From Tattoos to Murals

David “Ringo” Wonnacott

There are many reasons why someone creates art – whether it be therapy, or stress relief, or just pure passion. When someone has that passion and the talent to match, it is a gift to all of us who see those creations. This is undisputed for an eclectic artist, David “Ringo” Wonnacott of Columbia River Correctional Institution. His portraits and murals can be found throughout the facility with everything from movie characters to scenes of nature, and even portraits of employee’s own furry friends. It all began for Wonnacott when he was a tattoo artist.

“I never spent much time as a kid doodling or coloring, it wasn’t until later that it interested me. I didn’t learn how to paint or draw or have any instruction, but I just knew I wanted to be a tattoo artist,” says Wonnacott. He was originally drawn to tattooing because of its representation of being taboo and grimy. Prior to tattooing becoming mainstream, it was stereotypically just bikers, criminals, the punk rock scene, and bad girls who would wear them. “The first tattoo I ever did was a rose, free handed, it just came naturally, and the money was good. I just knew it was for me,” he stated.

After his apprenticeship, he quickly became a professional tattoo and piercer in Las Vegas for most of his adult life and owned and operated his own businesses. During this time, he isolated his talents to just tattooing. It wasn’t until Ringo became incarcerated that he tapped into other methods and tools to create his beautiful artwork.

Wonnacott was already a gifted portrait artist but learned how to create them using oil pastels from another adult in custody (AIC), Yoda, upon arriving at Snake River Correctional Institution. This worked well because portraits were already his favorite, and this was a new way to be able to continue creating them without being in the form of a tattoo. Years later, Wonnacott was transferred to CRCI and shared his artwork with other AICs who did airbrushing. That opened the door to him learning to paint and airbrush.

Currently, Ringo is working on several projects in different locations at CRCI, including a mural at the barber shop, the “Directors Cut,” which will feature iconic movie posters along the upper and lower wall. One of his first portrait projects was with his mentor, Rascal, featuring a Pirates of the Caribbean mural. Although he enjoys doing the murals, tattooing is his life, the root and core of his passion for art.

His dream project would be giving back to the community by starting a program to cover graffiti and replace it with murals. “A beautification project that would pay for itself through donations and/or city contracts,” explained Wonnacott. He has also made a proposal to start an art club within CRCI and hopes to hear positive feedback on the idea soon so he and others can share their knowledge and help other AICs learn new skills.

Upon release, Wonnacott’s professional goals are to re-establish and expand his business as a tattoo shop owner, but also offer mural paintings with the new skills he has gained during his incarceration. “There are some hurdles to make that happen since my license has expired here in Oregon,” he discusses. For now, Ringo is focused on projects within the walls of Columbia River. He creates from his wheelchair, and he has never once let his disability stop him from making the environment more beautiful for all. He says, “If not being able to walk is the worst thing that happened today, then I have a lot to be grateful for.”

Written By: Ashley Hayden