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Etching Columbus tattoo history with Hell City founder Durb Morrison. When I was growing up, the cool kids weren’t wearing designer clothes, or scoring on a sports field. They were hanging out behind a tattoo and skateboard shop in Westerville, smoking cigarettes and telling stories. My heroes wore t-shirts and Vans. I saw a parade [...]
Jeni Ruisch



Etching Columbus tattoo history with Hell City founder Durb Morrison.

When I was growing up, the cool kids weren’t wearing designer clothes, or scoring on a sports field. They were hanging out behind a tattoo and skateboard shop in Westerville, smoking cigarettes and telling stories. My heroes wore t-shirts and Vans.

I saw a parade of people all shapes, ages, and colors come through that shop, telling their stories to tattooers as they, in turn, etched them into their skin.

I wouldn’t have known back then (but I could have guessed), that I’d go on to spend hundreds of hours in that same position, choosing designs to put on my own body that I would carry forever.

I also couldn’t have known that one day I’d be a magazine writer, or that I’d get to sit in the chair of living Columbus tattoo history.

Durb Morrison isn’t just the founder of the Hell City tattoo convention, he’s also an inventor, promoter, painter, and traveler. And with his blessing, I thought the best way to tell his story was to ask him to help me tell mine—by throwing myself under his machine at Red Tree Gallery, and asking him to add a page to the book that is my skin.

Durb doesn’t carry himself like a king—but during our session, people approach his work area like a throne—quietly, with respect and happy greetings.

He pauses to receive friends, old tattoo clients, personal assistants, a Jiu Jitsu instructor who he is going to buy nunchucks with after our interview is over. Always and effortlessly “on,” he affords each their individual audience.

“Tattooers are like therapists,” he said. “It’s an awesome part of being a tattooer. So when people are here, they divulge a lot of information to you. And you put somebody in a little bit of pain, the endorphins that get released, they get very emotional. It’s a natural thing. I’ve heard some crazy stories. At the same time that you become their therapist, you become their friend. Every day they look down [at their tattoo] and go ‘my buddy Durb did that!’ Some of the best friends I have come from tattooing.”

He says this all while pummeling me with a buzzing, ink-dipped, electric needle. It buzzes and furrows hotly across my hip, and my nostrils flare involuntarily. He pauses to speak to his assistant about emails, and like some roided-out Terry Gross, I reach determinedly for my recorder. I need to capture this in the moment.

The conversation flows easily as I ask Durb about growing up in Ohio. He was 13 when he gave and received his first tattoos after invading his mom’s sewing kit for needles. Straight edge Xs on him and his punk rock skateboard buddies, their first tattoos were a rite of passage. Like most who get tattooed, the first of many symbols carved into his skin would signal movements into new stages of his life.

Early on, it was warm memories of his grandfather’s woodworking shop where he cobbled together the first steps of his artistic path. A hardscrabble start in a broken home propelled him out onto his own, getting kicked out at 17 for tattooing a friend in his father’s house. Turns out he could make enough cash inking his pals to support himself while staying with friends as he finished school.

He shipped off to Huntington Beach, California and pressed the accelerator on his career. From there to Biloxi and back to Columbus, Morrison had led a nomadic life of study, which led to him becoming an advanced tattooer at a nearly unprecedented young age.

By 21, he’d started Stained Skin on the north side of the city. The year was 1994, and it was the sixth tattoo shop ever in Franklin County. From the very beginning, he and his crew of young, energetic artists put a new spin on inked skin.

“Nobody was seeing that type of tattooing in this town,” he said. “We weren’t the bikers, we were the young artistic kids. So, my shop at the time got known as one of the premier shops. Everybody was talking about it in interviews and articles everywhere. We [were] a bunch of young kids, tattooing our asses off, going to conventions and competitions. When my shop got recognized as a powerhouse studio, and I started getting interviews in major tattoo magazines, that was when all that hard work I had done over all those years came to a culmination, and I got recognized.”

Perhaps only someone like Durb, with a massive client list and a national reputation, would be ambitious enough to turn Columbus, Ohio into the site of one of the country’s largest tattoo conventions.

Or actually have the balls to sell the shop that helped him gain that rep. Maybe it didn’t matter; as Hell City got off the ground, Morrison’s celebrity client roster was also growing. Musicians, athletes, and X gamers all bear his permanent marks. Album art and merch design for bands passed through his tattooed and skilled hands. His celebrity began to grow as well.

