Joe Barajas is a 33-year-old co-owner of Kardzmatic Barbershop in San Antonio. He was adopted at age 12 by his school counselor, whom he credits with introducing him to the art workshops where he learned to hone his craft.
“Joe Barber is my stage name. People were mispronouncing my name so I looked up on Google, there were a lot of Joe The Barbers, so I tried to separate myself as The Joe Barber. That’s how it all came to play.
“Usually people say something like, ‘Hey, I’m going to the Drake concert and I’d love to have a Drake portrait on my head, what can you do?’ I take my iPad out and we look for an image and then I transfer it to their head. It lasts between five and seven days before the hair starts growing out, but it’s real distinctive still. I use hair dye to help. If you’re going to pay $75 for a haircut you want it to last.
“I did a portrait of Tony Romo in 2008 and that came out on ESPN. That was my first real big exposure. There was another fan who was going to the Dallas Mavericks game and asked to put Dirk Nowitzki on his head. He got all this attention, met Dirk, got his autograph. He gave me one of Dirk’s shoes and he has the other shoe. I was a mediator for people. If you want to meet somebody, come to me and I’ll carve them out in your head and you’ll meet them.
“The most elaborate design I’ve done was a portrait of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili—three portraits on one person. I also did that when I won the New York Barber Battle. I did the Beastie Boys, all three of them, and I did it in one hour. That’s what put me on the map.
The Texas Observer visits Joe Barajas
“I started drawing when I was six. I grew up in the projects and my mom was an alcoholic and my dad wasn’t around. The first picture I drew was a witch. It was during Halloween and my mom was drinking and she couldn’t help me so I just drew it on my own and from there I just started drawing all the time. I loved drawing Mickey Mouse while growing up. My mom actually let me draw on my wall in my room.
“I started cutting hair when I was 12, 13. My brother was my guinea pig. I saw Anthony Mason from the New York Knicks, back in ‘92, ‘93, on Inside Stuff. A barber was cutting the Knicks logo into his head and I was just like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy. I can draw so I can probably draw that on his head with clippers.’ I did a Bulls logo on my brother. Other kids started seeing it and came to me. I didn’t really know what I was doing.
“[After high school] I was cutting on the front porch, 10 to 13 people a day with just two clippers. My friend’s mom was like, ‘Why don’t you go to barber school?’ And I was like, ‘What’s that?’ ‘There’s a school you go to, you get your license.’ And I was like, ‘I didn’t know you needed a license.’ So I looked into it and I went to Williams Barber College, the only barber college in San Antonio. I was 22 or 23. That’s when I knew there is a chance I could go somewhere with this.
“I love doing the designs, but I’ve done it so much that it’s become a little boring. It’s not new anymore. It lost its ’zazz. My friend came to me and said, ‘Hey, give me a fresh cut because I’m ready to ask this girl to marry me.’ So haircuts like that are meaningful. It’s not even the haircut anymore, it’s bigger than that.
“I want to go back to school to be a basketball coach and a teacher. I think I’ve done enough for the barber game, so I really want to invest my time to give back to my community, because I was from the projects. I was a statistic that wasn’t supposed to make it as far as I am now. And I think there are other diamonds out there that just need help.”
Interview has been edited and condensed.