Some of the most beautiful tattoos have been created honoring the art and symbolism of El Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead -- Mexico's greatest celebration of life that honors the deceased. The Day of the Dead commemoration begins today through the weekend -- All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day in the Catholic faith -- and so it follows that religious iconography is ever-present. However, its roots can be traced to rituals practiced in ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, particularly through the presence of skulls and skeletons. It's this imagery, along with other elements of Latino culture, that have draw so many to translate these themes artistically in skin.
A big misconception is that the Dead of the Dead is a party, like Halloween, particularly as there are often parades and customs in celebration. Yet, the holiday is also quite solemn as families build altars to reflect on those who passed, offering gifts of sugar skulls to the dead and living, and visiting grave sights.
I was really fascinated to learn more about the Day of the Dead as I worked with Edgar Hoil on his books Latino Tattoo Art Collection and Day of the Dead Tattoo Artwork Collection: Skulls, Catrinas and Culture of the Dead, writing their introductions. As I noted in the latter book, what's particularly engaging is how the calaveras, literally, "skulls," are artfully manifested in various forms among the artwork. Many are familiar with the calaveras de azucar, the "sugar skulls," which are the edible offerings placed on altars, intended to bring forth life's sweetness to friends and relatives who have passed on.
"La Calavera Catrina," which originated in the works of Jose Guadalupe Posada, is another Day of the Dead icon. The Catrina is a wealthy woman in haughty dress depicted as a skeleton to denote that everyone, even the rich, face death. Satirical images of Catrina often demonstrate how the artists view death as something to be laughed at and not feared.
And of course, one of the most popular motifs that gets translated into tattoos are beautiful women with skeletal features transposed over their faces, bringing to mind the joy and suffering of love.
I've chosen a just a few tattoos to present here in honor of this day.
Tattoo above by Adriaan Machete.
Tattoo above by Eva Schatz.
Tattoo above by Jun Cha.
The ancestral art of Polynesian tattooing, as practiced by Steve Ma Ching, of Samoan and Chinese descent, is being honored at the Creative New Zealand Arts Pasifika Awards next week, where Steve will receive the Senior Artist award for significant contribution to reviving cultural Polynesian tattoos over the last 33 years.
Steve, who owns Western Tattoo Studio Ltd in Auckland, New Zealand, has notably tattooed famed rugby player and boxer Sonny Bill Williams; however, Steve is renowned, not just for his powerful work on sports stars, but for invigorating Samoan tatau for all those who wish to express their cultural pride.
See more of Steve's work via his Facebook albums.
I often get asked what's the main thing behind tattooing's popularity today: TV shows? Fashion? Beckham?
I truly believe that it's the incredible artistic heights that we are seeing now in the craft. Maybe Rihanna's midnight tattoo sessions on TMZ play a part, but in the end, I have faith that beauty and art win out over all.
This level of artistry today is the product of certain key components: readily available information--largely via the Internet; the development of fine art skills of tattooers; and the advancement of materials and tools.
It's the tools and how they have evolved that I find particularly fascinating and cool. And so, when Eikon Device approached us about being a Needles & Sins sponsor, and spreading the word about the Symbeos Rotary Tattoo System, I thought it was a great fit.
In creating the Symbeos Rotary Tattoo System, with HM Tools & Dye, Eikon made the first ever rotary tattoo machine with the adaptability of a coil machine. The lightweight and versatile system features one machine body and a system of interchangeable components, which allows tattoo artists to make quick and easy changes to suit the machine to one's particular needs. Essentially, in this one Symbeos system, is the diverse functionality of many machines.
I hear rumors that the Symbeos Rotary Tattoo System also makes tasty fruit smoothies; however, I could only confirm from Eikon that it allows you to do the following:
The Symbeos Rotary Tattoo System is available as a Deluxe or a Flex and is ready to tattoo -- right out of the box. Add extra Symbeos Machine Bodies to either System and build an arsenal of Symbeos Rotary Tattoo machines at a fraction of the cost of an industry standard rotary tattoo machine.
