Beyond Ink

How Body Canvas Tattoo Shop & Art Gallery is challenging the stereotypes of tattoo culture

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Providence is a city bursting with color and art, so it’s no surprise tattoo shops are in large supply – and growing. Owners DaMarcus Shelborne and David Fallis of Body Canvas Tattoo Shop & Art Gallery aren’t worried about the competition though, because they’re confident no one has a business quite like theirs.

“A lot of the time people go into these shops and leave with tattoos instead of body art – that’s what we do differently,” says Shelborne. Every piece designed at Body Canvas is custom and distinct, just like the client. “You can’t get anything off the wall here,” he explains. “Our customers come in with an idea, and we collaborate on it and create the piece together.”

Fallis details the process, from initial consultation to picking the right artist: “All of our artists specialize in different styles, so we take that into account as well as to who we think the client would have the best chemistry with.”

Shelborne and Fallis met as students 17 years ago at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. In 2015, Shelborne opened the first Body Canvas in Delaware, where the shop found huge success. Then, with Fallis on board, they decided to relocate to Providence and combine their talents and start a business last spring.

The pair see tattooing as its own genre of art and self-expression, so the decision to have the store double as an art gallery was a natural extension – in the spirit of twentieth century artist Marcel Duchamp, who challenged the very definition of what was considered art at the time. Every tattoo created for a client transitions seamlessly as another piece in the gallery, alongside unconventional paintings, drawings, sculpture, jewelry art, and photos. Next spring, Body Canvas plans to expand into the bar next door to be able to bring in even more art and sell clothing, art supplies, and maybe skateboard decals.

“People often see tattooing in a very distinct light,” Shelborne muses. “They think of bikers and navy culture and they picture tattooing alongside very rough neck and badass people. Now, it’s really starting to be perceived as art, and we want to emphasize that.”