Mana Contemporary, a creative haven in the Pilsen neighborhood, is home to many artists, one of whom is an up-and-coming tattoo artist Natallia Ryshtakova. Ryshtakova, known as @star_lynx on Instagram, is looking to become a well-rounded artist in the Chicago underground scene, marrying her tattooing to other art forms such as painting and fashion.
Ryshtakova moved to the Chicago suburbs with her family in 2015 for her father’s job from their home in the Eastern European Republic of Belarus. This was where her interest in tattooing started. “I wanted to do it since I was a teenager, but you can’t get into that before 18, so I was just drawing a lot.”
Roughly seven years later, Ryshtakova has her own studio from which she does freelance tattooing. Perched on an orange couch, her voice echoing off the concrete walls and high ceilings of her beloved studio space, Ryshtakova reminisced about her first-time tattooing. “It was on my best friend, who thankfully is still my best friend.” The tattoo was of Toby, a fish man known for his arsenal of negative and depressing facts, from the Comedy Central animated series Ugly Americans.
Since her rendition of Toby, Ryshtakova has honed her aesthetic to be best described as “small scale realism.” Her fine line tattooing relies on delicate lines and soft shading. “I love detailing and I’m very soft handed.” What makes her art unique is the balance she creates between the softness of her tattoo style and the self-described “creepy” images she portrays. “Skulls, and bones, and monsters, they all look really good as tattoos.”
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Ryshtakova’s breakthrough into Chicago’s “creative bubble,” as she calls it, was not through tattooing –– it was through fashion. When her family moved to the Chicago suburbs Ryshtakova started working for Notre, a high-end streetwear boutique in the West Loop. “That’s how I got a lot of connections in Chicago because it was all creative people.” Ryshtakova found herself happy and thriving in the fashion scene, though things changed when a friend convinced her to tattoo them. “Once I did it, I was like yeah, there’s no coming back.” Despite being offered a promotion with Notre, Ryshtakova quit her job and returned to Belarus to reignite her passion for tattooing.
Eastern Europe takes a very different approach to tattooing than the United States, one which is very apparent in Ryshtakova’s style. There the main emphasis is on precise, detail-oriented, and creative tattoos. You have to be a good artist on paper before you start tattooing, whereas here, Ryshtakova says, people typically become good at tattooing first and the artistry comes later. Her few months home were spent giving tattoos to friends out of her house, teaching herself as she went.
Tattoo shops in Chicago tend to stick to the traditional styles and have a “bro-y vibe” according to Ryshtakova. This traditional “bro” vibe could not be further from her style. With her curly brown hair in a perfectly messy bun, she exudes cool from her chunky black platform boots to her baby blue mask covered in cherubs. Though deterred from wanting to work in a Chicago shop, she still felt a deep connection to the city’s artistic community.
Returning to Chicago, Ryshtakova quickly grew a base of clientele from the connections she had made within the creative bubble. She spoke fondly of this artistic community that welcomed her, saying, “It’s very supportive, it’s easy to get in. Once you’re in the bubble it’s hard to get out and go shop in a regular department store, no, you want to go to a specific place to support a homie. It’s more fun.”
This stint in the fashion world also gave her a new perspective on tattooing. Fashion as a culture manifests itself in endless ways, having a tendency to find inspiration in other various art forms. Take for example Valentino’s Spring 2017 collection which featured a dress inspired by Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights.
The harmony fashion finds with art inspires Ryshtakova to find a similar harmony between art and her tattooing. Her favorite tattoo so far does exactly this; it was inspired by art from @titymi on Instagram that was inspired by Belgian fashion designer Martin Margiela’s spiral staircase “Trompe-l’œil.”
“I want everything to be cohesive and I think that’s possible and I’m going there.” It is apparent that Ryshtakova not only has aspirations for her art, but also for the platform it has given her. Her vision is to use this platform to connect all types of creative people, using her studio as a space for anything ranging from a pop-up shop to an art gallery. “I have the two best things ever; I have people and space. Once it’s safer I want to do something with that.”
Header illustration by Phoebe Nerem