Photo above of Master Barber "Teddy Boy Greg."
Tattoo above on "Teddy Boy Greg" by Fernie Andrade.
Traditional hand tattooing by Brent McCown.
All photos above by Rebecca Holmes.
I'm back in NYC after the non-stop party that was the Brighton Tattoo Convention. With the miserable winter weather, one would think I'd spend my vacation days flying south to Caribbean beaches and not the cold English seaside, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to spend my birthday with friends who were traveling from around the world to be a part of this show. I most definitely made the right choice.
The convention took place at the Hilton Brighton Metropole Hotel, located directly on the seafront in the center of the city. It was a massive labyrinth of booths throughout the hotel's convention center, with over 350 artists from over 16 countries working.
In sharp contrast, down the aisle, rap music blared from the booth that housed Norm, Big Sleeps, & Big Meas doing their sought-after script. Crowds also formed around other big names from the US such as Thomas Hooper, Bugs, Bong, and BJ Betts, among many others.
Tattoo above by BJ Betts.
UK legends George Bone, Lal Hardy, and Alex Binnie drew
plenty of fans as well. [As a side note: Alex had a gathering on Thursday night before
the show for the release of Charles Boday's Handpoke Tattoo book, and it was great
to check out his Brighton shop, which has that same cool vibe as his
iconic London studio.]
One particular thing I found interesting in the lead-up to the show was that many artists -- who normally book their convention appointments months in advance -- were advertising that they would be doing almost all walk-ups, so lucky convention goers who got in early could get prized time without being on a waiting list. I wonder if they knew how lucky they really were.The tattoo competitions were limited to Best of Day entries with Guen Douglas winning Friday for a neo-traditional lady hand tattoo; Ryan Evans winning Saturday for his black and grey portrait of Marlane Dietrich; and Alex Gotza of Dirty Roses Tattoo in Greece winning Sunday for a full thigh gypsy tattoo (shown below).
As for me, I spent much of my time helping the convention organizer Woody manage the press, as there was a lot of interest in this eighth year of the show. But when I wasn't doing that, you'd most likely find me at the opulently decked out booth -- complete with gold drapery and Moroccan lanterns -- of tattoo witches Alicia Cardenas, Goldilox, Delphine Noiztoy, and Lorena Morato. Other stunners at that booth were model Moniasse, Frank Doody, and Drew Becket. [All of whom are shown in the pic below.] I shared a rented house with these beautiful people, kind of like a Real World Brighton, and ... I think I'll leave the exploits (and damaging photos) off this blog. Moving on ...
More seriously, there was also a lot of tattoo history shared at the show. Our friend Dr. Matt Lodder gave a wonderful talk on Sutherland MacDonald, "the first tattoo artist." And just outside his roundtable discussion, you could view the artifacts and archival photos from the famed Bristol Tattoo Club. I also particularly loved the fine art exhibition of Ramon Maiden (a post on him is coming soon).
Most of the hard partying took place at the Sailor Jerry cocktail lounge and by the main stage where crowds of psychobilly babes gathered on Friday to see The Meteors, who still can bring a mosh pit to action after 35 years (with an older shirtless crowd). Other bands through the weekend included The Sex Pistols Experience, as well as King Salami and the Cumberland 3.
Prettying up the Rockabilly set pre-concerts were barbers flown in from California, although lumberjack beards and skull caps dominated over pompadours. Really, I could barely recognize friends underneath all the hirsute hotness.
It's all these different offerings, in addition to top tattooing, that make a great convention. Most important to me, these gatherings are an opportunity to share love with friends from across the globe and reaffirm that we are one community of beautiful freaks. And that's better than any beach vacation.
For more on what went down at the convention, check the Brighton Tattoo blog, and these news items:
The documentary film "TATTOOS: Perceptions & Perspectives" by Maximillian Jacobson-Gonzalez has been making the internet rounds, but in case you haven't seen it (and its accompanying video interviews), I highly recommend you spend some time, as it offers thoughtful discussion on common tattoo issues: stigma, tattooing as an artistic practice, the impact of fashion and celebrity, and also identity, individuation and belonging, among others. These are not new discussions, but what makes the film really compelling is the diversity of the perspectives and the experience and expertise of those interviewed.
