Dave Bautista and John Kural on the Art of Storytelling Through Tattoos

Dave Bautista and John Kural
Courtesy Image

This article is an installment of the Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior series, which features advice, key interviews, and tips for living a life of consistent impact, continuous growth, and continual learning.

What do Marvel superstar Dave Bautista and tattoo artist John Kural have in common? The short answer: They’re both storytellers—just via different mediums.

A former WWE wrestler, Bautista has starred in a dozen feature films over the past 16 years, including the Academy Award-winning Dune and his breakout role as Drax the Destroyer in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. As an actor, he’s known for helping tell compelling stories by bringing realism and depth to the characters he portrays. While John Kural doesn’t command the instant name recognition of his famous friend, he’s no less talented. A true creative spirit, Kural says, “I’ve been tattooing for 27 years but have been an artist all my life. I grabbed a pencil as a child and have been creating ever since. It just comes out of me.” The Tampa Bay artist has developed a solid reputation by helping clients tell meaningful stories through beautiful custom tattoos.

Along with storytelling, the friends have always shared an appreciation for the marginalized art of tattooing. In January, the duo celebrated the grand opening of DC Society Ink, an upscale studio in downtown Tampa that’s challenging public perception of tattoo shops by providing a comfortable and welcoming environment.

DC Society Ink

In the waiting area, a long black velvet couch with clean lines and a modern silhouette sits snug against the wall. Above it hangs a series of framed movie posters that follow Bautista’s journey through Hollywood. The warm browns and reds of a handmade oak coffee table add warmth to the room’s dark, cool palette. The studio feels more like an art collective than a stereotypical tattoo parlor with its open floor plan, well-lit steampunk vibe, and friendly staff.

“Tattoo shops have a reputation of being holes in the wall,” says Kural. “We wanted to change that by opening a classy shop that was enjoyable rather than a place you’re scared to go in…Dave and I wanted to make this more professional than what’s out there.”

Touching Souls & Telling Stories

Tattoo culture ebbs and flows, but one thing that never changes is the belief that tattoos are more than art pieces. They’re potent expressions of individuality and visual representations of one’s unique experiences. DC Society Ink embraces this mindset.

“When we started talking about opening a shop, we knew we wanted to touch people’s souls,” Kural adds. “So, it’s important that we make people feel an emotional connection to their tattoos.”

When John started in the industry all those years ago, shops around the country relied on clients “picking a drawing from the wall… but I never believed in it,” he explains. “Custom work is our model because people have stories they want to remember for a lifetime and our team wants to help them do that.” While some tattoos celebrate significant life events, like the birth of a child, most artists learn early in their careers that the stories they tell are not always happy. John says, “It’s sad when you’re doing a portrait of someone who’s passed away, and you can feel how much the person you’re tattooing is hurting, but you’re helping them keep their loved one’s memory alive.”

Challenging an Industry

Over the past few decades, tattoos have gone from being a part of American counterculture to being accepted by the mainstream. As the demand for quality custom work increases, DC Society is there for clients who are interested in collaborating with some of today’s top tattoo artists to design unique pieces. “Clients aren’t just leaving with a tattoo, they’re leaving with a little piece of our souls, and I’m honored that they are,” Kural says,

It hasn’t taken long for the team at DC Society Ink to prove they’re not interested in following the crowd or maintaining the status quo. Instead, they’re challenging an entire industry to elevate its game.

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