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Point of Honor for the Faithful

Orange tattoo festival showcases those who use bodies to spread Christ's message.

August 17, 2003|Mike Anton | Times Staff Writer

When David Wells decided to get a tattoo 11 years ago, he didn't want to use his body as a billboard for anything trivial. So he used his Christian faith as inspiration and had a series of symbols emblazoned on his left breast that told the story of how Christ made him whole.

They were small and discreet. Quickly, though, things got out of hand.

Today, Wells carries a business card that announces him as "The Living Sacrifice." And if sacrifice can be defined as spending more than $20,000 and enduring countless needle stabs to turn 90% of your body into a canvas for religious artwork, then the 46-year-old Westminster man has earned the label.

"All this glorifies God," Wells said, showing some of the 20 images of Jesus, dozens of angels and colorful depictions of spiritual warfare that cover most of his body. "I didn't do this for myself. I never planned to do this. I believe God ordained it."

To anyone who has ever asked the question, What would Jesus do if he picked a tattoo?, the answer could be found Saturday at the Rock of Ages tattoo festival in Orange.

The Christian-inspired festival drew the deeply religious like Wells and hundreds who were more interested in body art than the Bible.

"We want to put out a message that there are Christian people out there who are tattooed," said Robbie Villalpando of Red Dragon Tattoo in Richmond, Va., one of the show's sponsors, whose left arm depicts a battle between angels and demons.

"Just because I have tattoos doesn't mean I can't be saved," he said.

Spiritual talks are woven throughout the three-day event, which ends today at the Doubletree Hotel in Orange. Given the festival's purpose and demographic draw, they were delivered by the offspring of well-known pastors: Ryan Dobson, son of James Dobson, founder of the evangelical ministry Focus on the Family; and Chuck Smith Jr., a pastor whose father heads Costa Mesa's Calvary Chapel.

But the festival was no hard sell, said Sid Stankovits, a 32-year-old Bible studies teacher and Santa Ana tattoo parlor owner who said the majority of his work is religious.

If someone caught the spirit and wanted Christ to share his bicep, that could be arranged. If they'd rather have Hannibal Lecter, well, that's available too.

"Our generation is into individualism. Everything today is so mass-produced," Stankovits said. "A tattoo is personalized. It sets you apart from other people."

In the seven years he's owned his shop, Stankovits' clients have ranged from the 82-year-old grandmother of a friend to pastors and priests.

"A tattoo represents what's important in your life," he said, showing off the multiple images of Christ, the cross and other religious symbols that adorn his arms and legs, chest and back. "When people see me, they know I'm representing him."

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