Jonathan Valena went to seminary school thinking he’d become a youth pastor. Instead, he became the go-to for inking the celebrity fashion set.
Valena, who operates under the moniker JonBoy, is a Filipino-American artist who specializes in micro tattoos. He has inked thousands of people, taking as many as five appointments in one day, and his work appears on the bodies, faces and inner lips of some of the most famous names in fashion and music — Kendall Jenner, Justin Bieber, Bella Hadid and Travis Scott included.
This month, JonBoy opened his first stand-alone shop in his nearly 20-year career. The space, located in a room in the lobby of Bar Moxy at Moxy Times Square in New York, features his byname in purple neon lighting, an Instagrammable wall printed with his face and a slew of exclusive Gucci and Supreme items, the most prominent of which is his signature black Gucci print tattoo table.
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JonBoy seemingly inherited his love for Gucci from his mother.
“Growing up, we were poor, but my mom rocked a Gucci tote,” he said, sitting next to his tattoo table on a matching Gucci stool. “We’d go to Sizzler for all-you-can-eat shrimp, and she’d stuff it and we got something to eat throughout the day.”
He called the luxury brand’s most recent events involving a racially insensitive balaclava sweater “unfortunate,” but still wears it often; even his tattoo machine is Gucci-branded. The fashion house captured his attention in recent years when creative director Alessandro Michele began using tattoo imagery in some of the newer designs.
“Alessandro’s crushing it and giving [tattoo artists] an opportunity,” said JonBoy. “We live in an interesting time in fashion where a guy like me who does tattoos can collab with certain people and get into this world. It’s intimidating because I feel like [the fashion world] is on a different level and I just do tattoos, but I’m tattooing all these people anyway.”
He is known for micro designs, a style he said is inspired by fellow artist Dr. Woo on the West Coast. “They’re little fashion accessories,” he said of the mini tats. “I pay attention to detail and that’s why I’m the go-to for these small tattoos.”
Tattoos — especially those on the face — have become increasingly popular in recent years, thanks in part to social media. JonBoy, who has 636,000 Instagram followers, sees them becoming mainstream “to an extent.”
“Tattoos are still going to be taboo to some people, and that’s OK because it keeps it special,” he said. “A lot of my clientele, it’s their first tattoo, so I get to ask questions [like] why they’re getting that little line or that little dot or that Roman numeral date. A few days ago, this girl was getting her first tattoo for her father who had committed suicide. On Instagram, I put everyone’s tattoos up because you don’t know if that’s going to speak to someone from the other side of the world. It’s important.”
He sees ink as an extension of the beauty industry and references Kat Von D, the tattoo artist and entrepreneur who created Kat Von D Beauty. “She’s paved the way for guys like me to be in this industry and to be in the beauty world,” he said.
He has worked with both fashion and beauty brands, including shoe brand Koio, 7 For All Mankind and Revlon, for which he did tattoos at Beautycon in Los Angeles. He has been approached by an unnamed brand to do temporary tattoos, but declined for fear it would make it easier for competing artists to knock off his style. He’d prefer to create “something that people can wear,” and is holding out for one collaboration in particular.
“I’ve had people approach me and I’ve had to say no only because I’m holding out for Gucci,” he said. “It’s hard because I want Gucci to f–k with me officially, you know what I mean? I want to do something with them.”
What would a JonBoy x Gucci collab look like?
“I don’t know,” he said, laughing. “I just want to be around their creatives. They’re on that wave that I want to be on.”
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