The smell of fresh paint still leaks from the walls and possibly from some of the pieces that have recently taken a spot on the wall of the Toth Art Collective. The space is new - and it looks new. Everything is immaculately clean, the paintings perfectly spaced and illuminated, but what's really new about the place is the edgy and sometimes dark style of the pieces. Something you don't always see on your monthly First Friday art walk.
In a downtown Bend once dominated by art spaces specializing in scenic landscapes, the Toth Art Collective, featuring the paintings of its namesake, Mike Toth, and other regional and local artists, happens to be one of the largest and most elegant places to see art in the area. But here's the thing - the space is also an incredibly popular tattoo studio.
To Toth, one of the country's most lauded young tattoo artists, it's hardly out of the ordinary to have a spacious art gallery in the front of an even more spacious tattoo studio. After all, both mediums are art forms, says the 26-year-old Toth.
"Thinking of tattooing as an art form is old news. Amongst the people we hang out with, it's been that way for a long time," says Toth as he meticulously prepares his tattoo work station with the sanitary precaution of a surgeon for a customer who's soon to arrive on a recent busy Friday.
"People still think of tattooing as going into some little shop and getting a tattoo by some scary biker dude," says Toth.
Although he's heavily inked, as would be expected of a tattoo artist, Toth seems to dispel that biker-dude convention he mentioned. He's incredibly well read and keeps the entire collection of the Harvard Classics - many of which he's already devoured - next to his workspace and speaks eloquently about his craft and anything else that comes through his mind. Also, he's a devoted father to two children and keeps a studio that's cleaner and classier than most hair salons you'll visit in town.
After spending his youth in Tillamook, Toth eventually moved down to Arizona where he began as an apprentice for a tattoo artist. It's around that time he got his first tattoo, but he won't say much about that inking, opting rather to say he's working on covering it up. In 2007, Toth arrived back in Oregon, this time settling in Bend and quickly attracting a steady clientele for his burgeoning tattoo studio. He's traveled to conventions around the country, taking home Best of Show awards at several of them, including a recent win at a show in Portland. And soon after we spoke, Toth was to be interviewed by Skin Deep magazine, one the world's premier tattoo publications.
And the volume of his clientele has reflected these accolades. He says he's pretty much booked through September. The success has come as somewhat of a surprise for Toth. He always knew that he wanted to open up a studio of his own, but figured it would be another five years before he was able to open up his own shop. But when Oxygen Tattoo closed down this fall and the space on Bond Street opened up in October, Toth seized the chance to actualize his dream. He didn't, however, want the space to be merely a tattoo parlor, but also wanted to be able to show fine art.
"I don't think Bend had a gallery right on the main street that can take on a lot of artists," says Toth.
Toth's schedule finds him inking clients, attending conventions and keeping the studio running with the help of his right-hand man, Collin Eder, but also keeping up with his husbandly and fatherly duties. Still, he makes sure he has some time to paint and typically has a canvas underway, stealing away after his two young children have gone to bed to spend a few hours with a brush in hand, creating his shadowy and engaging images. Now, the gallery has begun hanging works by other local and regional artists, all of whom share the sort of "low-brow" edgy approach found in Toth's works.
"We don't want it to look like your typical art show. Yeah, this is a high-end tattoo studio, and when people walk in, they should think about the art first," says Toth.
Toth Art Collective
1024 NW Bond St., 541-207-7477.