Jessie “Juicy” Wells is shop manager at Think Tank Tattoo in Denver, Colorado. Wells has an exceptional collection of figural work, the pieces forming an excellent composition of richly colored traditional and monochromatic designs. In this interview, Wells kindly tells us about what drives her collection, how she became a collector, and much more.
What is your name, birthplace, and year of birth?
Jessie “Juicy” Wells. Colorado, USA, 1985.
Where did you grow up? Please describe your upbringing and sociocultural background.
I grew up in Arvada, which is a suburb of Denver, Colorado. My mother is from Mexico and my father is from Arizona but has roots in Mississippi.
When did you start getting tattooed?
I got my first tattoo when I was 16, but I started getting tattooed consistently around a year after I began working at Think Tank Tattoo.
What made you want to get tattooed? What are your first memories of seeing tattoos?
When I was in fifth grade, I attended a slumber party at a friend's house. My friend’s sister, Megan, had volunteered to stay awake with all of the girls at the slumber party because she was trying to win Pearl Jam tickets from the local rock radio station. A few of us idolized Megan and she let us hang out with her in her room while she listened for the cue to call the radio station and claim her prize. Eventually, she showed us a small purple butterfly tattoo on her lower hip that she had been hiding from her parents. It was the coolest thing my 11 year old eyes had ever seen. That was it: I was hooked.
Who first tattooed you and how did you choose the design and placement of that tattoo?
My first tattoo was a friendship tattoo that I got with four other friends. Since we were 16 at the time, our parents took us to a street shop. The artist that did our tattoos was visibly annoyed and, since working in the same industry, I can now see why. We were obnoxious; we were constantly checking in with each other and everyone gave their opinion on the placement of everyone else’s tattoo. I have no idea what the artist’s name was. I don’t think he ever gave it to us.
My second tattoo is more significant. While I was in high school, an older boy recommended Think Tank Tattoo in Denver and told me anyone there would do a good job. I went in and got—what is now an embarrassing—song lyrics from my then-favorite band tattooed on my foot. Scottie DeVille, the current owner of Think Tank Tattoo, gave me exactly what I wanted. Four years later I responded to a Craigslist ad asking for counter help at Think Tank Tattoo: my knowledge of the booking software they had pirated and the fact that Scottie had tattooed me got my foot in the door. I’ve been working for him ever since.
After your first piece, did you deliberately build a collection? How do you conceive of the relationship between your tattoos?
There wasn’t ever a deliberate decision to begin collecting tattoos. It would be hard to avoid getting tattooed while constantly being surrounded by such amazing artists at Think Tank Tattoo. I now care less about what I’m getting tattooed and more about who is doing the tattoo. I see tattooing as an exchange of energy—part of this is due to witnessing firsthand the physical and mental effort put into applying a well-done tattoo. I am more likely to get tattooed by an artist that is fairly laid-back and makes his tattoo session a fun experience, than to get tattooed by an artist that takes himself very seriously and is a tightly-wound perfectionist.
Are there particular pieces that have had a lasting symbolic and/or historical significance to you? Is the meaning of a given piece or the time and context in which you got it important to you?
Yes! All of them in some way or another. Some of my tattoos are quite literal, like the portrait of my grandfather, or the text, “Nana”, on my leg. I also have a couple of pet portraits. Since I’ve worked in a tattoo shop for most of my adult life, these pieces remind me of certain chapters as well as different groups of friends from different periods in my life. A lot of these friends are tattooers that I worked with, who have imparted invaluable knowledge about the industry to me. Some of them have since become competitors, so it’s nice to have that little reminder that a lot of our competitors have helped me at one point and we are still part of the same community.
How do you understand being substantially tattooed? How does it differ from living with your first few pieces?
It’s the difference between obsessing and stressing over one piece and filling in blank skin. I have pieces from artists that I’ve put so much thought and effort into, making sure that my tattoos had deep meaning. Now I make tattoo selections in a much quicker way based on visual appeal. I also really like getting traditional tattoos. I’ve always really been interested in history so I like the idea of carrying a piece of traditional flash that was designed by someone in the early ‘30s or ‘40s on my body. I bet the artist who designed it never thought that somebody in 2019 would be wearing one of their designs! It’s a totally unique way to pay homage to the all-time tattooers that made my livelihood possible.
"While I was in high school, an older boy recommended Think Tank Tattoo in Denver and told me anyone there would do a good job. I went in and got—what is now an embarrassing—song lyrics from my then-favorite band tattooed on my foot. Scottie DeVille, the current owner of Think Tank Tattoo, gave me exactly what I wanted. Four years later I responded to a Craigslist ad asking for counter help at Think Tank Tattoo: my knowledge of the booking software they had pirated and the fact that Scottie had tattooed me got my foot in the door. I’ve been working for him ever since."
Has your collection received any interesting reactions that you’d like to share?
I once did a raindrop therapy session, which is a type of energy work. One thing the practitioner said to me after our session was that I use my tattoos like armor, and that while many tattoos weaken their wearers, mine make me stronger.
When I first started collecting tattoos, rather than just focusing on single pieces, the artists that now work at Dedication Tattoo were working with us. They had work together in Texas before coming to our shop and were heavily influenced by traditional American and traditional Japanese art. I always admired the way they discussed these tattoos. Their strength and longevity were appealing, and the initial impact seems to match my strong and loud personality perfectly. Traditional American and traditional Japanese tattoos were worn by warriors, sailors, and gangsters. There is definitely a connection between the strength in these types of tattoos and the strength expected of the people who wore them.
You can find out more about Jessie on Instagram (@bruja_mota).
Chest, eagle on back of thigh, and sweet and sour babies on knee ditch by Jake Bray (@jakebray15)
Peacock on left arm by William Thidemann (@thidemann)
Racoon on right arm by Sam Yamini (@therealsamyamini)
Weed skull on stomach by Noodles (@noodles_tattooer)
Back piece and tarantula on right leg by Matt Scanlan (@mattscanlan)
Grandfather portrait by Jef Kopp (@jkopp66)
Puppy portrait by Brian Henry (@bhens)
"BFF" caricature on left leg and hammerhead shark on right leg by Alisha Rice (@alisharicetattoo)
Knees by Andy Canino (@a_canino)
“Nana" on left leg by Duder (@duder.tattoo)
Krampus on left leg by Matt Sager (@mattsager)
Cartoon cat on let leg by Benjamin Haft (@allied_tattoo)
Queen Pup by Adam Rosenthal (@adamrosenthaltattoo)
Heart, shaking hands, and panther on right leg and royal heart on left leg by Fish (@fish_tattoos)
Hand with joint by Sky James (@skyjamestattoos)
Weed wizard by Brian Thurow (@brian_thurow_tattoos)
Spanish lady by Regino Gonzales (@rg74)
Phantom rider by Tyler James Densley (@tjd_tbd)
Boar Head on left calf by Javier Rodriguez (@javier_rodrigueztattoo)
Grapes on right calve by Jenny Lee (@curiobella)
Foot lyrics by Scottie DeVille (@scottie_deville)
Snake head on outer left calve by Karina Monzon
Devil head by Matt Van Cura (@mattvancura)