The fame was good for business, sure. But did it really matter to Morrison whether he was inking a guy from Poison or a dude from Pataskala?

“Not to me,” he said. “Here’s the way I look at tattoo artists: we are the rock stars to the rock stars. You can’t be a rock star without your tattoos!”

That notoriety fed into the cyclical nature of promotion, and the convention mushroomed. Now in its 20th iteration (combined with a yearly sister event in Phoenix, Arizona), Hell City has become a year-round gig, involving full-time employees that book tattoo artists from around the world and fly them to the same city that once had only a handful of shops. Hosting bands, live paintings by 30 artists, and much more, the event draws 6,000-8,000 people over three days.

A trade show—but one with fire breathers and stilt walkers.

“We want to show people that we’re not just tattooers—we’re artists off the skin as well,” Morrison said. “We want to show people an entertaining time, whether it’s a freak show, or aerial, or burlesque. It all encompasses that alternative lifestyle. Conventions nowadays are a way for the kids to really see tattooing at its finest, take seminars, meet others in the community, and help their own career thrive.”

Ever humble in his everyday approach, Morrison takes none of his success for granted. He’s not afraid to take credit for it, either.

“Ever since Hell City started, people knew there was something special about it. The quality of the artists, the look of the show, the way it functions, the visuals, the big screens at the main stage so the audience can see the tattoos getting judged … I made tattoo conventions better. Other convention promoters saw what I was doing. I get them coming to my show just to look around and see how we’re doing things. If people copy me …. it’s flattering.”

While I try to keep my focus on simply having a conversation, the slow burn is spreading across my side, from hip to ribs. Luckily for me—and this interview—Morrison is always doing multiple things at once. He is at the height of planning for Hell City, and as the onslaught of phone calls and e-mails is abated by employees, Morrison himself never leaves the helm, delegating to his trustees from his work stool. Never for a moment do I feel his attention waver from the increasingly colorful wings of the moth on my waist.

You need that kind of focus in Durb’s world. As his roster of clients swelled, and his job descriptions multiplied, he developed a pattern of travel around the world, remaining ever studious in his craft. This year, he will travel to Malta, Greece, Paris, London, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, New Zealand, and Romania for conventions, with some stints on television along the way. (TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress is featuring Morrison and his 18-years-younger wife, international tattoo model Cervena Fox, on a future episode.)

It’s all gained him valuable perspective on the artform—one that has made a complete revolution, not only with much wider acceptance and appreciation from the world over, but from is own inner circle. His once-disapproving mom recently sat in her son’s chair to get a small piece on her wrist, no doubt a larger sign that tattooing was never just some idle punk piss-off.

“Tattooing is a universal language—been around longer than cave paintings. We were tattooing each other before we could talk. Tattoos are a human thing. It represents your level in your tribe. The imagery is [different around the world]. New Zealand, they have the moko tattoos. In Paris, you’ll see people wearing dragons. If you go to Japan, they have more of the kimono yakuza style. Different cultures have different styles of tattooing anywhere you go.”

Someone with Durb’s credentials doesn’t spend much time seeking validation—where would he even find the time?—but he’s certainly more reflective about his chosen path as he’s gotten older, now a father of a 22-year-old (himself a seek-your-own-path MMA fighter).

Tattooing is at an all-time high in popularity, which creates a potential paradox: if tattoos are cool with everyone, are they that cool anymore? Is Durb jaded at all about a new generation of young punks trying to make their literal mark on the tattoo community? With all that social capital, when you’re seeing reality shows based on tattoo shops, does he worry about that counter-culture fading?

“The TV shows and all that, it’s nothing but good. It’s created more tattooers, which sells more of my products, which brings people to Hell City, which brings more artists. It just adds to the whole art form of it,” he said. “I think before the shows, people didn’t know what the f*ck was going on in tattoo shops. Now they can see, so I think it’s good to take the veil off all that. Pull the curtain and let people see what tattooing really is. It’s allowed people that would have never gone into a tattoo shop—because they thought it was a bunch of rough biker dudes—a chance to see that it’s just creative kids. We’re not what people think we were.”

Plus the next generation, like with any artform, is injecting new creativity into the industry.

“These kids that are tattooing came out of art school,” he said. [It’s] fashion nowadays. If we have a modern renaissance, it’s tattooing.”

