Tattoos that Stay Gold

By Angela Le Quieu, Staff Reporter | Photos Courtesy of

Stay Gold

After years of work, tat­tooist Leo Gonzales opened Stay Gold on the corner of Yale Boulevard and Gold Street in 2004, and his ethi­cal and artistic approach has made his business one that is based on word of mouth and repeat customers.

Gonzales said that he is an oil painter which was his original career goal, but after a friend suggested that they get tattoo equipment he decided to try it as a new medium of artwork, he said.

“It just grabbed a hold of me, and I just became possessed by it, and I always thought that I would be a painter, and that tat­tooing would be my hobby, and it turned out to be the opposite, that painting has become more of a hobby,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales has been tattooing for 21 years and it was not until 14 years ago in 2000, that he felt he had put in his dues working for other people and said he was comfort­able enough to open his own shop.

Gonzales’ style is sur­realistic horror and fantasy tattoos, and he has an array of artwork for sale at his shop.

Because Gonzales has been working in the Albuquerque area for his entire tattooing career he is a well know tattoo artist and books appointments several months out, Pippin said.

Gonzales has definite ideas about the ethics of tattooing people, which he said is a canvas that moves, bleeds, and breathes.

“When I first started tat­tooing I took a kind of a moral stance that I wasn’t going to tattoo anybody until I had tat­tooed myself and earned my chops,” he said.

Although Gonzales did not go through a formal apprenticeship, and it took him 10 times as long to understand tattooing, the path he took was the best way for him, Gonzales said.

After he had practiced tattooing on his own legs he began to work on friends, and after a while he took jobs from people who requested them from him, he said.

It has only been in the past two years that Gonzales has felt that he could bring in his painting skills and tech­niques to the work he is doing with tattoos, he said.

“That was hard at the beginning, because I had such a background with painting I thought that I could bring what I knew about painting into tattoo­ing and I was completely mistaken, it’s completely different,” Gonzales said.

The oil paintings that he has done can be seen the Pop Gallery in Santa Fe as well as at Stay Gold, although he said he does not like to go through galleries because of the high percentage they take from the sale of art work.

Gonzales attributes his love of art to his mother who was a freelance illustrator for Los Alamos Labs and began to teach him how to draw at a very early age, he said.

“We thought that we were going to have to move out of the neighborhood and it turns out that this building came up for rent and it was right across the street from where we were at and we were like ‘oh we get to stay in the neighborhood’ and we were just bouncing names off each other,” Gonzales said.

The name came from his previous partner Danno Sanchez, and it references a poem by Robert Frost called “Nothing Gold Can Stay” which is related to the rough transitional time that they were going through, plus the new location was on Gold Street, Gonzales said.

Many people attribute the name to a line from the movie “The Outsiders” in which one of the characters says “Stay gold Ponyboy” but that line is referencing the poem as well, Gonzales said.

“We were staying in the neighborhood and we thought Stay Gold, we are staying golden and it was a perfect fit,” Gonzales said.

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