacher who married my wife and I. I tattooed him.”
Despite its location in Horn Lake, the shop draws clients from as far as Hollywood, California. “When the Freak Show Deluxe troupe comes through for the Delta Fair, Murrugun ‘The Mystic’ always comes to me for tattoo work,” says Perry. “A lot of poker players traveling through Tunica come here, as well, and we have clients from Nashville, Memphis, Helena, Grenada, Jackson…really, from all over the area.”
Perry has also contributed his own art in media outside of tattooing—most notably on a Les Paul guitar that was auctioned off for $2,500 at the Blues Ball benefitting the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “I put a bunch of tattoo designs on it and then took a wood burning stick and carved designs,” he says. “Then, I painted over everything with rock paint and created the illusion of an archeologist busting through rock. It ended up looking like a stone guitar that had been busted open and you can see the tattoos behind it.”
As for his tattoo work, he is especially proud of a custom piece that is ongoing for a close friend. “It’s a leg sleeve that I’ve worked on for a long time for a friend who is really into hot rods,” says Perry. “Beyond that, I really enjoy doing tattoos that are script. I train myself in script lettering and I draw it directly on the skin, going with the flow of the body.”
As for Perry’s future plans, he hopes to continue adding to the studio’s offerings and services. “I’m always searching for new artists and apprentices,” he says, “and I’m taking tattoo removal classes in the near future so we can do that here, as well. That way, if someone comes in and has an older tattoo that they don’t like, I can lighten it up a bit before I work on them.”
For more information about Sacred Art Studio, visit the shop’s Facebook page or website at (662.tattoo.com). For inquiries concerning performing or showcasing artwork at the Holy Ground Coffee Pub, contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.