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Tattoo artist shop opens in Somerset

Mike Latessa opened Latessa Tattoo recently in Somerset. He's shown working on a Clint Eastwood scene on the back of Mike Kjonaas.

Clint Eastwood's face from "The Outlaw Josey Wales" squints menacingly from one corner. Another space is occupied by his character from "Hang 'em High." Below are a string of cowboys on horseback, a gallows and tumbleweeds.

Although the obvious tribute is to Eastwood, the conception and execution pay homage to another man: local tattoo artist Mike Latessa.

Latessa, 28, recently opened Latessa Tattoo at 124 Spring St. in Somerset. He has put in more than 20 hours working on the Eastwood collage on the back of Mike Kjonaas, 35, of St. Paul, Minn.

"I met Mike about three years ago," Kjonaas said, as he leaned forward while Latessa worked on a section of his back. "He did some drawings for me and I was impressed with the detail, creativity and what he ultimately came up with."

Kjonaas is no stranger to tattoo artists, having began with his first tattoo when he was 16 years old.

"I had a guy I was going to before, but once I met Mike, I started coming to him because of his skill. He's better than anyone else I've been to. Some people rush through, but he is really thorough and puts his heart into it for sure," he said.

The gray-scale collage encompasses Kjonaas' entire back. Kjonaas brought in portraits of Eastwood for Latessa to stencil, but Latessa drew the tumbleweeds and shading freehand.

"I've always had an interest in tattoos," Latessa said. "I went to a tattoo shop in my area and asked if they needed an apprentice. I showed them my drawings and paid my dues the old school way."

Latessa grew up in St. Paul and worked at the Reybein Tattoo Studio in Forest Lake, Minn. for three years. He moved to Somerset three years ago and lives with his fiancée and their toddler son.

"There's not another tattoo place around here, that's why I chose Somerset," Latessa said. "I live in town and everyone is really cool; they kept telling me I ought to open a shop."

Latessa said he specializes in black and gray designs, leaning toward realistic portraits and dark art tattoos.

He stressed that he does not do piercings.

The Latessa Tattoo shop is open afternoons and evenings, closed Sundays and Mondays. For an appointment, call Latessa at 651-239-7849.

When he was approached by Kjonaas about the Eastwood collage, he jumped at the chance.

"I like Eastwood's 'spaghetti westerns,'" Latessa said. "So when he told me what he wanted to do, I was pumped."

The entire project has taken several months of four-hour sessions, to allow the skin to rest. However, Kjonaas plans to continue his association with Latessa beyond Eastwood.

"I eventually plan to have a full shirt done by Latessa," Kjonaas said.