Celebrity Tattoo Artist Katrina “Kat Tat” Jackson, 28, celebrates a year of business at her Beverly Hills tattoo shop, Enigma. As the first Black woman to own a tattoo studio in Beverly Hills, she uses her shop to showcase the talent and professionalism of artists of color.
Growing up in Chicago, Jackson had a knack for art, competing in art competitions both locally and across the country. By the time she was a teenager she knew that she wanted to be a tattoo artist, and upon graduating high school, Jackson bought a tattoo machine to take with her to the University of Missouri. As part of her scholarship, Jackson was able to stay on campus during the summer before classes started. Even though she had never tattooed anyone, she proclaimed herself as a tattoo artist and spent time learning from YouTube and practicing on fake skin. While this information was useful, Jackson still had a lot to learn. During her first tattoo session, her machine stopped working and she could not figure out how to fix it. She went to a local tattoo shop in Missouri to get help but ended up encountering her first experience of prejudice in the tattoo industry.
“It was difficult to break into the tattoo industry, especially 10 years ago when I first started. I will never forget the look on their faces when I brought my machine in to the local shop,” said Jackson. “It was hard to gain knowledge. Those White shops didn’t want to open up on any information and they were rude, so I went back to Chicago.”
Jackson spent the rest of her summer in Chicago learning from artists in her neighborhood who were open to teaching her the mechanics and technique. She went back to the University of Missouri when the summer ended and was the tattoo girl on campus, tattooing everyone from athletes to bookworms. She soon became known as Kat Tat. The following summer, Jackson came back to Chicago, this time with her eyes set on working at a shop. She found one right around the corner from her dad’s house where the owner was willing to take a chance on her, giving Jackson knowledge and eventually her first professional job as a tattoo artist.
“On my summer home from college, I got into a Black shop in my hood called Victory Tattoo. Ian Johnson was the owner and he took me under his wing and taught me how to do everything professionally. I’ll always love him for that,” said Jackson. “It was hard finding a professional shop that wants to teach you and to find one right around the corner from my dad’s house, it was like the universe was aligning.”
With a calling, connections from college, and job opportunities, Jackson decided to drop out of college and began working for two tattoo shops in Chicago, including Victory Tattoo. Things seemed to keep moving up as Jackson became part of the cast for a new show on VH1, Black Ink Crew Chicago, in 2015. The show gained Jackson a lot of notoriety, with one of her first scenes being one where she tattooed a large, detailed image of a vintage burlesque woman on her own thigh.
“The TV show was definitely a blessing. It came along at a point where I had worked really, really hard to be a good tattoo artist,” said Jackson. “But then the blessings started to turn into the devil’s work, and it put me in a dark space. I moved to LA to get away from all of that.”
Jackson left the show in January of 2018 and started working at Under the Gun, here in Los Angeles. While working there, Jackson kept getting asked about opening her own shop, so that year she started doing the paperwork to make it happen. Everything worked out smoothly, from finding a location, to finding seven artists whose work she admires to work at the shop. When it came to picking a name for it, a long-time favorite song helped her out.
“There’s this song that is me and my mom’s jam called the Principles of Lust and it’s by the band Enigma,” said Jackson. “I was brainstorming with my mom in Chicago and it just came to me, Enigma. My mom looked at me, smiled and gave me a big high five. It just felt right.”
After coming up with Enigma, Jackson looked up the meaning, which is a person or thing that’s mysterious, constantly changing, and difficult to figure out. Lyrics of the song’s beginning and ending spoke about letting sadness go and doing what feels right. Jackson felt that it reflected her and that point in her life so well and found out that the song was composed the same year that she was born, 1991. Six months later, Enigma was open for business.
Enigma celebrated its one-year anniversary last month on June 26, with a celebration at the shop with people who have supported Jackson throughout her journey from past tattoo shops that she worked at, to clients, family, friends and more. It continues to showcase talented artists which you can find on the shop’s Instagram page, @enigmabeverlyhills. The Instagram page follows the eight artists only, including Kat Tat, herself. The shop is also online at enigmatattoobevhills.com and is open daily from 12p.m. to 6p.m. at 8760 W Pico Blvd.