Turning a passion into a career is one thing, but turning your career into a side hustle? That’s exactly what visual artist Miya Bailey accomplished throughout his three decade-long career. Bailey, who hails from Atlanta, has been creating fine art since the 1980s and discovered tattooing in the early ‘90s.
He’s since opened his own tattoo shop, the famed City of Ink, which boasts three locations in the heart of Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward district. Today, he only tattoos a few times a week, or whenever he needs a quick cash infusion to fund one of his many passion projects, like opening a community center in one of his shop’s neighborhoods. Giving back to the black community is just one of the ways he uses his artistic platform for good.
We caught up with with Bailey to talk about how he balances fine art and tattooing, his history with Jack Honey Art, Beats & Lyrics, and more.
How did you get your start in art and tattooing?
My family trained me by putting me in schools and enrolling me in contests to help keep me focused on my art as a boy. Once I got bored with canvas and sculpture work, and doing all the fine art things, I discovered tattooing in the early ’90s when I got an apprenticeship in high school.
I moved to Atlanta when I was 19 to go to college for art, and then to finish my apprenticeship. That’s how I got into tattooing. I’ve been tattooing since ’92. I’ve been doin’ art, and I’ve been sellin’ art since the ’80s. That’s my main source of income.
Can you tell me about your relationship with Jack Honey Art, Beats, and Lyrics? How did you first get involved with the show?
I have known Dubelyoo and Jabari for many years, so I’ve been a part of every Art, Beats & Lyrics event. They’re my boys, anything they ask me to do I do it for them. They’ll do my show, and I’ll do theirs. We’re just close friends because the community is really small. Everybody who’s working hard in Atlanta definitely gets picked to do these shows.
You can tell who put in the work over the years. If you’re in Art, Beats & Lyrics that means you’ve been workin’ good the whole year, especially if you’re a new artist that never did it before.
The show started in Atlanta, and you’re based out of there too. How does Jack Honey AB&L keep that local element while bringing it to new destinations?
They use mostly Atlanta artists who are their friends and peers. Everybody that’s in the show knows each other, so it’s like a big family reunion. Everyone who’s been working together for 15-20 years can all hang out and finally see each other.
So if you know these artists and they’re hometown heroes, then you want to go support them in some way. Since everybody knows about Dubelyoo and Art, Beats & Lyrics, it’s not hard to do marketing for it. Everybody wants to show up, it’s free. Trying to get in that thing is crazy, but everybody knows about it.
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists looking to get their name out there?
If you’re in Atlanta, work with other artists. That’s the best way to do it. Don’t try to do things on your own, there’s power in numbers. If you’re an artist and you want to get noticed, do some group shows with the people you’re always around. If you’re around other artists, come together to create a collective and do your own shows. That was my formula, I didn’t do it by myself.
Tell me a little bit more about your art and style.
It’s contemporary; there’s really no style. Most of the styles I created are the styles you see a lot of younger artists are doing now. We were kind of like the pioneers of Afro-futurism. These are the kinds of things that we started in the ’80s, but now people use today in their paintings and illustration work.
I do expressionism, contemporary, fine art. Every category of fine art, I do all those things. Sculpture, collage, illustration, pen and ink, acrylic. I use every medium of art, whatever… collage it don’t matter. I do ’em all… and you’ll still know it’s a Miya Bailey when you see it.
How do you split your time between creating art and tattooing?
I only [tattoo] about three or four people a week, it’s the fastest way to make money. I usually tattoo because I got another project to fund, so I can use that money to build a community center in my neighborhood.
Tell me about your tattoo shop City of Ink.
City of Ink has three locations in Atlanta, Georgia. We got City of Ink Edgewood, our second location. Edgewood is a bar area — kinda rowdy, with hot energy, a lot of Atlanta culture, a lot of clubs, and a lot of parties going on there.
And then City of Ink Castleberry Hills, our flagship location, is the shop we all started in. That’s where we train a lot of artists to start their careers out. They get launched there, and it’s really heavy traffic. It’s more like a tourist attraction ’cause it’s a historical business and everybody knows about it. Most of the urban tattoo cultures started in that building.