The age-old art of skin sewing is explored in Spanish artist David Cata's performative work "A flor de piel (Overexposed Emotions)," in which David uses needle and thread to create portraits of people stitched into his body. You can see a video of the process here.
In a profile on Brooklyn Based, David discusses his work and the source of his inspiration, his mother:
Since I was small I have seen my mother sewing orders for people, so this might [have] influenced me in some way. [...] When I started investigating about the act of sewing in relation with my body, I realized that with this a physical link was created in which an external factor became a part of my body. By sewing the images of my loved ones, this action turned [into] a symbolic act on how these people leave their mark on us.The article describes more of his technique and has links to other works in which David uses his body as a canvas.
When I read his interview, I immediately thought of a post we did a while back: "Colin Dale's skin sewing," (a photo and video of which is below). The wonderful Colin Dale of Skin & Bone in Copenhagen was inspired by the practices of "skin seamstresses," such as the St. Lawrence Island women, as described in Dr. Lars Krutak's article called Tattoos of the Hunter-Gatherers of the Arctic. A bit from that article deserves a re-post:
"As a general rule, expert tattoo artists were respected elderly women. Their extensive training as skin seamstresses (parkas, pants, boots, hide boat covers, etc.) facilitated the need for precision when 'stitching the human skin' with tattoos. Tattoo designs were usually made freehand but in some instances a rough outline was first sketched upon the area of application."We saw Colin's skin sewing first hand at the Traditional Tattoo & World Culture Fest in 2010. In the video below, Colin is being interview by Bizarre Magazine and we got to capture some of his discussion on the history behind the practice (the video starts with Colin making fun of my NY accent).
I find it fascinating when ancient practices are revived and re-explored today, and both Colin and David's works are worth a look.
Skin stitching by Colin Dale. Photo by Claire Artemyz.
Tattoo above by Gao Bin of Lion King Tattoo in Taiwan.
On Friday, the first day of the London Tattoo Convention, before I even finished setting up my book stand, I accosted a friend, who is getting a Filip Leu backpiece, and demanded that he drop his pants (for a look at the tattoo, of course). He immediately obliged. Soon after, others joined in and on display were derrieres decorated by Tin Tin & Xed Le Head. There are many reasons to attend tattoo conventions. Pants dropping is one.
What makes the London convention such a draw for the thousands -- who queued up in a line that snaked all around the Tobacco Dock -- was the roster of over 300 hundred artists, who represent the best in the world. Any type of tattoo art you can image was available. Hand tattooing occupied a central arena on the upper level, where artists like Pili Mo'o tapped traditional Samoan tatau, and tattoo viking Colin Dale of Denmark created Nordic inspired dotwork (among others). Colin even offered a few small Inuit stitch tattoos, which you can view here on his Facebook page.
Crowds formed around the booths of reality TV stars like Ami James and Tatu Baby, leaving room for serious collectors to watch artists like Japan's Shige (shown above) create masterful works on those lucky enough to get an appointment.
Aside from watching long-renowned legends of tattooing, I particularly love discovering artists whose work I wasn't familiar with (it's hard to keep track of the incredible talent out there today). Two artists in particular who blew my mind were Pietro Sedda, with his trippy surrealism, and Lore Morato, who does incredibly soulful neotraditional, like the work below done at the convention.
The main reason of all for my attendance at these shows is that I get to meet up with my beautiful freak friends from around the world and make new friends. I'm grateful to all of you who came to my booth and shared your stories (and took your clothes off for me). Despite being such a massive gathering, the London convention always feels like an intimate family reunion.
I brought my "Marisa Loves Me" temp tattoos, and throughout the weekend, I stamped all sorts of body parts with my tokens of affection. The greatest love, however, was shown when two wonderful friends and artists, Goldilox and Garcia Leonam, got the temps permanently tattooed on them after the convention by Lore Morato. And they were sober when they decided to do it! [See below.]
It was the perfect ending to a perfect weekend.
I posted a few of my usual bad phone camera pics on Flickr. You can also find some great images and mass media coverage of the London Tattoo Convention via the links below.
I'll soon be off to Belgium to get tattooed, but I do have posts lined up for y'all this week ... because I love you.