Find out more here: www.eikondevice.com/symbeos.
Colorado-based tattoo artist and painter Shawn McDonald of American Standard Tattoo Gallery in Fort Collins, CO, has been on the road, doing guest spots across the country, but he took some time to play along with our Proust Questionnaire for Tattooists, the Q&A designed as an old party game -- offering some insight into one's personality, including particular affection for Scarlet Johansson.
Shawn will be a guest artist at New York Adorned in NYC from October 27th to 30th, and then at Mainstay Tattoo in Austin, Texas from November 13 to 16th.
I believe Shawn may still have some free spots left at NY Adorned this week, so hit them up to see if you can score some time.
Now, here's our quick & dirty Q&A:
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Being uninspired, there's nothing more miserable than having no idea what to make next.
What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Those final exciting moments when a great tattoo or painting is about to completed.
Your most marked characteristic?
What is your principle defect?
At times, I'm maybe too submerged into my work, not giving enough time to normal.
Your favorite painters?
Caravaggio, Leonardo DaVinci, Angelica Kauffman, Timothy Hoyer, Mike Davis, Albrecht Durer.
Your favorite musicians?
Clint Mansell, Juicy J, Sargeist
Who are your favorite writers?
Oscar Wilde, DaVinci, Harlen Coben
Who would you have liked to be?
Who married Scarlet Johansson?
How would you like to die?
See more of Shawn's work on Instagram.
Photo by Gemma Angel
There's been a bunch of talk in the news recently about what to do with your tattoos once you're dead. The buzz largely surrounds the skin preservation offerings of the Foundation for the Art and Science of Tattooing -- the work of Peter van der Helm, owner of Walls and Skin, a tattoo and a graffiti supply shop in Amsterdam.
This isn't a new story. I posted on Peter's "preserve your tattoos" project last year, when he began working on the service, but it seems that interest has grown exponentially since then. According to The Guardian:
More than 50 people have already signed up with the Foundation for the Art and Science of Tattooing, so that after their deaths, pathologists can remove the skin carrying their tattoo, pack it in formaldehyde and send it to a laboratory where the water and fat will be removed and replaced with silicone. They then become the property of the foundation, put on display or "loaned" to family and friends of the deceased.The Guardian also spoke to our friend Dr. Matt Lodder on the history behind tattooed skin preservation; Matt notes that there are collections of tattooed skin at museums in Krakow, Tokyo and London; however, a big difference in this case, is that "the foundation is ensuring the tattoos that are preserved are kept with the owner's permission."
Considering just how many tattoo books have been recently published, it's interesting to see how much media attention has been focused on Pen & Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them -- a collection of illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton depicting people's tattoos along with the stories behind them. MacNaughton and editor Isaac Fitzgerald, who based the book on their Tumblr (of the same name), highlight the tattoo stories of rock stars as well as "ordinary people" in an "exploration of the decision to scar one's self with a symbol and a story."
Overall, the book's reception (from outside of the tattoo industry press) has been favorable. For one, Maria Popova had quite a positive review of the book on her Brain Pickings blog (of which I'm a huge fan). In her review, which offers extensive excerpts and illustrations from the book, Popova writes:
From a librarian's Sendak-like depiction of a Norwegian folktale her grandfather used to tell her, to a writer who gets a tattoo for each novel he writes, to a journalist who immortalized the first tenet of the Karen revolution for Burma's independence, the stories -- sometimes poetic, sometimes political, always deeply personal -- brim with the uncontainable, layered humanity that is MacNaughton's true medium.These stories are not necessarily well received by all. As Margot Mifflin writes in her review in SF Gate, she found Pen & Ink to be "a slight and parochial collection of anecdotes that reinforces some awfully weary tattoo cliches." She explains:
One [anecdote], occupying an entire page, written by someone who wears the words "pizza party" across her toes, says only, "I really f-- love pizza." Most of the other contributors muster a paragraph or two, saying in print what you can hear on any tattoo reality show, if you must: backstories for memorial tattoos, pet tattoos, relationship tattoos and "reminder" tattoos -- those permanent Post-its bearing personalized platitudes.Those of us in the tattoo community like to say -- especially in light of the endless reality shows -- that not every tattoo has a story. We can get a tattoo simply because we like it, and the design itself need not be imbued with grave significance and meaning. But really, every tattoo does have a story in some way -- the story of the experience of getting tattooed. And a key component to that experience is the artist. That seems to get lost in Pen & Ink. As Margot notes, "[...] respected tattooists [are] consigned to the back pages of this collection as footnotes to bar tales, some of whom are not even identified by name, but instead by "parlor.'"
