Making his mark: Glenwood Tattoo artist Matt Renner knows his ink
During his freshman year at NYU, an advisor asked Matt Renner what type of art he wanted to pursue.
The assembly was intended to show bachelor of fine arts students like Renner what career avenues were available.
Sitting along the auditorium’s front row, the Big Apple art advisor quickly zeroed in on the Rifle-raised Renner.
“I said ‘I want to be a tattooer.’” Renner recalled. “She kind of gave me this dirty look and no one said anything.”
The aspiring tattoo artist tried to brush it off, but the advisor’s glowing reaction to many of the other students’ own art ambitions had Renner second-guessing if he was even in the right place.
Having studied the intricacies of traditional Japanese tattoos and realistic tattoos in his spare time, Renner was dismayed by the art advisor’s snub toward a craft that dates back thousands of years.
“I thought it was amazing artwork,” Renner said. “When I saw one of my teachers kind of ‘poo-poo’ it I was like, whoa, there is something to be done here.”
So, Renner ditched being stamped with over $100,000 in student debt and instead returned to Colorado where he eventually became a tattoo artist in Glenwood Springs.
From NYU to White Lodge Tattoo
Like most kids, Renner enjoyed playing videogames growing up.
However, what the 6-year-old Renner relished even more was drawing his favorite videogame characters with his preferred tool – a No. 2 Ticonderoga pencil.
“I started drawing anime sketches and stuff from ‘Pokémon’ and ‘Legend of Zelda’ and all of these videogames,” Renner said. “Things from my Nintendo magazine, I would draw that from reference.”
Renner’s uncle, James Renner, was a painter himself who specialized in Western-style art.
His uncle’s oftentimes still-in-progress work inspired Renner to complete a series of photorealistic portraits centered on Native Americans, including one of Sitting Bull.
“I just kept drawing photorealistically and I built a massive portfolio of drawings,” Renner said.
Renner even did a photorealism portrait of one of his favorite film characters – Lloyd Christmas – from the 1994 comedy classic “Dumb and Dumber,” which he later tattooed on his thigh.
“It took about 8-hours,” Renner said. “Upside-down.”
Today, Renner still keeps those photorealism portraits near his workstation in White Lodge Tattoo & Gallery in downtown Glenwood Springs.
In the basement of 824 Grand Ave., Renner has developed a following with locals and tourists alike.
According to Renner, tourists often make their way down White Lodge Tattoo & Gallery’s stairs wanting a pine tree or mountain range tattoo.
“I’ve done a few straight-up outlines of Mount Sopris,” Renner said.
Additionally, from brookies to rainbow trout, Renner’s bright and bold “gummy style” tattoos have caught on with plenty of locals, too.
“I couldn’t figure out what to call it,” Renner laughed. “A lot of people were just calling it that already…gummy trout.”
Make no mistake, though, the 28-year-old tattoo artist’s abilities extend well beyond his traditional color-work.
From black bears to Gene Simmons, Renner has completed a litany of black and gray tattoos on a variety of body parts.
“It’s a folk art,” Renner said. “Probably, in the last 20 years, people have been pushing the limits, experimenting and doing new things with tattooing that weren’t ever done before.”
Oyen Hoffman, one of Renner’s repeat clients, said he considered Renner not only a talented artist but also a dear friend.
Collectively, Hoffman spent between 40-50 hours in White Lodge Tattoo in order for Renner to complete his rising-from-the-ashes, phoenix tattoo.
“Matt Renner is very accepting of people and their place in the world,” said Hoffman. “He just gets to know them.”
Taking the Taboo out of Tattoo
Generally speaking, Renner will tattoo just about any body part, except for the face. Especially if that individual has no other tattoos on their body and wants the first one to go on their face.
“Most honest tattooers will just say no to that,” Renner said. “You should be cautious about that.”
Renner said if a customer wants a face tattoo, he may consider doing it, if that person already has ink on his or her hands and neck.
“It doesn’t mean I won’t do it. I will and I have,” Renner said. “I make sure they know, for sure, what they’re getting into.”
Renner said he didn’t exactly know what he was getting into when he traded in NYU for a profession in the tattoo craft.
Although society hasn’t quite warmed up to face tattoos, Renner believed it has with respect to tattoos in other visible places.
“How could you, as a business, not accept someone who is perfectly capable of doing their job,” Renner said. “And, the only thing that they have ‘wrong’ is that they have a tattoo.”
Luckily for Renner, his workplace readily accepts all of his tattoos.
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