Last year, we wrote about the Pazyryk Mummy with 2,500 Year Old Tattoos, aka the "Altai Princess," who was being returned to her home in the Altai Republic to be on display for public view.
The "princess" was discovered in 1993 by Dr. Natalia Polosmak, and largely kept at a scientific institute in Novosibirsk, preserved by the same scientists who who preserve the body of Lenin. The mummified woman was buried among others, including two tattooed men who also had intricate tattoos. Dr. Polosmak was quoted in The Siberian Times stating, "Compared to all tattoos found by archeologists around the world, those on the mummies of the Pazyryk people are the most complicated, and the most beautiful. More ancient tattoos have been found, like the Ice Man found in the Alps - but he only had lines, not the perfect and highly artistic images one can see on the bodies of the Pazyryks." [See the tattoos and drawings below.]
The artistry and beauty of these tattoos have naturally inspired today's tattooists.
Colin Dale, of Skin & Bone Tattoo in Copenhagen, Denmark, recently tattooed this Pazyryk-inspired work (with his own twist) -- and he did so by hand, not machine. The work won second place for Female Ornamental at the St. Petersburg Convention. The collector is a Russian anthropology student in St. Petersburg, which is also home to the Hermitage Museum, where other Pazyryk Mummies are on display. [You can also see photos and drawings of the tattoos on the Hermitage site.]
Colin told me that another Pazyryk/Scythian piece was beautifully done at last year's Copenhagen Ink Fest by Kai Uwe Faust at Kunsten pa Kroppen. Photos (some of which are not safe for work) can be found here.
I think these contemporary interpretations of ancient tattoos are a testament to the everlasting power of the art form. And they just look amazingly cool.
The other day, I received an interesting email from our friend and one of our favorite tattooers, Colin Dale of Skin & Bone tattoo studio in Copenhagen, Denmark. Colin particularly specializes in hand-poked dotwork, creating gorgeous pieces, large and small, with a particular bent towards Nordic art and mythology (although he works in a variety of genres).
In the message, Colin sent these photos, shot by his partner Nana, of him tattooing their friend Eric Frederikson with soot mixed with the ashes of Eric's deceased father to make the ink. As Colin said, "It doesn't get more tribal than that."
Considering my fascination with memorial tattoos using cremation ashes, I asked for more to the story, and Colin obliged. Here's what he wrote:
Leviticus talked about cutting and marking the body in reverence to the dead. The Hawaiians used to cut themselves with shells (scalp) and smear the funeral pyre ashes on themselves. And I know several people have done this in modern times before me...I seem to remember Bill Tinney (Photographer for Outlaw Biker, Tattoo Review, etc.) got a portrait of his mother (or grandmother) done by Brian Everett, I believe, with some ash mixed in the ink. However, I actually wanted to make ink out of the ash!For more on the tattoo, and to see other great photos by Nana, read Colin's blog here.
And for other N+S posts on tattooing with cremation ashes check these previous posts:
I learned from Colin Dale this afternoon that ManWoman passed away peacefully this morning after a bout with terminal cancer. Manny was an artist and poet but best known for his work reclaiming the "gentle swastika." Manny was such a bright light, and while I'm saddened by the news, I also had to smile thinking of our brief time together and all the experiences he shared and giggles we had over them. He will be deeply missed by so many.
Shannon of BMEzine.com posted his tribute to ManWoman today and included this video below, in which Manny offers his "final thoughts" less than ten days ago. The whole video is beautiful but ends powerfully on these words:
Find the gift that is in you. You're in this world as a gift of god to this world, so get busy doing it!I'm on it, Manny!
For more on his thoughts about art, spirituality and the swastika, I'm posting my Q&A with ManWoman, which took place at the Traditional Tattoo and World Culture Festival in Ireland in 2010, and was published in the October 2010 issue of the UK's Total Tattoo magazine. Find it below the video (after the jump).
Interview with ManWoman ...
Tattoo by Colin Dale.
