Introducing Jun Cha: LA Artist Talks The Come-Up, Mentors & Rise As A Tattoo Artist

By Jay Casteel  |  06/17/2010

Jun ChaTattooing is has quickly become an almost mainstream form of expression today, but to rising Los Angeles artist Jun Cha, there's more to the ink that graces his clients' skin. It's a form of expression and a look into their story. So, when you come to him for a piece, the Korean tattooer looks for more than "I want a hot chick on my arm." It's his unique approach and skilled hand that has drawn in countless clients – he's fully booked for months at a time – as well as a few celebrities. If you're up on your hip-hop news, you may recall seeing a tattoo hip-hop mogul Jermaine Dupri got last year on his rib cage, depicting his then-girlfriend Janet Jackson as the Virgin Mary. Well, that was Jun's work ... and get this: he's just 21 years old.

Jun Cha is young man, but he's like a seasoned vet who has been drawing and creating art from his early years. Despite having a God-given talent, it wasn't until he got into some major trouble – which he doesn't elaborate on – to steer him on the straight and narrow, and fully focus on his craft. That, coupled with some words of advice from L.A. tattoo legend Mister Cartoon, gave Jun some direction. He eventually enrolled in the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena -- where he'll be graduating this year -- and sought after some talented tattooing legends to earn his chops. While he's learned from a few different ink slingers over the years, he credits veteran Jose Lopez for being his "greatest mentor and savior". Lopez, the owner of Orange County-based Lowrider Tattoo Studios, took the young artist under his wing and showed him the ropes.

Today, Jun is an artist on the rise and if you follow his work, the leaps he's made in his skills are astounding. While he still works closely with Lopez and Lowrider Tattoos, Jun has launched his own private studio, named Arudima, where he not only tattoos client,s but also keeps his feet wet as a designer, painter and illustrator.

Ok, enough babble, read on to get familiar with Jun Cha...

BallerStatus.com: Why don't you tell us a little about your background?

Jun Cha: I'm Korean. I was born here in Los Angeles, grew up in Santa Monica. My parents came here in the mid- to early-80s, immigrating here from Korea. I grew up in the west side area, that's primarily where I spent most of my childhood. A lot of my influences came from people here.

I was always into art. I've been drawing since I was around, roughly two years old. I was talking with my mom about this and she was saying ... she told me it was around two. That's when I started scribbling and drawing. After that, I could never really pinpoint a time where I was not doing it. Once I started, I was always into it and I saw everything through the eyes of art.

[I would draw] mostly things I saw. I was always influenced by a lot of the cartoons that were out there. I can't remember, specifically, which ones were overwhelming. But, when I was a kid, my mom would introduce me to a lot of the artists that I still look at now – like [Leonardo] da Vinci, Michelangelo. I was like five years old, but I would be in awe of them. That's what kind of got me going, in terms of trying to find things out, because I tried to figure out like why the hell it was so awesome. It kind of led me to continue studying art. That was the beginning point.

BallerStatus.com: When did you realize art, tattooing, etc was something you were gonna do with your life?

Jun Cha: As I grew older, I was always into art. I was that kid in school and class that would like to draw. I was always that guy. The neighborhood around me started to influence me and I kinda steered away. I started hanging with the homeboys, got into a lot of trouble ... eventually I got into A LOT of trouble (laughs). I had to make a decision and I started waking up a little bit, because I wanted to live and survive, and not give my mother a heart attack. I had to figure out what was gonna help me do that. I was like 15, 16 and I realized it was time to really get serious with it. I said to myself ... it wasn't "I'm gonna try to make this work." It was like "I have to make this work. This is what I need to do." I wanted to do it, but it got real serious when everything else in life wasn't really making sense to me. That was when I really focused it into a career.

BallerStatus.com: What did you start with professionally? Tees, painting, tattooing?

Jun Cha: I was fortunate to meet some really good draftsmen when I was young. Again, my mother was a real big influence in that. She got me going and studying and meeting these people. I really got to learn basic fundamentals of drawing, in terms of figure drawing, anatomical drawing ... that was really the foundation for me to start. Once I continued that, it bled into other things.

I started gearing toward tattooing later on ... 16, 17. Before that, the main focus was just drawing. I wasn't into t-shirts ... I wasn't really into anything. I just wanted to draw and paint, and really make a move toward the fine art route, because I didn't really have any other outlet. In the beginning stages, it was all about drawing.

BallerStatus.com: This was all around your high school years? That you began to take the art thing seriously?