If this is the Tattoo Renaissance, then Durb, around here and beyond, is Michelangelo, another  with a variety of skills commissioned to make art for notable public figures of his day. He’s not just an artist, but an innovator, changing the shape of conventions and convention. He designed the first steel-tipped, disposable tattoo machine tubes, as well as memory foam grips, and a revolutionary disposable, adjustable grip with silicone rings that can morph its shape to fit the hand of the artist. They’re now sold from 60-plus supply companies around the world.

In the almost 25 years since Stained Skin, Durb’s more than made his mark on the city, and the industry as a whole. Our interaction has been relatively brief, but his art will be with me until the day I die.

Can you imagine your work having that kind of lasting impact? Could a young punk have imagined that when the same skill meant he had to find a new roof over his head as a teenager?

This is what it means to be a tattoo artist. This is the lifestyle—it’s bent spines and sharp lines. It’s hard work. It’s lifelong study. And it’s given Durb as much as he’s given it.

“To improve as a tattooer, you have to go home and do your homework. It’s going home and studying how a dragon’s claw forms—that’s your homework. And the next day when you go in [to do the tattoo], that’s class. I always say you have to spend more time at the art table than the bar. You have to block out distractions.

“And if you do that, if you dedicate your life to tattooing, it will give you so much back. It doesn’t feel like work—it’s my lifestyle. I’m not in a cubicle, I don’t have a suit and tie on. I get to listen to my music. I get to hang out with other artists. Some people would kill for that.”

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Students at C.K. Lee Taekwondo Academy kick in for a good cause




Let’s be honest with ourselves for a second: who wouldn’t want to break a wooden board with a furious Taekwondo kick or punch in front of several hundred cheering onlookers? Now, imagine the aforementioned spectacle will help a philanthropically-minded local business raise over $10,000 this year to bene t Nationwide Children’s Hospital?

You’d deserve a roundhouse kick to the sternum if you turned that chance away.

But worry not, all of you closet martial artists: there’s still time. Now for the fourth straight year, the Upper Arlington-based C.K. Lee Taekwondo Academy will host the aptly named Health Kick, an action packed fundraiser benefiting Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The event will offer the academy’s students, along with any willing audience donor, the chance to break a board in front of hundreds of their closest friends.

Photos: Rebecca Tien

“We go through around 1,000 boards every year,” said Christine Lee, daughter of the academy’s namesake C.K. Lee, so there’s plenty to go around.

The pair, along with two other family members, immigrated to the United States

from South Korea in 2011. They wasted no time in opening their now-thriving academy in 2013, which today serves nearly 300 students from the age of four to adult.

Christine is a dedicated student of Taekwondo herself. Having studied it since the age of seven, she is currently a regular sparring competitor and a bonafide instructor at the academy, all while maintaining a full time course load as a student at Ohio State.

Likewise, C.K., now 53, has been a student of the martial art since he was a child. “Taekwondo has a focus on self control, courtesy, and respect for others,” he said, speaking to the benefits of the practice. Lee adopts this same holistic, progressive approach to teaching as well. “Teaching Taekwondo is similar to being a father, where I’m caring and nice when I can be, but firm and strict when necessary. Many students consider us to be like a second family.”

Testament to Lee’s style of instruction is nine year old black belt Taran Tein, who attends the academy with his mother (and our very own photographer) Rebecca and sister Calliope. Tien recalls extracting more than simply martial arts training, but important personal lessons from sessions with C.K.

While Tien gushes about the kindness and enthusiasm of Lee, he recalls an important early lesson in his training career. “On one of my first days, I kept trying to show off things without listening. Later when I would try to high five master Lee, he didn’t high five me. He would put his hands behind his back.” Lee eventually took Tien aside and gently explained to him that listening to his instructions was critical to success. He remembers the event vividly, and it appears it has generated an amount of productive self awareness one wouldn’t expect from a 9 year old. “I feel like I’m more mature now,” he said. “There’s a reason he didn’t high five me, and I know that.”

And when Lee isn’t providing paternal advice to his nearly 300 students, the Taekwondo Grandmaster is bestowing critical Columbus charities with funding.

In the last three years of its operation, Health Kick has raised $28,000 for Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and a fundraising event that has always been solicited by the students.

The event is the Columbus-area iteration of a national fundraiser that began in Buffalo, New York, with Taekwondo Grandmaster Sun Ki Chong, called the ATU National Health Kick, or Kicking for Miracles. Since its inception, it has raised millions of dollars for charities across the county.

