Results tagged “tattoo”

Oct201413
02:58 PM
8330d1356070011-full-back-piece-thread-003-copy.jpgI love stories of body transformations, particularly large tattoo work, so I thought I'd share a piece by Brian Dunn, entitled, "Kuniyoshi Dreamin'" on Medium's Human Parts collection. 

In his essay, Brian writes on the creation of his Utagawa Kuniyoshi-inspired Japanese backpiece, tattooed by Jay Cavna in Mesa, Arizona; however, he shares more than just the process, but also the thoughts that run through one's head when making such a huge personal change:  the leap of faith with the artist, finding the right expression, dealing with the physical pain ... and how to tell your wife. Brian is a really engaging writer and uses words like "sweet, callipygian backside," so how could I not share it?

Here's a taste:

Despite not having any recent successful pain management campaigns to point to, I was confident that I would lie like a cadaver while still recognizing that what men think we're capable of is both wildly optimistic and grossly inaccurate. We consistently overestimate our ability to do everything from throwing a football over those mountains to drinking a gallon of milk in one hour. That I had zero qualms about my ability to lie perfectly still while someone carved into my dermis for hours meant nothing in the final analysis, but blind self confidence was one thing I had going for me.

It wasn't the only arrow in my quiver. If I should ever be writhing on the table and looking to bolt, I need only remind myself that nothing's more sad than an unfinished tattoo. Except the person wearing it. I've heard of tattooers who, when tattooing dragons, save the eyes for last. They claim that it's only when the eyes are done that the dragon comes metaphorically to life. No one wants to walk around with a blank-eyed, dead dragon adorning their skin. What's more, half-completed tattoos are a tangible sign of failure. What example would I be tacitly setting for my young daughter if, every time we went swimming, I ripped off my shirt to reveal her father's lack of follow through in the form of colorless peony flowers?

I also had my modest-patron-of-the-arts status to uphold. I support live jazz. I've donated to NPR. I buy the occasional art fair original work of art. When I ponied up the deposit for the tattoo a month before my first session, I wasn't just saving a slot. No, I was entering into a tacit contract with Jay to see things through to the end. Composition is crucial for large tattoos, and I was making the man fit three large animals, plus clouds and waves and flowers, onto a funky-shaped canvas complete with curves, lumps, and crannies (see buttocks). His work was markedly front loaded, and my tapping out after a session or two would render his pre-tattoo toil for naught, effectively pissing off a man who would see me naked and was at liberty to divulge to the entire shop the relative size of my genitalia.

Read more of "Kuniyoshi Dreamin'" here. And see more of Jay Cavan's tattoo portfolio on Instagram.
Sep201430
07:05 AM
zac scheinbaum tattoo 4.jpgzac scheinbaum tattoo snake.jpgI was excited to learn that, earlier this month, one of NYC's premiere tattoo studios, Kings Avenue Tattoo, welcomed a new tattoo artist to their roster: Zac Scheinbaum. Zac rounds out the Kings Ave crew with a portfolio filled with my favorite things: dots, geometry and lots of black ink. I hit up Zac with a few questions about his work:   

You've recently become a part of Kings Avenue Tattoo, coming from Saved Tattoo. As both studios have a high bar for excellence, what was your path like in tattooing to reach that bar?

I learned to tattoo in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at a shop called Four Star Tattoo. Mark Vigil apprenticed me. He is a very knowledgeable and incredibly talented tattooer. When I met him, and the years that followed, he showed me everything about how tattoos should be done, and the right and wrong ways that he thought to do things. I feel like I still learn and recall things he said to me all those years ago and they are totally relevant. But he also definitely "raised" me in a sense to have a high volume of respect for everything dealing with the craft...and artists that do it.

I initially came to New York to get my arm done by Mike Rubendall. He was a huge influence on me and definitely helped me to be where I am today even from back then. I also would've never met Chris O'Donnell without Mike. I had gotten tattooed by Scott Campbell over at Saved many years before and always thought that it would be so awesome to work there.

Long story short (sort of, after a rocky goodbye and a few months on St. Mark's), I ended up at Saved.  Both Kings Avenue and Saved have always been gigantic influences on me and my work. It is a fulfillment of life dreams and goals to have the opportunity to work around these amazing artists.

 How do you work to become better and better at your craft?

I never feel satisfied with my work, and I think that's important. I'm always trying to learn and get better. I sort of think of it as getting an education from all of these different amazing teachers, then taking things you like and don't like about what advice you are given, and deciding how to implement that to best fit your clients and your vision of the final piece of work.

zac scheinbaum tattoo1.jpgI'm a fan of your style of blackwork and dotwork tattooing. How did you come to your style and what references do you seek out for your work?