Jun Cha: It was all around high school when it all started. Again, like I said, I got into a lot of trouble. I got busted for a while, got out. I was such a retarded kid. But, I was really fortunate enough to meet some people that kinda steered me back toward education. That was right around the first time I meet Mister Cartoon.

I had a good friend, Big Lucky, who was always in the neighborhood kinda guiding the little delinquent kids. I was one of them. One of the first things Toons said to me when I first met him was ... he gave me this look and said, "If you're serious about this, do what I didn't do -- go to school. Invest in your mind and in your education." He said, "If I could turn back the hands of time, I would've gone to school." Those words were really simple, but it helped me push forward into that.

So in high school, I made the decision to get prepared for college -- Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. That's where I'm about to graduate now. That kinda set the stone for where my head is gonna be at the next couple years.

BallerStatus.com: Have you been able to show Cartoon have far you come today, with your school and tattooing?

Jun Cha: I haven't spoke to Toons for maybe like a year or two. From around the moment that I first met Toons, I kinda snowballed, in terms of tattooing. I really started searching around for people I could learn from. My greatest mentor and savior is Jose Lopez. I was really fortunate enough to meet him and he took me under his wing and really ... after I met him, everything started to really change, in terms of my work ethic, my tattooing, and anything related to it. Also him and a man named Baby Ray I met before Jose. He's in his early .... 50s, old guy ... he really showed me the fundamentals of it.

It was a whole reversed process. The first time I started drawing and really learning and understanding the basics of it, it was the same thing with tattooing. It was a whole different world.

BallerStatus.com: You specialize in black n grey tattoos. Is that because you came up around legends who did black n grey?

Jun Cha: Yea, I mean, black and grey is a real dominate thing [in Los Angeles]. Just in California alone, I really was influenced by a lot of what I saw, almost translated directly into the artist side before that ... and drawing and painting. Jose Lopez specializes in black and grey, as does Baby Ray, so it kind of transitioned into what I wanted to do.

BallerStatus.com: How would you describe your tattooing style, if any?

Jun Cha: I never really believed in style, you could say. I've developed a certain way of working, where I see things a certain way, but the subjects and themes that come out from all the different clients, it's all different. Some people are really connected to a spiritual type theme, or an old Renaissance type piece. Other people are connected more to an L.A., urban culture type of pieces. I guess what makes them all connected is the relationship between the client and the art. The style, I guess the biggest thing that stands out for me when I tattoo is the relationship with the client. All their pieces are really deep rooted into who they are, what they're about, what they believe in, and tattooing is the medium for that to happen.

BallerStatus.com: Tell us about the painting and design aspects of your art. What are some of things you're doing with that?

Jun Cha: I'm really focusing on painting and design as well with the collaborations I've been doing. I'm really gearing myself back to the basics of painting and exploring with it. For me, I've always tried to be about balance, in terms of the way I work. You see the tattooing coming out, but on the back end, I'm always painting or drawing. I'm always kind of balancing that out. Especially now, a lot of that is lost in the tattooing industry. There's so many things going on, changing, that the fundamentals I think are getting lost in the majority, as far as the tattoo artist aspect of it. It ultimately affects the clients out there who see it because it's completely distorted. For me, I want to kind of focus on that and bring that back to what I do.

BallerStatus.com: You've done a couple collabos recently. One with C1RCA shoes and the other with The Hundreds. What is it like doing apparel design?

Jun Cha: I think its fun. It's a different way, I think, to communicate to the audience at large. The street wear world versus the tattoo world versus the sneaker or fine art world ... I think they are all very different, which is a cool thing. To communicate to that different audience is a cool thing.

It gives me a way to reach out to a different group of people that aren't necessarily all over the tattooing industry or that part of the world. I think the biggest advantage is telling the same story ... telling it through a different medium and being able to reach the different minds of those people.

Like the C1RCA collaboration shoe, at the end of the day, the core kids that are out there seeing the stuff, 80% of them just see a shoe. They might not get the connection to Los Angeles or to tattooing or history of art, or whatever it is I hope to try to send out there. But, you have that opportunity to push that message a little further.

BallerStatus.com: You've started your own, Arudima Studios. Tell us about that.

Jun Cha: When I first doing tattoos, I worked with Lowrider Tattoo Studios. I still work close with them and represent them. I started Arudima Studios, I started as kind of a place to house the design, painting and illustration work all into one base. And, it's basically my own studio where I do my own work. It's pretty consistent to me, in terms of what they all mean to me. It's a place where I focus all of that into one area and it all flows together.

For more information, more art, and/or a tattoo appointment visit JunCha.net.