The 2019 C.K. Lee Academy Health Kick will be held in the Centennial High School gym, since the fundraiser is now too large for Hastings Middle School, its former venue, and the Lees expect well over 300 people to be in attendance.

Students from the academy will start the event by holding their final belt ceremony of the year, which will include students performing their forms—a coordinated series of kicks, punches and other maneuvers that martial artists must run through correctly to advance.

After another short demonstration of forms by the academy’s demo team, Lee’s students will begin breaking broads, and eventually audience members will be able to try their hand (or more likely their foot) at the task, after making a $10 donation.

According to Tien, donors need not worry about failing. “Everyone should be able to do it,” he said. “We’re trained to hold it the right way, and that makes it a lot easier to break.”

And while the many youth receiving care from Nationwide Children’s will no doubt benefit from the 2019 Health Kick, Lee’s unique approach to philanthropy aims to help his students just as much.

“I think that even though many kids won’t be able to raise $100, by raising even $1 or $2 they will be able to feel like they’re a part of the fundraiser,” Lee says. “They’ll see at the end how that small amount of money becomes over $10,000, and hopefully that act of kindness becomes a habit for them.”

The 2019 Health Kick fundraiser will take place at Centennial High School, located at 1441 Bethel Rd., on Saturday, December 7 from 10:30 AM until 1:30 PM.

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Painlessly Beautiful: Non-toxic beauty products take flight at Fine Feather

Olivia Balcerzak



The old saying ‘beauty is pain’ has been around for ages—but that will not hold true for much longer, according to Diana Wang, owner of Fine Feather. The Grandview shop is challenging the old phrase, proving that beauty should not be painful.

“I care so much about people having access to healthy products and being an empowered consumer,” Wang said. “Everything we carry is clean and I have set the standards for everything that we carry, and the standards I’ve set are very strict.”

Fine Feather is a new store that carries exclusively non-toxic health and beauty products including skin, hair and body care, makeup, nail color, personal fragrances, aromatherapy, and wellness supplies. Wang said each of the products in the store is hand picked by her after extensive research to confirm that there are no harmful toxins in the products.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

“I was a customer of a lot of the brands before I carried them here, so I can speak on just how well they worked,” Wang said.

She created Fine Feather after realizing that, despite the growing size and population in Columbus, there was a lack of clean beauty stores.

“I was really frustrated with the fact that I looked around Columbus for a clean foundation and I could find nothing here,” Wang said. “You can find almost everything here, but why can’t we find clean beauty brands here?”

This led her to do more research. “I had come across a few independent stores across the U.S. that carried only clean beauty and I looked at them and I was thinking to myself, ‘I really really wish someone would bring this here,’” Wang said. “I just finally realized maybe I can’t stop thinking about this, because I should be the person to do it.”

Wang began working on what is now Fine Feather full-time in January 2018, and the store opened officially in August of this year. While the store is still very new, the movement towards clean beauty is one Wang said has been around for a while and will only continue to grow in the near future.

“I really believe that clean beauty is going to become the norm someday,” Wang said. “I think the goal of anyone in beauty, whether they’re a retailer or a brand, is for clean beauty to just be beauty.”

With that said, Wang recognizes that there is still a long way to go before “beauty” means without toxins—at least in America. According to Wang, the FDA is very limited in the amount of toxins that they can ban from the U.S.

“As a consumer [...] I wasn’t very well-informed; most people are not very well-informed and that’s not our fault—we kind of default to trusting those in power,” Wang said. “We assume our government is looking out for us; our government is not allowing for toxic ingredients that could harm us to be put into these products, but they actually are.”

In fact, Wang said, the U.S. only bans 30 toxic ingredients from their beauty products, whereas Canada bans over 600 and Europe bans 1,400. Because of the lack of regulation, she said that the addition of the word “natural” to beauty products has no meaning.

“For a brand to call itself or its products natural, they can do that here because no one’s regulating, no one’s saying ‘what do you mean by natural?’ it is whatever they define as natural,” Wang said. “Because that word is not regulated, and that’s a word that people who don’t use clean products throw around a lot, so it’s lost its meaning.”

For that reason, Wang said she does not use the word natural to describe Fine Feather, either. Rather, she informs potential clients that all of the products are free of toxins and clean. Informing consumers about the products in the store, their uses, and the ingredients in them is a part of the experience customers can expect upon entering Fine Feather.

“I want it to be a place of high engagement and I really wanted to educate people who want to be educated,” Wang said.