The use of black and white imagery is what I have always been the most comfortable doing. I would love to do more color work also, but it is definitely a little harder for me to grasp sometimes. That being said, the strong use of dotwork and geometric tattooing that I do, I can attribute directly to Thomas Hooper. When he came to Saved, it definitely changed my mentality -- whether it was about my philosophy for tattoos, work ethic, design, and overall aesthetics, he had such a smart and different way of doing things. I really admire him and wouldn't be where I am without him. I've always loved this type of tattooing (Xed Le Head, Tomas Tomas, Jondix, Mike the Athens), but never understood how it was even possible. Thomas showed me how to make mandalas and how he suggested doing things, and I sort of took that, then just ran with it on my "own" after he left.

I'd say that, just within five years, the appreciation for blackwork and dotwork tattoos has grown exponentially in the US. Do you think that's accurate \? What are your thoughts on the growing interest in these styles?

I think every style of tattooing has a time and a place, and this just happens to be the time where this type of tattooing is getting a little bit more notoriety and acknowledgment, but I'm sure, as with all things, it will pass and something else will come up instead of it. Not that that's a bad or a good thing, but I think it's definitely something that, when people think of tattoos, this was just  something they hadn't seen before and that's why it got so big -- because they didn't realize what was possible, or that a tattoo could be so detailed.

What do you love about tattooing?

I love tattooing because it's has given me the opportunity to do art  every single day. I feel so honored that anybody would like to get tattooed by me. It means the world to me. Not only has tattooing integrated itself into every aspect of my life, whether I'm reading or having dinner or whatnot, I always can find new ideas everywhere. It lets you create all the time! You get to make people happy, and give them something that can change their lives.

What projects, travels, events are coming up for you that you'd like to share?

I'm working on a series of new paintings, and hopefully some flash. I am planning a trip to Japan early next year, but am not sure the exact dates yet.

***
Find more of Zac's work on his site and Instagram.

zac scheinbaum 2.jpgzac scheinbaum tattoo 3.jpg
Sep201418
08:53 AM
newyorker tattoo.jpg
UPDATE: The wonderful Helena Wissarionowna posted, in the Needles & Sins Facebook group, two other tattoo-related New Yorker Covers, which I added below.

Yesterday, I posted on Instagram and Facebook, the image above of the recent cover of The New Yorker magazine illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti. It was a "Like" parade, but also inspired some serious critique, particularly the context of the illustration, rather than the artwork itself. Gawker Media's Lux Alptraum noted on her Facebook page that she found it a fetishization of tattooed women by a publication trying to be edgy. It's a good point, although I noted that more objectification and exploitation of tattooed women comes from our own industry media.

In the back story of the cover, Mattotti himself says: "Doing fashion illustrations is part of my work, but for me it's all about women [...] It's all about women--very pictorial women putting on dresses, putting on a show."

This wasn't the first time The New Yorker made tattoos a central theme of its cover. In the October 29, 2012 issue, the "Skin Deep" cover below by Barry Blitt offered an homage to the Norman Rockwell painting "The Tattoo Artist." In that New Yorker back story, Blitt says of his cover illustration:  "'The Tattoo Artist' features a sailor with a long list of girlfriends' inked names crossed out on his arm," he said. "This seemed like a nice tableau for highlighting Mitt the politician's shifting positions and convictions."

So, is this an out-of-fashion publication trying to bank on tattoo cool, or just another example of mainstream media embracing the art form?

Share your thoughts on the Needles & Sins Facebook group page or hit me up on Twitter.


romney-tattoo-cover-465.jpg
Peter de Seve_tattoo_newyorker.jpgCover above by Peter de Seve.

Chris Ware_tattoo_newyorker.jpg
Sep201409
03:08 PM
body-electric-tattoo.jpg1-Alex-Binnie-hand-hate.jpgArt work above by Alex Binnie.

On September 18th, the highly anticipated "Body Electric" exhibit at the Ricco Maresca gallery in NYC will open, featuring the fine art work of a stellar roster of tattooists, who include Saira Hunjan, Jef Palumbo, Duke Riley, Noon, Nazareno Tubaro, Amanda Wachob, Jacqueline Spoerle, Colin Dale, Scott Campbell, Peter Aurisch, Chuey Quintanar, Horiren First, Alex Binnie, Minka Sicklinger, David Hale, Stephanie Tamez, Virginia Elwood, and Yann Black.

