Robert “Chance” Molina’s tattoos look like the work of a lifetime. His parents’ faces stare out from his stomach. His arms are layered with intricate designs of skulls, flames, the Grim Reaper, and his daughter’s name, Bianca, to name a few. The tattoos are so interwoven it’s hard to tell when one ends and the other begins. Two immobile tears sit under each of his eyes.
Molina, 35, did not get his first tattoo until 2001. He tattooed eyebrows on himself and developed an immediate ink addiction. Since then, he has gotten about 500 tattoos, and he has tattooed them all himself, he said. “I’m actually at the point where I’m doing things in between tattoos. I’m just filling in spaces,” he said.
For Molina, tattooing himself is a type of therapy. If he’s upset, stressed out, depressed or angry, he’ll give himself a new tattoo. As a result, his tattoos are road map of his struggles: difficult relationships, the death of his parents, quitting ectasy pills, quitting smoking, being away from his family.
After working for several years as a freelance tattoo artist, Molina now works in the back of a South Bronx salon, where he practices his art on other people. The small workroom is a stepping-stone for his dream: having his own shop with tattoo artists working for him.
This slideshow shows Molina at work, as he transforms a customer’s wilted flower tattoo into a bold, colorful rose. The customer is Jeni Ortiz, 31, a stylist at the salon. Her brother tattooed the flower on her 10 years ago, she said. Molina would not want to be doing anything else for a job, even though business has been slow. “I love what I do,” he said.