I didn't get my first tattoo until my 50th birthday. In my younger years the perception was that a tattoo was a sign of rebellion or roughness. And of course, as my mom would say, "How are you going to get a job with that?" But then I met Jason Lee. His statuesque 6-foot-4-inch frame is covered with tattoos, and from afar he may appear to be somewhat physically intimidating. To look at him you would never know that he is a humble artist and a healer of souls.
At 9 years old, Jason was the son of a teenage mom who was caught in a chaotic situation. He was sent to live with his grandmother, and art became an escape. He found that his ability to perceive, deconstruct and then recreate was not only therapeutic, but also that he was incredibly good at it. "I look at things in their basic shape and form. And I start seeing highlights and I see lowlights and midtones and I rebuild everything from such a raw perspective." Jason's talent continued to flourish and he has turned his incredible skill into a passionate career. He is one of the most well-known tattoo artists in our area and owner of New Age Tattoos and Body Piercings. New Age was accurately named years ago, as it was his dream to create a space for clean and innovative space known for its artistry.
New Age is one the longest-standing tattoo studios in the area at 27 years old. Jason is humble and evolving as an artist and as a person. His tattooing has become part of the holistic healing approach with women with breast cancer reconstruction, who have significant scarring, disfigurement, and absence of their areola and nipple. Many of these women see their reflections as reminders of their cancer journey and what was lost as a result. In collaboration with the Institute of Plastic Surgery at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, he began using his artistry and donating his time to help women look and feel more complete. This charitable work has been a great tool for plastic surgeons performing breast reconstruction, and Jason has even been published in a prominent medical journal as a result. However, it's the accolades of the women he serves that keeps him in this work. Their response after sessions with Jason can vary. Jason recalls that "some of my favorite ones are just the hysterical laughter, like the joy taking over" and "of course, there's always a lot of tears, you just see somebody become complete again."
He admits that his physical presence and body art can be intimidating, especially to these women who are in a vulnerable and emotional state. He has learned to talk with them and break down the walls. Being exposed and in an intimate space can be daunting for these women. He explains, "I start showing them I've made different choices, but I'm still human and still compassionate. I still care for you and want good things for you." His work speaks for itself, as many from around the region seek out his expertise now for any surgical scars after a traumatic procedure.
Jason understands the journey of women with breast cancer now more than just his role in using his gift of art to heal. His mother, Teresa Lee, is also a breast cancer survivor, having been diagnosed after his involvement with these patients. Jason felt he was able to better navigate his mother's breast cancer care after working with familiar health care providers and within the system. Yet at the same time he had also witnessed the suffering as part of their journey, which was a heavy load for him to bear as her son. He and his mother are very close in that they seemed to grow up together. Jason proclaims it was her honesty and work ethic that has made him the man he is today. Jason is married to his best friend, Jessica Lee, a nurse practitioner. He has raised an adult son and he and his wife continue to raise a son and daughter together.
He is proud of the artists he has mentored and works with on a daily basis. Winning Illinois Times Best Tattoo Studio was better than any individual award that might have come to him. As he states, "I get to share that with all my people." He plans to continue to explore diverse mediums of art and continue to mature as an artist for himself. His goal is to release his "selfish nature," which he hadn't before realized he needed to do. "(I) started spending some very intimate time with people and becoming a part of a different community of healers."
Spending time with Jason is a reminder that no matter where we begin, we are constantly evolving, striving to better ourselves and the world around us no matter what one may think of us at first glance or introduction. I see now how spending time in Jason's tattoo chair leaves an indelible impression upon those who seek him. These impressions aren't only visible on the surface; often they are deeper, within one's heart and soul.
Maria Ansley and Nicole Florence are longtime friends and owners of LongShot Productions. Their hope is to allow a space for people to tell their unique story and its impact within our community.