For me, I could listen to our friend Dr. Matt Lodder talk about tattoos for days, particularly sharing his expertise looking at tattooing from the art historian perspective. Find more thoughts from Matt in this separate 29-minute interview with him. The film starts off with a great quote from Matt: "The story is a persistent one: some people get it, some people don't." [And there are fun follow-up person-on-the-street interviews with people saying they don't get it.] I also appreciated his discussion on how tattooing is viewed as a "phenomenon," and gets written as, "Why would you do that to yourself?" but he notes that someone handpoking a Wham logo (as his old bus driver did) and someone traveling to Switzerland to get tattooed by Filip Leu are not the same thing.
Maximilian then talks to Filip and Loretta Leu -- one of the most renowned and respected tattoo families in the world. There's also a 23-minute interview with Filip for more. Loretta talks about society's acceptance -- or lack thereof -- of tattooing, while Filip shares his own experience getting tattooed very young, the desire to be separate from a group and then that desire to be a part of something.
Further to that discussion on belonging, Dr. Margo Demello, cultural anthropologist and author of Bodies of Inscription: A Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community (2000), talks about tattoos as symbol and affiliation, noting that it's why gangs still get tattoos and police still track it. She also compares cultural acceptance of tattoos to other movements and acceptance like the women's and gay rights movements. Check the additional 15-minute interview footage with Margo.
Other highlights include interviews with Paul Sayce, VP of Tattoo Club of Great Britain; tattoo veteran Lal Hardy; Perry Rule of Total Tattoo magazine; and heavily tattooed actor Robert Lasardo. Find extra footage of Lal here and Paul here.
Feel free to share your own perspective and thoughts on the film in our Needles & Sins Facebook group or Tweet at me.
This weekend, our friend Dr. Matt Lodder, an art historian with a particular expertise in tattoo art, posted to Facebook his recent find: A side-by-side comparison of a painting by J. Trivett Nettleship (c. 1900) and a tattoo of that painting by Alfred South (before 1903).
In his Facebook post, Matt notes that the foregoing, among other examples, could be regarded as a sort of "proto-flash." He explains that there is evidence that tattooers had in their studios pattern books and print collections, which were not what we would consider flash, however, he says, "I think it makes sense to think about this as a genealogical precursor (especially as some of these paintings and prints were reference for actual flash...)."
Matt also writes that South's tattoo was "not the most complex find ever as the tattooer had the foresight to admit the rip, but still a fun comparison I think," adding, "Also shows South was no MacDonald in terms of tattoo ability." Matt is referring to Sutherland MacDonald, on whom he will be giving a lecture entitled "Sutherland MacDonald: The First Tattoo Artist," on January 29th at Cock a Snook Tattoo in Newcastle, UK. In that talk, Matt will delve "into the birth of English tattooing as an artistic profession in the 1880s," discussing the life and work of MacDonald and even show never-before-seen images of MacDonald's work. For tickets to that lecture (which are limited), email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm also anxiously awaiting the tattoo flash collection hardcover, to be published by Edition Reuss, that will feature artwork from the world's very best tattooers and Matt's introduction, which will go into further detail on these types of tattoo art history finds. I'll let y'all know when it is released.
Last week, Gizmodo, which is primarily a tech blog, attempted to condense tattoo history, from mummies to Miami Ink, in their blog post "How the Art of Tattoo Has Colored World History." In what seemed to be research primarily conducted on Wikipedia, the author ended up perpetuating many of the myths and misinformation that float around online. So I hit up true experts in the field of tattoo history to set the record straight: Dr. Matt Lodder, Dr. Anna Felicity Friedman, and Dr. Lars Krutak.
So, you can take a minute and read the Gizmodo article first. Or not.
I first asked Anna what she thought were some glaring mistakes in the post. Here's what she said:
ANNA: By the third sentence of this "article" I knew it was going to be a doozy. The problem with this statement, "That tradition continues today, just with a much smaller chance of infection" is a) it's incredibly melodramatic and b) it's just not true. Many (if not most?) traditional tattoo practitioners were acutely aware of the possibility of infection, one of the reasons why we perhaps see suspension mediums in traditional tattoo "ink" recipes like alium juice or even one of my favorite rare ones, human breastmilk, both of which contain natural antibacterial agents. Rest periods for people having undergone tattooing are common cross-culturally (presumably to let the body heal and lessen the chance of infection). And with the rise of "tattoo parties" and so much home-tattooing by amateurs untrained in proper safe practices with bloodborne pathogens, there is a huge risk of all sorts of infections in the contemporary era.
