Jul 13, 2022 • 8M



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Cintra Wilson
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(I apologize to all photographers whose work I am using to illustrate this article.  I was unable to find names to attribute the photos.  But if you send me your names I will add photo credits!) 

There is something about the combination of ADHD and OCD in me that makes me binge on specific TV shows.  My guiltiest pleasure for several months now has been the tattoo reality show “Ink Master,” starring your master-of-ceremonies, delicately preserved rock star Dave Navarro (a perfect game show host, and prettyboy for the Death Rock matrons in the audience to swoon and saw at their veins with butter knives over. ) 

The contestants, all either promising artists or already known by reputation in the tattoo community, have to compete against each other in various tattoo battles.  The contestants endure grueling, highly personal art critiques from the judges, the dark and glowering Japanese expert Chris Nuñez, and American Traditional heavyweight Oliver Peck, who looks like a Japanese pocket creature-version of Willy Nelson that you’d win at an arcade.

Of all of the artists on 13 seasons of Ink Master, and there are some truly sensational ones, who drill ink into skin in ways that look entirely impossible -  I had a runaway favorite.  Young Ryan Ashley first strode onto the Ink Master stage on season 8 in 2016 in one of her countless signature outfits: I’m guessing a kind of body conscious Goth ballgown or a Herve Leger bandage dress. Whatever it was, it was jewel-toned and slinky, like it was part bathing suit.  Long legs.  Bare shoulders. Open toed, over-the-knee boots. 

She has miles of combable princess hair, dyed a highly unusual but highly flattering greyish pink, and black-and-grey, finest line tattoos all over her body, fingers and neck that are so delicate and feminine, she seems to be lightly draped in cobwebs — none of the angry black splotches that can be so jarring on a pretty young lady’s arm. A half moon frames her right eye, and some drapy little jewels hang just into her angular, elf-pale Nordic face.  She has poise, she is articulate and smart, humble and gracious;  and she has great ambition.  Of the two teams on that season, she recruited the female artists from both teams into an alliance based in friendship and mutual artistic respect, and made a third, all-female power team that ended up dominating the tattoo competition playing field. 

Two women made into the Top 3 that season - a feat unprecedented in the usually male-dominated Ink Master history.  

Ryan Ashley not only won the title of Ink Master that season (despite being one of the least experienced artists in the room), the producers recognized her impossible unicorn rockstar quality immediately and did two spin-off shows of which she was one of the stars:  Ink Master: Angels and Ink Master: Grudge Match.  

I have had to go looking for a word about how I feel about this young lady.  “Girl Crush” — the only term in parlance I can think of —  is too squalid, it implies I might try to kiss her at some point, and I totally wouldn’t.  It’s not that vulgar a feeling.  It’s a feeling of pure appreciation - something ennobling and based on respect.  I figured the word for was something either gay or Greek, or both.  I asked my friend Jex the Human Encyclopedia, Dictionary and Thesaurus if he knew the word I needed (because if anyone knew the word, he would know the word. He does NYT crossword puzzles with a stopwatch. The guy’s a genius.) 

“‘Pragma’ is what you seem to be describing, but it was invented this century by editors at women’s magazines,” he responded. 

“Oh hell,” I said. 

I found this definition by Googling it:  

Pragmacommitted, companionate love

“Pragma is a love built on commitment, understanding, and long-term interests, like building a family. As mentioned above, over time, eros can turn into pragma as a couple grows to honor, respect, and cherish each other, accepting of differences and learning to compromise.”

“Pragma” is OK, I guess, in some kind of hetero-normative, mung-bean way heightened by yoga-in-gym popularity —  but I am feeling the real lack of a term with which women can truly express that they admire, honor and salute each other without it potentially getting sexy or weird.   I’m not in love with Ryan Ashley, but I let her live rent-free in my brain, and I show pictures of her tattoos on my phone to my friends like they are my own baby pictures.  I want to be her proud auntie. I prag her.  

(I’m shortening pragma to prag to imply that there is more admiration and respect and You GO GIRL in my bastardization than is immediately seen in the definition.)  

Anyway, Ryan Ashley is a real self-made, one in ten-million kind of artist, and for a 35-year-old, she has really got her shit together.   She’s got the looks, the style, the personality and the showmanship, but she also has a rich history of having grown up with a single mother in a trailer park where she had close encounters with UFO’s. Mostly, she has an uncanny hand when it comes to tattooing what she loves best:  big, largely black and grey pieces that literally seem to hover above the skin like complex Victorian jewelry.  The stones twinkle.  The lace is impossibly detailed. The tiny chains have weight and shadow.  She references Victorian furniture in her scrollwork.  The way the tattoos sit on her clients’ bodies is always flattering, like they were magically exhaled onto the skin in a way that suggests they have always been there.  

Before Ink Master, Ryan Ashley was a businesswoman, running her own tattoo/gallery/taxidermy and other curiosity shop out of Pennsylvania.  She now tattoos in at Elysium Studios in Grand Junction, Colorado, and only does full day or half day sessions (because she can call the shots like that, because she is a baller with 1.6 million followers on Instagram [ryanashleymalarkey], and can, at this point, tattoo whomever and whatever she pleases.)

She recently married another tattoo artist that looks fabulous with no clothes on, Arlo di Christina, and they have an adorable, golden haired toddler named Atheus. 

I think Ryan Ashley is a fabulous female role model, in a pop landscape with very few of those that I genuinely admire.  At a time like this when women are being burned at the stake and penned up like goats again, I am glad there are good witches like Ryan Ashley to look up to, for examples of great artistry, good life choices, good character, and bold, take-no-prisoners femininity that doesn’t need to adopt male characteristics to be a Boss.  She built her pyramid with her own talent, dammit, and deserves her recognition.  

Right on, soul sister.  You get the no-gun Cintra salute, and a severe dose of prag.