Tattoo Celebrity
08:08 AM
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When the latest issue of the UK's Total Tattoo magazine arrived at my home, I had to giggle at the cover, which has "Marisa Kakoulas: Words of Wisdom," written right next to a young woman clutching her boobs. No matter how wise the words, they will always be eclipsed by cleavage. But if any one does actually read my column, that person will find a one-pager of my thoughts on celebrity tattoo culture. No mysteries of life revealed, but hopefully, something to chew on.

In the article, I harken back to earlier days in pop culture when tattoo artists began to be viewed as more than skin mechanics in the media, to the changing meaning of "celebrity" in the tattoo community, to potential responses to the oversaturation of trash TV. Here's a bit from that:

When legendary tattooer Lyle Tuttle graced the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine in 1970, a number of tattoo traditionalists blasted him for putting himself and the craft out there for mass media consumption. It is even said that Sailor Jerry taped Tuttle's photo to the inside of his toilet seat. Today, that magazine cover would barely spark an angry Tweet. Today, people have much more to be pissed off about.

At last count, there were about 7.2 billion tattoo TV shows airing across the globe. The reality of that number is more plausible than some of the scenes that get passed off as your average day at the tattoo shop. We have faith that, when viewers see tattooists on their screens dating rockstars, finishing up backpieces during commercial breaks, and showing deep concern over the tragedy and despair that naturally leads us all to get tattooed, these depictions of the "tattoo lifestyle" will be processed as entertainment; however, much like sarcasm, it is mistaken for truth.

In redefining tattoo fame, we could focus the power of our social media lenses on people who offer value to tattooing--doing so by posting, linking, Tweeting, "liking," and blogging about those who dedicate time to their artistic skills, to taking care of their clients, and to furthering the art form with exciting new ideas. Let status updates feature the positive contributions of artists and collectors rather than lamenting the latest TV episode.

We could also show greater support for alternative outlets that respectfully depict tattoo culture, such Vice's "Tattoo Age" or Markus Kuhn's "Gypsy Gentleman" online video series--series that gave us a look into the personal and professional lives of artists in a way that informed how career paths are carved with hard work and self-respect. Or we could put the cameras in our own hands and create the media we want to see.

Sailor Jerry's famed expression, "My work speaks for itself" was spoken at a time when voices weren't drowned in a sea of sound bits and press releases. And so today, we should collectively speak up for work that represents the very best of our tattoo community.
Read the full article in the August issue of Total Tattoo, which can be purchased at booksellers throughout the UK, US, and around the world. You can also download the digital version.

There are some great gems in this issue as well, including Lar Krutak's insightful piece on the disappearing tattoos of coastal women of Papua New Guinea, and artist profiles on Wendy Pham (and her "tweaked Japanese" style), and on lettering maestro Big Sleeps. Lots of tattoo goodness beyond the boobs!

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Marisa Kakoulas
Miguel Collins
Craig Dershowitz
Brian Grosz
Sean Risley
Patrick Sullivan
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