Used to be, you could only trust maybe a shop or two in Santa Fe.

In the old days, there was Four Star Tattoo owned by Dawn Purnell and Mark Vigil, who carried on the work started by the late, great tattooer Bill Wissman. It was unequivocally the best (with respect to other shops that were pretty OK, but not the best).

Purnell eventually peeled off to open Dawn's Custom and apprentice artists of her own; Vigil continued the work at Four Star, training a new generation of artists like Scott Buffington, J. Green, Crowe B. Rising (who runs the private studio Talis Fortuna), Jeffrey Pitt (also a private studio owner) and newcomer Miguel Chavez, as did Purnell. Both would welcome guest artists who became part of the family (like Guido Baldini at Four Star, who'd go on to open Lost Cowboy with his apprentice Owen Lostetter, now a kickass artist in his own right) and Amelia Albright at Dawn's Custom—and someplace within all of that, a young artist named Zac Scheinbaum learned the trade.

Full disclosure, I've got a preexisting relationship with Scheinbaum (and some totally sweet 'toos), so he won't be part of this story other than to say he recently assembled a veritable A Team of tattooers to open Shrine Tattoo (55 W Marcy St., 795-9708), Santa Fe's newest shop and a welcome addition to an already exploding landscape. If you've ever considered collecting work on a serious level, this place needs to be on your radar. I'll break it down by artist.

The Shrine Tattoo crew.
The Shrine Tattoo crew. | Courtesy Shrine Tattoo

Marie Sena (@mariesena)

Regular readers of SFR will already be familiar with Sena's work as she designed the mega-popular 2018 Best of Santa Fe cover art (the one with the jackalope). Sena also shows annually at Spanish Market when it actually goes down (stupid COVID) and is represented by Pop Gallery. Born and bred in New Mexico, Sena's been running Electric Eye in Dallas with her husband Caleb Barnard for years but, she says, the time to return home is now.

"Zac approached me about a year ago, and we were both talking about moving home, and he asked if I wanted to do something together," she tells SFR. "I've known Zac a long time, so it evolved into a shop."

Known primarily for her signature twist on traditional tattoo work (think birds and snakes to get the slightest inkling), Sena's background in medical -illustration proves a unique and bedazzling element of her work. Look to the small details in a hawk's wing or even just anatomically correct hands, and you'll find an artist with almost shocking ability. Sena paints as well and says Shrine could easily—and probably will—collaborate with local orgs and artists for potential pop-up shows, youth mentorships and who even knows what else. But why return now?

"I definitely had to find myself outside of New Mexico," she says. "I had to realize how special it is, and now, as an adult professional, I've been feeling I need to come back home and give something back to the town I grew up in—there's no place like it."

Work by Marie Sena
Work by Marie Sena

John Sultana (@johnsultana)

Sultana hooked up with Scheinbaum in the small tattoo world of New York City. A Brooklyn native, he says he came to Santa Fe for a change of pace, adding that he "absolutely loves the desert climate."

Sultana's got 15 years under his belt and specializes in a combination of fine line and pointillism that ultimately make up psychedelic black-and-gray geometrical shapes.

"That style of tattooing, when I started doing it, wasn't really popular," he says. "I've been tattooing because…as a teenager, I was getting a lot of tattoos, as many as I could afford, and then I went to art school and quickly realized I wasn't going to make a living as a painter, but it seemed like tattooing was something I could do where I could make some money and also be stimulated creatively."

Now that he's here, Sultana says, he finds inspiration in the mountains, particularly when snowboarding, and in the artistry he sees all around him.

"It's a creative place," he says. "I know it'll help me to be more proactive in my own practice."

Aron Dubois (@aronjohndubois)

Dubois came up in Colorado and Oregon but already had the Santa Fe connection as his fiancée Emma Bagley (a semi-retired tattooer herself, which is a tough pill to swallow because her work is phenomenal) came up here. She returned with Dubois in tow about two years ago. Since then, he's been working in more private settings, but joins Scheinbaum's team with what can only be described as a strangely gorgeous mix of esoterica and mysticism with an occult-ish edge.

"I can tell you're looking for juicy adjectives," he says with a laugh by phone when asked to come up with a descriptive term. "I guess…mystic Americana."

"I was always drawn to Tim Burton kind of stuff, like, darker imagery that's still hopeful," he continues. "A lot of that imagery isn't directly taken from occult or esoteric art, but I do find that stuff interesting and try to distill it and use that same kind of ideology in what I do—it's trying to communicate something more spiritual and doing it through the symbolic lexicon of my own life."

I wish I could explain precisely what it is that Dubois creates, but you'll just have to check it out yourself. Know that he cut his teeth doing street art and graffiti, and that he says he's inspired by the land and feel of the high desert, as well as the artistic milieu.

"The [Museum of International Folk Art] is my number one," he explains. "Everything in there inspires this idea that art doesn't need to be intellectual or serious or exclusive. I like that idea…people allowing themselves to create something."