Re: the image of the "Pict" "tattoos": had the writer just done a tiny bit of searching re: this image, he might have realized this image is a fantasy and does not represent tattoos. Scholars are still not sure if the descriptions of body art on the Picts were tattoos or just body painting (leaning toward the latter), but they definitely were not 16th century French-inspired floral designs in multi-color (they were described as woad-like, which is blueish in color). The image is also not attributed to the source, and I'm guessing when the owner (Yale University) finds out it's been used without attribution, they will have it pulled. Here are some links to some of my posts on one of the other images from the same book (John White's equally fantastic Pict images), which mention fantasy and have more elucidation of some of these problems: Image 1 (below), Image 2, and Image 3.
Matt also noted the misinformation on Picts and cited "The Pictish Tattoo: Origins of a Myth" by Richard Dibon-Smith for reference.
As for the "These days, it's not just sailors and ruffians that get inked" line (and the whole paragraph really), read Matt's attack on tattoo cliches.
Above: Lars Krutak with one of the last tattooed Kalinga warriors Jaime Alos outside of Tabuk, Philippines.
I'm also grateful for the extensive critique of the article that Lars offered:
LARS: Otzi is not the oldest evidence as this article seems to purport. The oldest is a 7000-year-old male mummy of the Chinchorro culture of South America and this man wears a tattooed mustache on his upper-lip, so the earliest evidence is cosmetic. [Actually, the cited Smithsonian article had several glaring errors and I never cite it - period! - even though I work at the Smithsonian! Dr. Fletcher stated that Otzi is the oldest tattoo evidence, but she is no doubt incorrect and I like mythbusting this oft-stated "fact."]
Gizmodo: The Inuit, for example, have been tattooing themselves in the name of beauty and a peaceful afterlife since at least the 13th century.
LARS - The earliest evidence of tattooing in all of North America is a Palaeo-Eskimo ivory maskette from Devon Island, Nunavut, Canada whose face is completely covered with tattoos and it dates to -3500 BP. This object most likely represents a woman. So the practice is much older than the author presumes. For "beauty" is pretty much horseshit - see my comments below. Much circumpolar tattooing aimed to repel the advances of disease-bearing evil spirits and there were multiple forms of medicinal tattooing to relieve painful rheumatism (a la the Iceman), painful swellings, facial paralysis, and even to increase the production of a woman's breast milk.
Gizmodo: Similarly, in the the [sic] Cree tribe, men would often tattoo their entire bodies while the women would wear ornate designs running from mid-torso to pelvis as protective wards for a safe pregnancy.
LARS: I have never heard anything about safe pregnancies in relation to Cree tattoo, although I am aware of tattoos in other parts of North America to promote fertility or ensure that the first thing a newborn saw was a thing of beauty (eg, inner thigh tattoo, Inuit region). Indeed, Cree men (Plains Cree, Wood Cree) were tattooed on their torso, but only for war honors. These tattoos had to be earned so only successful warriors would have worn such tattoos. The author makes it sounds like every man had them, but this is simply not true.
Continuing to make serious tattoo collectors smile, Things & Ink magazine -- which I have described as a love letter to tattooed women -- marks its one-year anniversary with The Art Issue, and also a group exhibition, opening in London tonight, entitled "Under Her Skin."
"Under Her Skin," which runs until September 30, 2013, at Atomica Gallery, Hackney Downs Studios, features fine art celebrating modern female tattoo culture by some of the best female tattooers. "Under Her Skin" will be also exhibited during the London International Tattoo Convention, September 27-29.
At tonight's event, you'll get you hands on the latest Things & Ink issue, which, once again, has a gorgeous cover, proving that you can show beautiful tattooed women in a way that isn't cheap. The cover art is inspired by Millais' iconic artwork, Ophelia, with tattoo artist Tracy D. Check the video below for a behind-the-scenes look at the shoot. Within the magazine are more fantastic recreations of iconic fine art work with their own "tattoo twist," along with art historical commentary from Doctor Matt Lodder.