That is why Wang said she added another component to the Fine Feather experience. A couple of times a month, Fine Feather hosts educational events that are $10 or less (and oftentimes free) to attend, and are open to the public.

“I really wanted the store to be more than just a place where you can buy products,” Wang said. “I wanted it to be a place where you can cultivate community, education and empowerment.”

Fine Feather is located at 1201 Grandview Avenue. All events can be found on Fine Feather’s Instagram page at finefeathershop.

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Arts & Culture

Gallery Space: Danielle Deley




In the ‘60s, the clash of mass culture and fine art exploded. Led by New York-based artist Andy Warhol, whose silkscreen paintings of Campbell’s Soup Cans and Marilyn Monroe were instantly iconicized, the vibrant basis of his works became known as pop art. While Warhol was one of the founding pop art leaders, the lesser-recognized Roy Lichtenstein was a Fine Arts graduate from The Ohio State University in 1949 and was notable for his comic-like expressionism.

Subtly following Lichtenstein’s influential trajectory is visual artist Danielle Deley, who’s currently prepping for her Skylab show Jubilee. Her use of color is rich in tone, and her subjects are easily recognizable, with cultural nods to Frank Ocean, Barbara Streisand and the late David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

“I want Jubilee to feel like you’re walking back into the height of the pop art era. I might have a more muted color palette than Lichtenstein, but I want it to make a comment about traditional fine art,” Deley said. “Each of the 2D pieces are based off of very popular sculptures in Greek and Renaissance art. Each 3D piece is taken from paintings from that same time period.”

Originally from Youngstown, Deley graduated from CCAD in 2011 with a BFA in graphic design and advertising. Spending a semester in England while she attended CCAD, Deley regularly kept in contact with her grade school art teachers, who provided encouragement and foundational skills. Their guidance led her into becoming co-president of the Columbus Society of Communicating Arts, and even illustrating Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on a cover of Chicago Reader in April. Through Deley’s intricate, pastel design, Lightfoot is recreated into a queen of spades form.

“Sue Kwong, the creative lead for the Chicago Reader, reached out, had this awesome cover idea and wanted me to bring her vision to life,” Deley said about the collaboration. “She found me on this forum called Women Who Draw, something I submitted to six years ago. They make a space for female artists and illustrators to find other female artists and illustrators. [Illustrating the cover] probably took eight hours. It was my first cover illustration for a big publication so I wanted to get it right.”

Often visiting Gateway Film Center to see how films are composed, Deley actively studies the meticulous craft of cinematography, along with going to intimate gallery spaces to align with the art community. After graduating from CCAD, Deley would only create on her computer, but decided to transition her work into watercoloring. “[Watercoloring] then moved into gouache, wood carving, and finally painting with acrylics. My style started to take shape just from doing these small projects that popped into my head,” she said. “My first one was The Young and the Restless illustration that I have on my website and I just couldn’t stop. The style stayed the same but I would push myself with composition, size, and color.”

Currently contracting as a designer at independent digital design Studio Freight, Deley also co-created the “mind reading” board game Medium, which Two Dollar Radio attendees had the chance to celebrate and play after its release. In August, Delay also illustrated children’s (and dog lovers) book Good Night, Buckeye with author Dan Wurth, with all proceeds from the book benefitting Canine Companions for Independence. With Deley’s hectic creative schedule, Jubilee could have become an afterthought, but she assures (614) that the show’s creation was intentional, with retrospective, familial ties.

“I came up [with] the name [of Jubilee] for two reasons. One, Jubilee came from the idea of celebrating. I thought it was time to celebrate this style I’ve been creating,” she said. “And two, it’s an homage to my grandparents. My Baba would always make this rich and delicious cookies called ‘jubilees’. They were always doing a craft with me or when I would come visit they were creating something.”

With appreciation for local art venues such as 934 Gallery, No Place Gallery and Roy G Biv, Deley avidly wanted for Jubilee to be placed in Skylab, ready to share her “post-pop art” genre with Columbus. “Skylab was the perfect space to propose this show. Its view of art has always been contemporary and experimental, and that’s how I view everything I make,” she said. “Contemporary art for me is about making things weird and beautiful at the same time and that’s how I hope people perceive Jubilee.

Jubilee opens Jan. 1, 2020 at Skylab Gallery, located at 57 E Gay St., 5th floor.
Visit or @danielle_deley on Instagram for more information.

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