Last week, the HuffPo's Religion section had an interesting article by Jacob D. Myers entitled, "Holy Ink: The Spirituality of Tattoos." In it, Myers, who is tattooed, explores the spiritual impact of body art and breaks it down into three observations:
* Tattooing can change one's identity, having an affect on how the tattooed person is viewed by others and how she views herself.
* Tattoos are "roadsigns," that is, when tattoos mark a significant life moment, they can "be powerful enough to return one to that state of spirituality."
* And tattoos can make one feel a part of a community.
This may not be big news to all who are tattooed, but it's great to have a well written piece read by those who simply see tattooing as a "fad," or even worse, the realm of "the lowest elements of the human race."
Not every tattoo need be imbued with great spiritual significance, of course, but I agree with Myers in many ways -- most important, that I do feel I am part of a community. It's why I'm sitting here writing this blah blah.
The added bonus of this piece is finding out that Myers is tattooed by one of my favorites Colin Dale of Skin & Bone in Denmark, and that his wife is tattooed by my own artist, Daniel DiMattia of Belgium. There's a great passage in the article where he describes how his wife views her tattoos:
When I asked what she thought about herself on the other side of the needle, she explained that her tattoo did not change her, but was an indelible expression of her journey toward her authentic self. She sees her tattoo as an outward mark of an inward journey, accessing a part of her self that had always been there. I asked her how this step along her journey made her feel and she replied, to my surprise, "Fierce!"Fierce, indeed. More tattoo images in the article's photo slideshow.
Tattoo by Daniel DiMattia.
[Many thanks to David G. for the link!]
In the last 120 years, have you ever seen a tattoo machine tattooed by hand?
This Paul Roger's Mad Bee machine tribute is hand-poked by Colin Dale of Skin & Bone Tattoo in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Colin is no stranger to this blog. We've filmed him skin stitching at the Traditional Tattoo & World Culture Fest. We wrote about him tattooing a 103-year-old woman. And featured his own 3D Celtic Tattoo, a collaboration with Pat Fish & Cory Ferguson. Colin is not just one of our favorite artists, but a pal and confidant. We thank him for being a friend.
For more of the tattoo viking's work, check his online gallery.
This post is a love letter to my Copenhagen homies, with links to videos, photos and books on Denmark's rich tattoo history and its most recent international convention, the Copenhagen Ink Festival.
First up is this wonderful Cool Hunting video (below) in which Jon Nordstron, photographer and author of Nordic Tattooing and Danish Tattooing, takes us back to a time when tattooists would ride their bikes to the Port of Copenhagen to drum up business among the sailors. In the video, you'll see the oldest tattoo shop in the city, which is still buzzing today. And he offers background on prominent artists who shaped tattooing in the country and beyond. Lots of goodness in 3 1/2 minutes.
In more recent history, photographer Hampus Samuelsson captured this video (below) and some gorgeous stills from the Copenhagen convention [April 1-3]. The video offers wide shots from the floor to give you a feel for the show but also intimate close-ups of tattoos, including traditional hand-tapped work. In addition to tattooists working and clients wincing, you'll see clips of the Lizardman's performance, Viking sword fighting, and at the very end, there's a bonus clip of California's Rory Keating and Borneo's Jeremy Lo doing a drinking dance, which I plan on reenacting myself at the next convention. Fun stuff. [See more of Hampus's photos on his Facebook page.]
Special thanks to Colin Dale of Skin & Bone Tattoo for the video link.
Tattooing ultimately began to fade when missionaries and modernity arrived at the beginning of the 20th century. Furthermore, as new medical advances became known, tattoos of the medicinal kind were no longer believed to "hold power" or to cure. Chris Koonooka (Petuwaq), a local teacher at the Gambell School stated, "It seems like those folks who were born after 1915 stopped getting tattoos. Some were actually feeling fortunate for not being tattooed and some were feeling ashamed for being tattooed. Perhaps some were embarrassed about their tattoos, as some may have been influenced by the Christianity of those times."
But Lars was also hopeful that the younger generations of Yupik women would revitalize their tattoo traditions. It seems that this hope is being realized.
