Ryan Ashley Malarkey Dishes About ‘Grudge Match’ and Moving to Colorado

Image via Paramount Network

Tattoo artist Ryan Ashley Malarkey is ready to settle some scores. 

The 32-year old Ink Master winner is back on television as part of franchise’s brand new spin-off series, “Grudge Match.” But this time, she’s in the judging seat, doling out critiques alongside fellow tattoo icons DJ Tambe and Cleen Rock One.

Malarkey, who received her fair share of harsh critiques while she was a contestant on Season 8 of the show, says she doesn’t take the responsibility of evaluating the work of fellow tattoo artists lightly. 

“Since we competed, we have a more rounded understanding of how important it is to put yourself on the line,” she says. “When you make that call, you really want to make sure that it’s the right call for the right reasons, because it could really change somebody’s life for the better or for the worse.”

But just because she’s been on the receiving end of the wrath of Oliver Peck, Dave Navarro, and Chris Nunez doesn’t mean that Malarkey has any intention of going easy on “Grudge Match” contestants. 

“If people never look you in the eye and tell you the actual truth, you’re never going to grow,” she says. “I had a lot of really tough judgements on my tattoos when I competed years ago. Even though it was super harsh to hear that shit, it was the most critical, honest judgements that actually made me a better tattooer and a better artist.” 

Breaking Down the ‘Grudge Match’ Format 

On “Grudge Match,” former Ink Master contestants come back to the studio to face off head-to-head against one of their biggest rivals. Unlike the original series, there are no teams or flash challenges. Instead, contestants start putting ink to skin right out of the gate with a 90-minute tattoo, followed by a 6-hour tattoo the next day. 

Ink Master Grudge Match judges
Grudge Match Judges: Ryan Ashley Malarkey, DJ Tambe, and Clean Rock One

The winner of the 90-minute challenge is given the advantage of picking either the style or subject matter for the final Grudge Match tattoo. But Malarkey says that the short, quick-hit opener is a deceivingly tough test. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever—in my entire life—done a 90-minute tattoo,” she says, adding that the first challenge is meant to showcase strategy rather than all the tricks of a skilled tattooer. “It’s insane what people try to do. Some people just really overthink it and overshoot it.”

Not only do contestants have to tattoo quickly, but they also have no say over the subject matter for their initial face-off tattoos. That critical piece lies in the hands of the judges—who have to come to an agreement before the artists get started.

Luckily, says Malarkey, the chemistry between herself, DJ Tambe, and Cleen Rock One was present from the first day of filming. 

“We’ve never competed against each other and we’ve never worked together, so we weren’t sure how exactly the dynamic was going to go,” she says. “But it was hilarious, ridiculous, and awesome. We got really lucky with each other and we all know it.”

Behind the Scenes: Filming Fun and Ink Master Drama

Malarkey says that during “Grudge Match” filming, she and Tambe kept themselves busy and energized during their downtime. 

They tested out flash challenges for the next season of Ink Master and plastered a 12-foot-high roll of paper to the wall and used it as a creative outlet. “Every day, we would just draw something weird on it,” says Malarkey. 

But getting Cleen to join in on the shenanigans wasn’t easy. “Cleen is kind of like a used car salesman. He tries to make something out of nothing always, and never has any time to play,” says Malarkey. “But that’s why we love him. All the time we did get to have with him was like Christmas.”

Ryan Ashley Malarkey Ink Master Grudge Match
Ryan Ashley Malarkey deliberating with the other Grudge Match judges.

But while Malarkey admits to getting along great with her other “Grudge Match” judges, she’ll be the first to tell you that the drama and animosity that comes out between contestants while filming the original Ink Master series is legit. 

“When you’re stuck in a loft and you’re living with 20 people who are total strangers, and you’re all competing for something that could change your lives, it’s really, really stressful,” she says. “You don’t have the comfort of your friends and your family and you don’t have the support groups that you normally have. People lose their goddamn minds!”

Making Moves: Professionally and Personally

Malarkey is a non-stop force, who hasn’t had much time to sit still since winning the Ink Master title back in 2016. Between filming spin-off shows, leading educational seminars, participating in speaking engagements, and traveling the world to attend tattoo conventions, she keeps herself more than busy. 

But Malarkey, who grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania and spent over 10 years in New York City, recently relocated to Grand Junction, Colorado where she shares a home and a tattoo studio (Elysium Studios) with her partner and fellow tattoo artist Arlo DiCristina

Arlo DiCristina and Ryan Ashley hike in Colorado. Via Malarkey’s Instagram.

It’s a place where Malarkey finally feels like she can put down roots—when she’s not traveling the world. “I found this place—where after all this time—I’m finally like, ‘Holy shit, I actually feel at home here,’” she says. “I’m excited to develop a life here.”

Malarkey says that the majority of her clients fly in to be tattooed by her—some from as far as Europe and other parts of the world—so she’s able to work from almost anywhere and still make a living doing what she loves. 

“I just decided to be brave and be where I actually feel the best,” she says. “If people want my work that bad, they’ll come to me. I’m really happy about the move. It’s so rad out here.”

Catch Ryan Ashley Malarkey on “Ink Master: Grudge Match” on Tuesdays at 10/9c on Paramount Network.

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