As a lawyer, I was naturally intrigued over whether the tattooists ever gave permission to have their tattoos reproduced as illustrations. As I have written about endlessly regarding tattoo copyright, tattooers generally hold the copyright to their designs, or at least share them with the client, unless those rights are otherwise transferred, licensed or assigned. I wonder if the tattooers were ever even contacted to give permission to have their artwork reproduced. [In general, the copy need not be exact, and creators could retain their rights even if their work is translated in other forms.] I'll leave an extensive legal discussion out of this post, but only wanted to mention it in the context of how this book falls short by not giving the proper credit and respect to the very reason why the book exists -- that there were tattoo artists behind every story.
Nothing in this post should be relied upon as legal advice. Obviously.
One of San Francisco's long standing and highly respected tattoo studios, Everlasting Tattoo, was recently profiled, along with owner Mike Davis, in Hoodline.com. In addition to a brief history on the studio, which has been in operation for 22 years, the article focused on Mike's fine art work and his solo show and book signing tomorrow, October 21st, at 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco, from 6:00 pm - 10:00 pm.
Entitled A Blind Man's Journey, the book and solo show feature Mike's modern surrealist oil paintings, described by publisher Last Gasp as follows:
Surrealist painter Mike Davis captures mysterious scenes in the style of the Dutch Masters. Davis uses oil paint to create an alternate world where anything is possible, combining arcane personal symbols with social commentary. His vivid, narrative work pulls viewers into dreamscapes where they are soon lost among burning birdhouses, cannon-toting eggs, anthropomorphous insects, and skeletons holding what may be the keys to it all. Will the forlorn subjects who populate his paintings spill their secrets? What happened among the rubble and where are the travelers going? Davis' tableaus can reveal important parables to the attentive mind, but only if we study well and learn to read his visual poetry.Buy A Blind Man's Journey on Last Gasp here and check more of his fine art work here.
One of the largest, if not the largest, collection of Russian prison tattoo photos has recently been published by Fuel in the 256-page hardcover Russian Criminal Tattoo Police Files. The 180 photographs are just a sample of the thousands collected by Arkady Bronnikov during his 30 years as a senior expert in criminalistics at the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs. According to Fuel, as part of his duties, Bronnikov visited many correctional institutions of the Ural and Siberia regions where he interviewed, gathered information and took photographs of convicts; he also regularly helped solve criminal cases across Russia by using his collection of tattoos to identify culprits and corpses.
Text offering more information on the symbolism behind the tattoos are included in the book as well as a 48-page section printed on pink paper with texts, mug shots and criminal profiling. View more photos here.
Vice interviewed Damon Murray, co-founder of FUEL, to talk about the book. Here's a taste:
In London, there will be an exhibition of photographs from the Arkady Bronnikov collection at the Grimaldi Gavin gallery at 27 Albemarle Street, October 17th to November 21, 2014.
The book is sold exclusively on the Fuel site for 20BP (approx. $32 US).
Building really strong tattoos, that flow from the dark and brutal to light and playful, Lionel Fahy Out of Step Tattoo in Paris has amassed an exciting portfolio that has inspired others to think differently about tattoos. You can find more of his work on Facebook and also his blog, where he often offers more (in French) on the works he shows.
After eight years with the team of Art Corpus, Lionel is moving to a new location: Sanhugi at 88 rue des Dames, Paris 17. For appointments, he's best reached at lionel.fahy at gmail.com.
Looking forward to seeing more from Lionel at his new tattoo home.