Who is Kari Barba? - From teenage artist to unrivaled Tattoo Artist extraordinaire

Who is Kari Barba? - Artist to unrivalled Tattoo Artist extraordinaire

Kari Barba officially began tattooing in 1979 at the slender age of just 19 in Minnesota.  Although Kari had been an artist from an early age, to make things really happen, Kari moved to L.A and was by 1991, one of the premier tattoo artists in the country[1].

In November 1982, Kari attended the Long Beach, California tattoo convention aboard the ocean liner Queen Mary. The convention was put on by Triple-E Productions- Don-Ed Hardy, Ed Nolte and Ernie Carafa (please donate)[1]


The first of its kind in the world, Kari had the opportunities to meet many great artists including the organisers.

Other famous attendees at the convention were: Michael “Rollo Banks” Malone (RIP), Don Nolan, Peter Poulos, Cliff Raven (RIP), Bob Roberts, Jack Rudy, Pinky Yun (RIP) and Sid Diller (RIP).  It’s a gentle reminder of how short life is that one in three of these renowned names have now passed.

One of Kari’s best experiences ever is recounted in  Dr Beverley Yuen Thompson’s (aka Snakegrrl) book, “Covered in Ink: Tattoos, Women and the Politics of the Body”. Kari recalls that the oldest woman that she had ever tattooed was around 76 years of age.  However, it was the woman’s first ever tattoo.  When Kari inquired about why it took so long the lady smartly replied

Honey, my husband just died, and he never wanted me to have a tattoo. And darn it, now that he’s gone I’m going to do what I want!

Leading up to the Queen Mary convention, Kari sold over 300 sheets of tattoo flash to the likes of Spaulding and Rogers[1] tattoo suppliers and Erin Carrafa.  Looking at thispic, it’s no surprise Kari’s flash work was and remains a hit!

Bikini Ink Swimwear - Kari Barba Flash

Kari’s never forgotten her roots either.  Kari continues to create in many formats including paintings such as her oil, All Seeing.  We are amazed at what one might call Kari’s take on Edvard Munch‘s Scream series of paintings.  Kari works are nothing less than extraordinary!  You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that you just must have a tattoo done by this amazing artist. Sadly it’s unlikely I can afford one although I have no idea what someone of Kari’s stature might charge.  She simply just must be in such high demand! Do you have a tattoo by any famous artists?  You can check out Kari’s on portfolio here.




Not long after the Long Beach tattoo convention, in 1983 Kari opened her world famous tattoo store  Outerlimits Tattoo (which is said to be the oldest tattoo store in America) with shopfronts in both Long Beach (6 mins from the Queen Mary a hotel since it was acquired by Long Beach from Britain after service) and Costa Mesa. The two stores as best we can work out were originally[1] called Twilight Fantasy and Melrose Tattoo although at least one has likely changed location.

Bikini Ink Swimwear Kari Barba tattoo


Outer Limits Tattoo website tells us that Kari’s won more than 500 awards for her work!

It will come as no surprise to our readers, that someone who appeared at the most famous tattoo convention ever only 3 years after starting tattoo was being written about way back in 1991.  Lily Cheng of the L.A Times back then did an article on 27 March 1991 where  she wrote that at 30, Barba was even then, continued “a master among American Tattooists” Kari quoted as saying”

"A part of me goes onto somebody's skin forever.  I don't want them waking up years from now cursing me”

Back in ’91 at the time of the L.A Times article, it will come as no surprise that that Barba was at that time one of the organizers of the Orange County tattoo convention that was to take place in April of that year with hundreds of tattooists expected to attend.  By 1991, Kari had already won 23 tattoo awards including 2 tattooist of the year awards.  This was a time when female tattoo artists only represented 20% of the members of the National Tattoo Association.

When Lily Cheng wrote her ’91 article, she notes that she spent some time in Kari’s shop watching one of Kari’s clients “Harry” get some Ninja Warriors on his back.  Lily remarks:

Harry already has a number of tattoos on his back, most of them portrayals of women. Most of the faces are crudely drawn and flat, their eyes unfocused and dull.

As the first lines of Barba's etching take shape, there is already a noticeable difference. The warriors are three-dimensional; their eyes piercing into unseen enemies

And goes on to quote Barba as Barba shadows the back of Harry:

"When I do a tattoo, I put myself into the same scene of the warrior, the animal or whatever I'm working on," …
"Sometimes, the person I'm working on sort of disappears, and I'm all alone with the tattoo. I want to make it come alive."


We don’t know how long it takes to see Kari for a tatt, but you can message her here and she’ll normally reply within a day or two. What you can be assured of though is this inevitable truth.  It will be worth it!


Bikini Ink Swimwear ©

All photos courtesy of: Outer Limits Tattoo


See https://locality.com/place/twilight-fantasy-tattoo-anaheim-ca  and 1991 L.A Times article cited above





[1] http://www.spaulding-rogers.com/




[1] http://articles.latimes.com/1991-03-27/news/vw-1078_1_kari-barba

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