Last week, the Anchorage Daily News featured Yaari Kingeekuk (shown above), an artist and educator who wears the tattoos of her ancestors and also teaches native Alaskan songs and dances. While her tattoos were done by machine, not sewn, they still hold their original meanings:
Yaari credits her grandparents Jimmy and Mable Toolie for her interest in reviving St. Lawrence Island arts. Mable was one of the women Lars interviewed for his research into Yupik tattooing, and the first photo in his article.
Also reviving the skin sewing practices is Colin Dale of Skin & Bone Tattoo in Copenhagen. We got to see Colin stitching first hand at the Traditional Tattoo & World Culture Fest this past summer, and Brian posted a video of it here. If you haven't seen it yet, I recommend you check it out to watch the intricate (and painful) process.
Even more on skin sewing can be found in "Tattoos of the Hunter-Gatherers of the Arctic."
Photo by Will Vragovic for the St. Petersberg Times
I know I should be offline during my vacation but I wanted to quickly share with you a sweet story that Colin Dale of Skin & Bone sent me.
Mimi Rosenthal celebrated her 101st birthday getting her third tattoo at Requiem Body Art in Spring Hill, Florida. According to TampaBay.com, Mimi got her first tattoo at age 99, a dime-size blue butterfly on her leg. She thought it was too small and vowed to go bigger next time. At 100, she got a larger tattoo--a flower--on her other leg. The problem was that she had to lift her pants up to show it off, so this latest one is now on her arm for easy exhibition.
Tattoo artist Michelle Gallo-Kohla, a long-time family friend of the Rosenthals, said that working Mimi's thin and fragile skin was "uncharted territory" but she took it slow and Mimi was pleased with her new sun flower tattoo.
When asked "Why a tattoo? Why now?" she replied "Why not?"
Right on, Mimi! She also jokes that the next tattoo will be on her butt.
You'd think with this kind of zest for life and humor, people would be positive about the article but, alas, "good Christians" infiltrated the comment forums as they usually do in mainstream tattoo stories and started calling the great-grandma a sinner. Then there are those who asked if Mimi remembered the Holocaust. And of course there were dumb jokes. [But there were a couple of good ones like "When she gets old the tat won't look the same." hehe]
It's not the first time, however, that we've written about a centenarian getting tattooed. In April 2009, Colin Dale tattooed 103-year old Karen Fredso Larsen on her hand (despite Danish law prohibiting hand and facial tattoos).
The smiles in the photos of both women show how much joy they've gotten from their tattoos. There's no sin in that.
Skin stitching by Colin Dale. Photo by Claire Artemyz.
There's been some buzz over the break-up between Skin & Ink magazine and its long-time editor Bob Baxter--who now has his own tattoo blog. Ignoring the gossip and focusing on the content, it seems Bob has rallied his old team of writers and photographers to contribute to his new site. Yesterday, he featured a profile of one of my favorite artists by one of my favorite writers:
Check out Lars Krutak's Colin Dale and the "Forbidden Tattoo."
The article discusses Colin's signature Neo-Nordic tattoo style and intricate dotwork, his hand-poked techniques and skin-stitching (as seen above), and his new studio Skin & Bone in Copenhagen, Denmark. [The article was written before the studio officially opened. Today it is thriving with art exhibits and guests artists as well as Colin's own stellar tattooing.]
The central focus of the article, however, is how Colin fulfilled the wish of Julia Machindano by giving her the facial tattoo worn by her Makonde ancestors called the dinembo. Lars offers more on the history behind these tattoos:
Traditionally, Makonde men and women received facial tattoos at puberty and before marriage. Often times these designs consisted of a series of stacked chevrons called lichumba or "deep angles." Incisions were made with a knife-like iron instrument called a chipopo and vegetable carbon from the castor bean plant was rubbed into the incisions, producing a dark blue color. When the extremely painful facial tattooing was executed, boys and girls were sometimes buried up to their necks in the earth so that they would not flinch as the tattooist cut open their living flesh. For the Makonde, facial tattoos were not only symbols of great courage; they were also the truest expressions of Makonde tribal identity itself.
Read more of this fascinating story here.
As a side note: Lars will soon be releasing his new book, Kalinga Tattoo, published by Edition Reuss--the publishers of my Black Tattoo Art book (in which Colin Dale's work is featured--it's all very incestuous).