As editor Alice Snape notes in her Letter from the Editor: "The issue covers tricky topics, such as tattoo etiquette (when does inspiration turn into copying?), and tattoos as art. We also spoke to artists who have had their own work used as tattoo inspiration. One of my personal highlights is an interview with iconic artist Jack Vettriano, as I have been a huge fan of his work since my teenage years."
If you can't make it to the "Under Her Skin" opening tonight, you can buy Things & Ink online here, and at these stockists.
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.
Image above (cropped) from Tattoo History Daily. See full image and caption here.
This Thursday, forgo the flowers, candy hearts, and love poems, and spend your Valentine's Day with stories of "disfigurement, murder, and flayed skin (with a bit of cannibalism and sadism thrown in for good measure)" -- with red wine of course -- at Morbid Anatomy (8pm) in Brooklyn, NY for the Tragic Tattoo Tales: A Valentine's Day Lecture and Reading.
The illustrated lecture and reading is given by our favorite tattoo scholars Anna Felicity Friedman and Matt Lodder, who will offer up tattoo history tied to romance and the macabre. Here's more on the talk from Morbid Anatomy:
Through illustrated slide lectures, Drs. Friedman and Lodder will present comparative historical material to provide context and deeper understanding and to separate fact from fiction. Learn about wide ranging tattoo topics in both Western and non-Western cultures and have questions answered that the stories raise. Did people really preserve tattooed skin? What were people reading about tattoos in the early twentieth century? Were Maori really tattooed head to foot? What were the connections between Ukiyo-e and Japanese tattooing in the Edo period?Anna also told the Brooklyn Daily: "There's some short stories about tattooing and romance, which are kind of creepy and weird. They always end with death, or some macabre consequence like being splashed with acid, or having the tattoo flayed off the skin."
Sounds like an average Thursday night for Brian & I, so we'll be there. I hope to see y'all as well. It's only $5 for admission, so you can bring a few dates to Tragic Tattoo Tales.
Also, check out Anna's irreverent Valentine's Day mini-series on Tattoo History Daily (which includes the images in this post). It's not related to the lecture content, necessarily, but similarly cynical and awesome.
A pair of lovers, part of a trio posted on Tattoo History Daily. From Riecke, 1925.
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.
Kat Von D portrait tattoo by Erin Chance
With filming beginning for yet another tattoo TV show, NY Ink, it seems the timing is right for Dr. Matt Lodder's look at the formulas behind "reality TV" (and their relation to the true reality of tattooing) in his article entitled, "Televising the Tattoo" for Paperweight: A Newspaper of Visual & Material Culture.
The article articulates the hot button issue surrounding these shows: not every tattoo needs to have a story but a television show does. Here's just a bit of what Matt says:
It is true that subsections of the tattooed population--gangs, sailors, prisoners--have certainly long made use of tattoos to express specific concepts or to signify group membership, but this has never been true of tattoos in general. Tattooing has forever been decorative as much as it has been simply narrative, with many tattoos lacking a specifically expressive story-telling component to the design. Nevertheless, tattoo TV both depends on and reinforces the preconception that the skin is a screen for its generic formula. For so ingrained is the connection between tattoos and stories that without the traumatic sob-stories of death and loss attached to almost every tattoo, the shows would feature little more than shots of the tattooers high-fiving one another.
For more of this excellent read, you can order Paperweight, print & digital, here.
[For more on NY Ink, see the blogs of Ami James and Tim Hendricks.]
A new tattoo magazine has dropped in the UK, founded by two experienced and respected journalists, Neil Dalleywater and Alex Guest, former editors of Skin Deep & Tattoo Master magazines.
Check out Tattoo Revolution Magazine.
In response to the "greedy corporate shadow [that] has steadily engulfed the tattoo world in recent times," Neil and Alex have set out to create an ethical publication "that answers to the tattoo community and no one else." This first issue delivers in its rich content with thoughtful profiles of artists including Marcus Maguire, Russ Abbott, David Corden and Nick Chaboya as well as convention coverage, event listings, product reviews and even a practical tutorial on drawing by Tony Ciavarro. And of course we're a bit biased in loving the interview with Dr. Matt Lodder, our favorite heavily tattooed academic art historian (and Dandy) shown below.
