A Legacy That Lasts – InkedMag


When you think about a college-educated individual, tattoos aren’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. It’s actually the opposite. Society’s interpretation of a laced-up, college-educated professional is someone who is serious, an intellectual, a hard-worker, and someone who has decided to invest in themselves and their future. Your mind immediately veers on the side of academia, doctors, lawyers, and financiers. You don’t immediately think of art, music, nature, or tattoos. While art and science work hand in hand in an educational setting, and these days an art degree is seen as just as valuable as a business degree, it’s still an educational path that has only recently gained any sort of legitimacy within the social stratosphere.  

So when Juan Salgado, a celebrity tattoo artist and renowned painter based in Puerto Rico, got a call from the esteemed Ana G. Méndez collegiate system in Puerto Rico, the last thing he was expecting was to bridge the gap between tattoos and higher education. Salgado’s passion for not only this incredible artistic pursuit but also for art in general is palpable in every word he shares.

Can you introduce yourself for us and tell us where you’re from, and what you do?

Yeah, my name is Juan Salgado, I’m from Puerto Rico. I’m basically a multimedia artist. I specialize in tattoos, murals, paintings, and designing in general.

How did you get your start with art originally?


It’s the only thing I’ve known how to do since I was a little kid. I was a super shy person, so I think art helped me socialize a little bit in school. When I was little, I couldn’t look people in the eye. But, through my art, I started developing a sort of confidence. For example in school, I was the best artist in my class and that gave me a little bit of attention which helped me with my shyness, and brought me out of my shell a little. I think art is what helped me cope with reality a little bit. So, I think my interest in art has always been there. 

What inspired you to paint murals specifically? 

I mean, I love art, it’s glorious. Before tattooing, I was a painter. I mean I’m still a painter, but I stumbled upon painting before I had tattoos in my life, and I felt as if murals were the epitome of painting. It always amazed me how artists can do these massive paintings on walls, and I remember when I was little I thought it was impossible to do. When I started getting seriously interested in murals, it was at the same time mural art was booming in Puerto Rico. It became a movement, and I was a little bit a part of that.

What’s the most interesting mural project you’ve worked on?

I’ve done a lot of murals throughout the world. I’ve painted in Puerto Rico, Australia, Florida but the most interesting project I did was in Puerto Rico. I just recently finished three murals for one of the biggest university systems in Puerto Rico, the Ana G. Méndez University system. They have seven to eight campuses around the world, but in Puerto Rico they have four or five. So, for three of the main campuses, I did what I call the “Vitruvian Muses.” It consists of “Muses” that represent all the classes and the programs they offer right on each Campus of the university. The way we portray these offerings is by showcasing the Muses as tattooed. It’s just groundbreaking to me that this university system hired a tattoo artist and painter to create their murals. All of the Muses are women full of tattoos and I don’t think that would have happened 10 years ago. I really enjoyed it. 

The thing is, they wanted to promote inclusion and so I was also able to tattoo the president of the University. The university thought it would be a good way to connect with the more modern generation. It just blows my mind, because in the past tattoos would never have been accepted on a collegiate level and now it is a tool in order to get closer to the youth and make the connection between art and education.

Where do you draw all of your inspiration from?

I mean, all of my inspiration comes from nature and the human experience. So for me, nature is the best teacher. I’m always gazing into the sunsets, and the trees and the leaves, and I study color theory through that every day. Women are also a huge inspiration in my life as well. I think women have been a central focus in every major art movement in every civilization and their connection to nature and the divine resonates with all of the beautiful aspects of life.


That is truly, so cool. How would you describe your art style?

I call it the “Juan Salgado” style, because it’s just a mix of everything I have learned throughout my art career. I’ve been tattooing for 22 years, but I’ve been into art for over 30 years. I’ve never stuck to a specific style. I let the spectator decide. What style do they want to fit me in? I try not to follow the rules too much and go with where the energy of the day takes me. Some days, I wake up and I want to be more traditional and other days I want to be more hyper realistic, and there are days I want to explore black and gray. I love every style and I love bringing them together to create something beautiful.

Your ability to adapt to any artistic situation is incredible. 

I mean, I’m a big fan of the Renaissance, and so I grew up thinking that an artist can express themselves through any medium, you just have to adapt to it, but the vision is always going to be the same.

What’s the craziest medium that you’ve ever worked with? 

Tattoos. Yeah, one hundred percent. It’s definitely one of the hardest to master. But also, when you have been tattooing for more than 20 years, it’s so rewarding to be able to see your work from way back when and how it’s held up over time. 

How did you get your start in tattooing? You were a multimedia artist since childhood, so where did that leap into the industry come from?

I always say that tattooing chose me, I didn’t choose tattooing. I mean, you attract what you think about, and I was thinking about tattooing constantly. 20 years ago, starting to tattoo in Puerto Rico was nearly impossible. There was no social media, and the only way you could actually order tattoo materials was through magazines, or you had to already be working for a tattoo shop. Companies wouldn’t just send materials directly to your house. On top of that, it was difficult to start in a tattoo shop because they were run by rock stars and bikers who weren’t really looking to take on apprentices or give opportunities to anyone. They wanted to keep it a niche. 

So my official “start” in tattooing was kind of like divine intervention. I was 19 or 20 years old, something like that, and I was just sitting in my house relaxing and by that point I was already collecting tattoos. I was the first person in my family to ever get tattooed. All of a sudden, there’s this knock at my door, and it’s this childhood friend of mine who had left the island when we were younger. He’s with this older tattooed guy and he goes, “I’m tattooing in Boston,” and immediately I was like, “did you bring your machine’s here?” So from there, he ran back to his house to grab his equipment and we took turns tattooing each other all day. We hadn’t spoken in years and in less than ten minutes, I was holding a tattoo machine for the first time. He had just remembered that I was a good artist from the neighborhood and he was excited to give his machine to a friend that could ink him for free. So basically, I started in my house. After that, he gave me an apprenticeship and in three months I was doing solid work. After a local shop heard about me, they offered me a job right away. I had only had three months of experience and suddenly I was tattooing full time, and the rest is history. 

Are you working on anything big right now? Is there anything we should keep our eyes peeled for?

I’m definitely working on a couple of big things. I want to keep them a secret for the moment, but I am working and have a lot of big things in the pipeline as far as tattoo projects go. I also have an art book coming out soon and a few art shows coming up, so lots of exciting things are going on. You’re definitely going to be seeing a lot more of my art in the coming months. 

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