Lars, Colin and I will be working at the London Tattoo Convention in September. Colin will be hand-tattooing. Lars will be presenting his book and exhibiting photos of the vanishing tattoos of this Filipino tribe. And I will be releasing my new Black & Grey Tattoo book with my co-author Edgar Hoill. And drinking cider.
But in a few weeks, July 10th and 11th, Brian and I will be meeting up with Colin for the Traditional Tattoo and World Festival, an intimate gathering of tattoo artists and collectors in Cork, Ireland. Join us for a fun tattoo vacation.
I'm starting a new section on N+S on interesting tattoo projects, and the stories behind them. Not stories of the dog that died and that's why I got this Kanji on my shoulder, but stories meant to inspire and inform on the creative tattoo process. I'm snotty like that.
Here's the first in the series: Colin Dale's 3d Celtic Tattoo.
Colin's tattoo was a culmination of a project started on his own leg last February in California and involved various artists in the process. The original idea was to design a piece of Celtic knotwork that wrapped in an unbroken piece around the entire leg -- not just a band but also running from top to bottom in a three-dimensional tattoo encompassing the entire calf.
The design came from Pat Fish, aka The Queen of Celtic, a master at knotwork. The design was then given to her technical assistant and webmaster Colin Fraser Purcell who then made a 3D template that could be wrapped around Colin's leg in a cone shape. Pat then applied the design ... and got it right the first time! Not an easy task, even for someone as experienced as she is. Pat then spent 3 hours adjusting and freehand drawing it to fit before she even started to tattoo. The original outlining ran into the early hours of the morning.
Colin returned home and began to thicken up all the lines himself. This was actually more painful on the hip joint and lower back than the actual tattoo. [Imagine tattooing while touching your own toes for 2 hours at a time!] This was followed by Colin dot-shading all the negative spaces on the instep and shin. Unfortunately the tattoo wasn't finished in time for the Northern Ink Xposure convention in Toronto, but Colin took the opportunity to have Cory Ferguson to fill in the negative spaces in the left side and back where he couldn't reach. Cory is another talented award winning artist and friend who specializes in the pointillism technique combined with mandalas and tribal patterns.
After this was completed Colin took it down to Alex at Rites of Passage who did all of the greyshading of the knotwork. Alex specializes in Black&Grey and Portraits work, so this was sort of like asking da Vinci to paint a ceiling...with a roller. But it was decided that a simpler more graphic approach was the best way to compliment the Celtic style and complete Pat's original vision.
After this collaboration of three great artists, plus to artist/collector himself, the Three Dimensional Celtic was completed.
And that's just one way to get a kickass tattoo.
I'm been quiet here because I'm on deadline for my book on blackwork tattoos, but the boys have been blogging wonders, albeit cranky ones.
Blackwork is everything from traditional tribal tattooing, like the timeless Polynesian tatau ...
to neo-tribal made famous by Leo Zulueta and Trevor Marshall ...
to the dotwork technique mastered by artists including Xed Lehead, Dan DiMattia, Erik Reime and Colin Dale, among many others ...
to modern interpretations of non-traditional tattoo motifs like this henna-inspired work above by the fabulous Jacqueline Spoerlee ...
to the all-black graphic art of Yann Black, Jeff, Boucherie Moderne, Noon, and other French avant garde tattooists.
So that's what's keeping me busy these days, but I'll be back tomorrow with your news review.
Photos by Martin Foldgast for NU Magazine April 2009
Tattooing someone's hands and face may be illegal in Denmark but that didn't stop my friend, tattooist Colin Dale from satisfying the birthday wish of a 103-year-old rockin grandma bent on getting inked.
Colin went to the nursing home in Copenhagen where Karen Fredso Larsen lives and hand-poked a ring on her finger that symbolizes natural force and energy. Karen loved the Nordic mythology and petroglyph tattoos on Colin's beautiful wife Nanna and chose a design along those lines instead of a peace symbol, her original idea. [If you scroll down, you can see Nanna showing her tattoos to the curious centenarian who even asked for a peek of her body art below the belt line.]
When commenting on whether the tattoo hurt, she said, "I have experienced so much in my life that this is nothing."