Tattoo above by Amanda Wachob.
My morning has gotten off to a great start thanks to BBC Radio 4's "A Mortal Work of Art" -- a wonderfully produced program that explores the intersection of the tattoo and fine art worlds. With the program 28 minutes long, I figured I'd just let in play on my laptop while I busied myself with other tasks; however, the really insightful discussion on the artistry of tattooing stopped me from doing anything else, so I just sat down and learned something.
What makes the program so compelling is that Mary Anne Hobbs, who hosted the piece, talks to the very people who have changed tattooing in the fine art context and who have shared very different ways of viewing tattoo art:
The legendary Spider Webb brought tattooing into galleries, museums, and even Christie's auction house, particularly for his conceptual tattoo projects, which he still continues to innovate today. He also talks to the BBC about fighting NYC's tattoo ban (which wasn't overturned until 1997).
London's Alex Binnie, owner of the famed Into You Tattoo, shares his thoughts on tattooing's impact on pop culture -- an impact greater than any the fine art world has had. The program ends on a strong note with his assertions on why tattooing doesn't need validation from anyone other than those wearing it.
Amanda Wachob discusses what motivated her to experiment with nontraditional tattoo imagery, to offer something different to clients beyond the standard menu, which has made her one of the most sought-after tattooers in New York.
Of course, our good friend Dr. Matt Lodder, art historian, is brilliant when he discusses what tattooing can gain by being accepted as an art form; that is, real critique of what is good, bad, derivative, ethical, new ... rather than looking at tattoos as one homogenous thing. He's currently writing a book on tattooing in the UK from an art historian perspective, which will be an important contribution to our community.
Also in the BBC program are Shelley Jackson, renowned for her "Skin" project, where a story she has written is conveyed through words tattooed on people around the world; artist Sandra Ann Vita Minchin discusses how mortality & legacy inform her own use of tattooing in her performance art -- and how she plans to grow skin through her DNA and tattoo it as an extension of her body project; and Sion Smith, editor of Skin Deep, and Trent Aitken-Smith, editor of Tattoo Master, weigh in on tattoo culture today.
Again, this is a fantastic listen and worth the time. Check it here.
Tomorrow, September 25th, is the US release of "Forever: The New Tattoo" published by Gestalten. The 240-page hardcover distinguishes itself from the many tattoo titles on shelves today with an finely curated group of international artists who are creating innovative works and pushing boundaries with new patterns, approaches and even new ways of thinking about what makes a strong, timeless tattoo.
Insightful profiles on these tattooists are written by Nick Schonberger, one of the writers behind the excellent "Homeward Bound: The Life and Times of Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry."
In an interview with Cool Hunting, Nick talks about some of the artists he interviewed for the new book and their stories:
[...] Curly from Oxford, he tattooed with Alex Binnie--a lot of the people have connections to Into You in London: Alex, Curly, Duncan X and Thomas Hooper. Curly talks about hating tattoos, hating mainstream tattoos, having hated tattoos before he met Alex Binnie and realized there could be something "art directed." Curly started moving into tribal tattoos and became one of the pioneers of what you could call "neo-tribal"--although his style is a little different than that. On a mainstream level, that's the easiest analogy. Amanda Wachob is a tattooer who approached tattooing as a way to begin to think about painting and how to combined those two things together. She paints after her consultations with clients and those consultations form the basis of the tattoos that she ends up doing. Robert Ryan is a musician and his music is all about pattern and his tattoos are all about pattern.Another highlight of the book is the foreword by art historian Dr. Matt Lodder, who always offers an interesting perspective on tattoo culture, from ancient tribal rites to contemporary trends. This past weekend, Matt moderated a discussion on tattooing during the book release event in Berlin. There, Alex Binnie and Duncan X discussed their tattoo experiences and ideology.
For a glimpse into that discussion, check this video (below) in which Alex & Duncan "talk about the current mass appeal of tattoos, its uniqueness as an art form and the "holy trinity" of tattooing styles."
You can pre-order "Forever: The New Tattoo" on Amazon.
Filmed at the London Tattoo Convention this past year, Zeitgeist Magazine's "Behind the Needle" series, produced by Alice Snape, features noted artists talking about their art and inspiration, and musing on the state of tattooing, often while tattooing clients at the show.
In this fourth installment, Alice & Papercut Pictures interviewed Zele of Zagreb Tattoo, Jason Donahue of Idle Hand, and Alex Binnie of IntoYou. These artists, from very different backgrounds, discuss their individual tattoo styles and also address the good and bad of the "tattoo fad." [Zele remarks, "Tattooing has become a victim of its own popularity."]
In all of the interviews, the passion for the craft is most evident. I particularly enjoyed hearing Alex Binnie's thoughts on tattooing being a beautiful private contract between the client and tattooist -- an art that is outside the exploitative nature of the gallery fine art system. No fad can say that.
Watch the full video above or catch it on Zeitgeist. Also check the previous episodes:
Based on the flood of emails we've been getting over this exhibit, it seems London's art circles are amped over the upcoming Pens and Needles show at the London Miles Gallery, opening Friday, February 25th.
Pens and Needles will feature original paintings, stencils and photographs from over 20 highly respected tattoo artists, including Shawn Barber, Claudia Sabe, Nick Baxter, Nick Colella, Alex Binnie, Mike Davis, Xam, Daniel Albrigo, Holy Fox, Jeff Gogue, Shad, Jondix, Jee Sayalero, Lea Nahon, among many others.
More information on the show can be found here. I particularly like this part of the exhibit description:
Attitudes towards tattoo art and tattooed individuals continue to evolve for the better. Nowadays, it's getting harder and harder to draw a distinction between fine art and the best of modern tattooing. Doesn't this then make tattooed individuals the new cultural ambassadors of a truly new and distinctive 'modern art'?Just call me Cultural Ambassador Kakoulas!
The opening will also feature live music and live tattooing in their pop-up tattoo parlour. The party runs from from 7 to 11pm. And all are welcome to show off their own body of art.
A fierce artistic energy emanates from London's illustrious/infamous Into You Tattoo. Owner Alex Binnie opened Into You in 1993, and since that time, the studio has garnered worldwide praise for innovative tattoo work from all members of its tattoo family. While tattoos in a variety of genres are created, Into You has a particular reputation for blackwork, and one of the artists renowned in this style is Tomas Tomas.
When asked about his life in tattoo, Tomas says that the search for his very first was disappointing after visiting many studios and feeling uninspired by the work he saw. He explains that he had his own vision for tattooing and spent the past 18 years unearthing and sharpening the style he yearned for as a child.
After some years, thanks to the rare tattoo publications available at the time, he discovered the work of various artists at Into You and connected with it. He became an avid customer there, spending hundreds of hours getting tattooed entirely from head to toe by the several resident artists. So it was only natural he found his way on the other side of the needle in these walls.
At Into You, Tomas hit upon a version of tribal blackwork that he says is his "attempt to reveal a new tribal graphic vocabulary in tune with the technological world." While still committed to the ancestral essence of this type of tattooing, he looks toward the future in London. He explains:
Further exploration of this practice revealed that, often, tattoos in tribal societies were poetic visual representations of the environments and cultures in which people lived at the time. It was also a celebration of the mysteries of life. I then realized, rather unconsciously, these same desires and values still fuel many to get tattooed today worldwide.
Tomas further discusses his tattoo philosophy, references and new works on his blog. Check it for tattoo inspiration and a great read.