You know what Tattoo Revolution does not have a lot of? Gratuitous booby shots (unless you count Matt's tattooed pectorals). Now, we love boobs. But if you read us regularly, you know we're getting tired of the ubiquitous spreads of the "hot inked chick" who has the one ankle tattoo blurred in the background of her arched back, pouty-pouty pin-up shot. There are sexy women and men photographed in the magazine but they are beautifully tattooed and not, well, silly. Please, Neil and Alex, keep going along this path to respect over 50% of the tattooed population.
All this amounts to one well curated tattoo publication. The artists are vetted for stellar portfolios, the layout is clean, the photos tight and the writing smart. Unlike many other mags, I wouldn't be embarrassed to open it up on the subway and read it in public.
I downloaded the digital edition for 2.49 BP. Keep in mind that it doesn't read on the iPhone or iPad -- which I'd love to see in the future.
You can purchase it online here.
Guest Blog by Dr. Matt Lodder *
As an opening line for an article in a popular newspaper about tattoos, the suggestion that "tattoos are not just for sailors anymore" is a familiar one. We saw it last month in an article in The Guardian called "The Rise and Rise of the Tattoo", whose subheading read "Just why has the art form of sailors, bikers and assorted deviants become mainstream?".
And just last week, an article in the Astbury Park Press declared that although "Traditionally viewed by Americans as the crude art of roughnecks or drunken sailors, tattooing has turned a corner, moving toward acceptance as legitimate art".
Indeed, it often feels as if the same sentiment graces every article about tattooing in the mainstream press: Tattooing, we've been told again and again recently, is coming of age - finally coming out of the murky shadows of the deviant underworld to leave its mark on the most well-heeled. Tattoos are now to be seen on catwalks, on trading floors and around the chicest tables.
The hacks who churn out these stories might be surprised to learn, then, that the popular media has been reporting the arrival of tattooing in high society for nearly one hundred years.
In his 1933 book, "Tattoo: Secrets of a Strange Art", Albert Parry reports that the onset of the Great Depression hit tattooists hard, as their usual clients - lawyers and bankers - were hard-up, unable to afford the highest rates for large tattoos. An even earlier article, from Tatler Magazine (the periodical of the British upper classes) in 1905, reports:
"The tattoing [sic] craze which first broke out in America has now come to this country, where its chief exponent is Mr. Alfred South of Cockspur Street. During his career Mr. South has operated on upwards of 15,000 persons, including about 900 English women, the designs in a great number of cases being of a most peculiar description. There are some instances where ladies have had the inscriptions on their wedding rings tattooed on their fingers beneath the ring. Ladies who like to keep pace with the times may be adorned with the illustrations of motor cars." (26th November 1905, p. 311)
There's simply no truth to the common tale that tattooing has always and forever been the domain of the seedy, the deviant and the marginalised in the West, though the tale is a persistent one. It pervades even the few serious academic histories of tattooing in the West, all of whom who almost universally agree that prior to about 1965, tattooing was less of an art form than some kind of ritual practiced by easily-identifiable groups of the underclass. The 1970s onwards are referred to in these texts as "The Tattoo Renaissance", as if the period before had been a dark age.
Recently, a colleague of mine passed me a fantastic article she stumbled across in the course of some archival research. Titled "Modern Fashions in Tattooing", it's from Vanity Fair, dated January 1926 (pp 43, 110). In its opening paragraph, the author confidently exclaims the; very same sentiment we saw only last month in The Guardian:
"Tattooing has passed from the savage to the sailor, from the sailor to the landsman. It has since percolated through the entire social stratum; tattooing has received its credentials, and may now be found beneath many a tailored shirt."
Even by 1926, magazines were announcing to their readers that tattoos were now popular amongst people like them. And these were not small flash designs either - the article reports large chest pieces, backpieces and designs artistically rendered to the desires of each individual client. It talks about re-works and cover-ups, and tattooing kings and queens. The article even mentions an old-salt tattoo artist called Professor Sharkey, bemoaning the good old days when tattooing was "art for art's sake" and not some modern fad. "It's too bad to have to tattoo diving-girls and Venus rising from the sea when you have it in you to do things like these," he says, gesturing at his collection of rare prints.
Tattooists, it seems, like tabloid journalists, have always stuck to the script.
* Dr Matt Lodder recently completed his PhD thesis in art history at the University of Reading. His research applies art-historical and art-theoretical methodologies to tattooing and other forms of body art. For more about his research, click here. Matt is on Twitter and can be contacted directly via mattlodder at hotmail dotcom.