Rather than being a burly bald man covered from head to toe with tattoos and piercings, the owner of Laguna Inkspot & Art Gallery is Renee Bangerter, a cherubic-faced mother of five and grandmother of three.
Bangerter served in the United States Marine Corps and worked in banks for years. But when the economy went sour and she was let go from her bank job, she decided to do something very artistic. So she opened up a body art studio and art gallery about a half-mile north of downtown. The studio will be having its grand opening celebration tomorrow, Saturday, Sept. 8.
*Click the box on the right to see photos from Laguna Inkspot. -->
"When I got laid off from the bank," said Bangerter," I just decided that I would like to try to be a full-time artist. I do everything ... oil painting, sculpture, tattoing ... all of it. If you're going to be an artist, where do you have to be? You gotta be in Laguna."
She explained that she wanted to be a tattoo artist, but usually artists are young and they are male. It didn't stop her from hiring a very good artist to give her concentrated training.
"I paid him a lot of money to sit down with me and intensify the training," said Bangerter. "Then off I went. I tattooed everybody I could find for free and I found out I was pretty good at it. I really liked it. I certainly am not a master, but I wanted to surround myself with people that were."
"I felt like I had the ability to help young artists kind of achieve their goals," said Bangerter. "I wanted to be able to [display] art as well as tattooing."
She found a space for rent in the building at the corner of Jasmine and North Coast Highway. She had to get a conditional use permit and had to go to a public hearing before the City of Laguna Beach.
"I had to listen to people stand up and say how tattooing and art had nothing to do with each other. I tried to explain to them that there really is a correlation between art and tattooing. It is just another commission ... it's another canvas and another way to express your art."
She made clear that tattooing is very personal for people. As a tattoo artist, she asks customers what is meaningful to them. For example, clients often will get a tattoo of a loved one who has passed.
Her conservative husband grew up in a Mormon family. He was also in the U.S. Marine Corp, has a master's degree in finance, and is a CPA.
"My husband got up and testified at the public hearing," said Bangerter. "He said, 'When I grew up, tattoos were kind of taboo. But I have one that means a lot to me.' He has my wedding portrait over his heart. He got real misty at the meeting."
Bangerter believes the public has to be very careful about what it calls subversive art and what it allows as freedom of expression.
"There was a time when Picasso and Kandinsky were banned in Europe," she said. "There was a time in America when you were told not to hang out with artists because they may be Communists."
Bangerter added that tattoos have been challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court as a form of art and that tattooing "stood up to the test."
The City of Laguna Beach allowed her to open business.
Corey Remington came to LI&G to apply for a job as a tattoo artist. Bangerter saw his amazing art work and asked him why he wasn't in art school. He told her that he didn't have any money.
With five children who have all gone to college, Bangerter said, "Well, that never stopped anybody. We found him $18,000. He's got a scholarship and he's attending the . He's a lot like my children. He had such talent and he needed someone to believe in him. He creates beautiful art here and he'll always be a part of the shop."
Bangerter and her husband have had a long history of supporting military folk. Her ceramics teacher, Steve Dilley, has a grant program for veterans. Bangerter is going to have an art show first with Dilley's work and then future shows with work created by wounded veterans.
"It gives veterans a chance. They're coming back and they're going through a transition. How do they go from being a warrior ... to being expressive again and bringing out their emotions? [Creating art] is therapeutic. It gives them a chance to be in a real gallery in an art town and have people celebrate their successes in their art."
Laguna Inkspot & Gallery is located at 412 N. Coast Highway. The phone number is 949-547-4963.