Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

Smile Now, Cry Later

Guns, Gangs, and Tattoos—My Life in Black and Gray

by Freddy Negrete

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With Steve Jones

Pioneering black-and-gray tattoo artist Freddy Negrete was twelve years old and confined in the holding cell of a Los Angeles juvenile facility when an older teenager entered—covered in tattoos. Freddy was in awe, not just of the art, but of what it symbolized, and he wanted what this kid had: the potent sense of empowerment and belonging that came from joining a gang. The encounter drove Freddy to join the notorious gang La Sangra, and it didn't take long before he was a regular guest at LA County's juvenile detention facilities. By the age of twenty-one, Freddy had spent almost his whole life as a ward of the state in one form or the other.

Enthralled by the black-and-gray tattoo style that in the 1970s was confined to the rebel culture of Chicano gangsters and criminals, Freddy started inking himself with hand-poked tattoos. Everyone wanted a piece of Freddy's black-and-gray style--gangbangers but also Hollywood starlets and film producers.

In a riveting narrative that takes the reader from Freddy's days as a cholo gang member to evangelical preacher to Hollywood body art guru to addiction counselor,Smile Now, Cry Later is, ultimately, a testament to that spark within us all, that catalyst which gives us the strength to survive, transform, and transcend all that can destroy us.

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“The precision, mastery, and nuance of Negrete’s work in skin emerged from a personal history of triumph over a volatile youth. His life story is an inspirational testament to the possibilities of the human spirit.”

“Freddy's work speaks to people … He is not a tattoo artist. He is an artist, who is a master tattooer as well.”

“[Freddy Negrete] was the man who took the Chicano, black-and-gray, joint-style straight out of the prisons and to the top of the tattoo world. To this day, Freddy's work never ceases to amaze me.”

“Freddy Negrete's story is about how even the most troubled young man has vital gifts for the world, intrinsic to who he's meant to be, and filling a void only that an artist can fill. Freddy is a true vato loco, yet he pioneered the aerosol art of the barrio back in the 1970s and also the now famous tattoo style of the black-and-grey, both of which came from the Chicano barrio gang experience he was a part of. His story needs to break out of whatever confines such stories usually end up. His is the story of our time.”

“By the time I met Freddy he'd probably been my idol for four years. Freddy's just pure magic . . . something right every time.”

“You may think your favorite artist is an O.G. of the tattoo world. But compared with Freddy Negrete, almost everyone else is still a rookie. As one of the most experienced and influential tattoo artists in the world, Negrete was already making a name for himself before many of today’s top tattooers could walk.”

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Legendary tattoo artist Freddy Negrete is best known for his pioneering black-and-gray tattoo style, honed while serving time in a series of correctional facilities during a youth mired in abuse, gang life, and drug addiction. His "joint-style" designs eventually found their way out onto the streets of East LA and, in 1980, he created a piece that earned him a Tattoo Artist of the Year Award. After a ten-year period of renouncing his tattooing success in favor of bible study and becoming the pastor of his own church, Freddy eventually returned to tattooing in 1990 to find that he had become a tattoo superstar during the decade he had been away from the life. Freddy has been featured in the History Channel's Marked series, in the documentary Tattoo Nation, on Spike TV's Inkmaster as a guest judge, and in numerous print, online, and video publications. In 2007, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Body Art Expo, one of the biggest and most established tattoo conventions in the world. Having suffered the ravages of drug addiction for many years, Freddy is now also certified to work closely with young addicts at Beit T'Shuvah in Los Angeles, a treatment center based on Jewish spirituality and Twelve Step principles. Freddy lives in Hollywood with his son Isaiah, who is also a successful tattoo artist. They both work at the Shamrock Social Club on the Sunset Strip and have tattooed numerous celebrities, musicians, and sport personalities.