Part tattoo parlor, part fine art gallery

Zoey Stevens, a fine artist whose work is internationally known, is now trying his hand at a new artistic medium: tattooing.

Not only that, but he is attempting to combine his new interest with his adoration of art at the Living Art Gallery in San Clemente, which is part tattoo parlor, part fine art gallery.

Stevens, of Laguna Niguel, has shown in Las Vegas, Miami and Frankfurt, Germany, but admits that Orange County has never been in his reach due to the gallery business' apprehension surrounding "counter-culture" artwork.

His portfolio ranges from vibrant celebrity portraits to thought-provoking, sometimes disturbing paintings that depict everything from cell cloning to pollution. Stevens, a Type 1 diabetic, makes paintings that often feature blood.

He's also raised nearly a million dollars for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) through art donations.

He's attempting to shake the art community up a bit by partnering with Living Art Gallery owner Monte Livingston and hosting regular art shows that showcase serious arts newsmakers who are seen in the biggest cities in the world but rarely in Orange County.

The first show, "The Panelists," will open Jan. 21 and feature Stevens' work along with works by renowned names such as Shepard Fairey, KRK Ryden, Anthony Ausgang and Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh, among others. All the artists in the show created a comic-strip style piece that will then be arranged to tell a narrative.

Livingston and Stevens met five months ago and hit it off. Livingston took him on as a tattoo artist and was receptive to his artistic ideas.

Although Livingston has been doing tattoos for 11 years, this is Stevens' first time on the stool; he was slightly afraid at first. He has no tattoos himself.

"It's something I never thought I would do since I'm not really down with the whole tattoo scene," Stevens said.

His mind was changed by a fellow diabetic and tattoo artist, Derick Kurtz, who went blind due to retinopathy.

After Kurtz taught him the trade he was bound to lose, Stevens decided to take a stab with the needle, although he admits it's much different than his medium of choice.

Not only is it on a person rather than a canvas, but he can't be sparked by inspiration at 4 a.m., run into his studio and get to work.

If there's something he wants to do, he said he has to have a willing participant.

He also points out the lifespan. Whereas a canvas might be around for years, a tattoo is form of art that's only around as long as the person wearing it, an aspect he finds interesting about the medium.

Tattoo culture has its own stereotypes that Livingston and Stevens want to reject.

With granite surfaces, French leather-bound books, paintings on the walls and a vintage-style cash register, the Living Art Gallery feels less like a tattoo parlor and more like a library or small bookstore.

Stevens hopes "The Panelists" and other shows at the Living Art Gallery will open up a new artistic culture in Orange County.

"There have always been reservations," he said regarding artists like him. "We're trying to change that whole image."

Twitter: @joannaclay

If You Go

What: "The Panelists"

When: Opening night is Jan. 21 from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.. The show runs through Feb. 14.

Where: The Living Art Gallery at 3107 South El Camino Real, San Clemente

Cost: Free

Information: Visit or call (949) 294-6424.

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