The show is guest curated by the wonderful Margot Mifflin, author of Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo (and my co-conspirator in recent lectures, including Women's Ink). In her essay, "Visionary Tattoo," Margot writes that "tattooing has sprung free in the new millennium, liberated by artists who combine fresh concepts, holistic design, and masterful technique in thrillingly original styles." It is this "new generation of conceptual trailblazers" whose work Margot and the Ricco Maresca gallery have chosen to display in "Body Electric." Margot further writes:

The visual art featured here reflects their tattoo sensibility--the next best thing to showcasing the living canvases that bear their designs. They hail from around the globe: In Lucerne, for example, Jacqueline Spoerle uses Swiss folk motifs in lyrical silhouettes perfectly suited to tattoo's inherently graphical nature. In Los Angeles, Chuey Quintanar takes fine line black and grey portraiture to a new level of grace and power. New Yorker Duke Riley's maritime narratives betray a blush of nostalgia through strong line work and meticulous cross-hatching. In Argentina, Nazareno Tubaro blends tribal, Op Art, and geometric patterns in flowing compositions that embrace and complement human musculature. And in Athens, Georgia, David Hale, a relative newcomer, folds the curvilinear lines of Haida art into his folk-inflected nature drawings.

The exhibition includes a selection of flash art spanning the late 19th to mid-20th century. These pieces, many by titans of the trade--George Burchett and Sailor Jerry Collins among them--represent the keystone style of Western tattoo tradition and the semiotic conventions that define it, from hearts and anchors to pinups and crucifixes. Conveying both the charms and limits of these pioneers, they offer a baseline for understanding the evolution of tattooing over the course of the past century.
I'm incredibly excited to attend on the 18th, not simply to view the works, but also to spend time with a number of the artists who will be arriving specifically for this exhibit. For one, Nazareno Tubaro of Argentina, one of my most favorite blackwork artists, will be at the show (and he'll also be a guest at Kings Avenue Tattoo NYC from 9-12 to 9-15). In addition to those artists whose work is on display, I hear many more will come to celebrate the opening. I hope you'll join us as well.

8-Horiren-First.jpgArt work above by Horiren First.

colin dale art.jpgArt work above by Colin Dale.

Sep201403
09:28 AM
savage tattoo.pngHere's some fun mental gymnastics: "Tattoos for Time Travellers," an event at the British Science Festival in Birmingham, England, this weekend will be chatting/debating on the following scenario:

Imagine that we're about to send you back in time. You can't take anything with you (not even your clothes!), but we do have an amazing tattooist, and she'll write or draw anything you want on your body before you go. What information do you need to survive, to thrive, to change the future? Will you be hailed as a genius or burnt as a witch? Use your ink wisely!

, who will be hosting the event, has already gotten some interesting responses via Twitter, which she posted to her Guardian article. When I read about the scenario, the first tattoo that came to mind is "Everyone is equal," a reminder not to fall victim to oppression during humanity's darkest times. [Of course, we still have so much work to do on equal rights today.]  You can tweet your own ideas to @HPS_Vanessa, or just use the hashtag #BSFtattoos.

Beyond "Tattoos for Time Travellers," Vanessa's Guardian article offers some "Tattoos in history" info, and one text she discusses is "The Savage Origins of Tattooing," published in Popular Science Magazine in 1898 by Cesare Lombroso, deemed one of the first criminologists. She writes of his work (with her links included in this excerpt below):

Lombroso became most famous for his theory that criminality is inherent, that it is fixed biologically (we would say inherited, or genetic) and not a consequence of psychological or social factors. Because it was inherited he believed it was possible to judge someone's personality based on their physical appearance - in other words that you could literally see that someone was (or would grow up to be) criminal, or violent, or lustful. Lombroso's theories formed part of a racist eugenics movement which argued that non-white races were inferior to white races - and that you could tell which were more inferior by the slant of their foreheads or the size of their noses. So getting a tattoo was a "savage" act - and when a white European chose to get one this indicated something doubtful in their character, especially if it was a woman. Of course, there were exceptions - both King Edward VII and his son George V had at least one tattoo.

Unfamiliar with "The Savage Origins of Tattooing," I read the article and found it interesting how various forms of tattooing were processed by Lombroso, and how so many of the prejudices conveyed in that 1898 article are still around today. I recommend reading it for that reason, and also the discussion of specific tattoos of those he studied, including illustrations like the one above. You can also read the article on Wikisource.

Oh, and if you do Tweet your ideas for a time traveling tattoo, I'd love for you to cc me on your replies @needlesandsins.
Sep201402
08:00 AM
rose-hardy-big.jpg
Rose Hardy

claudia-de-sabe-big-1.jpgClaudia De Sabe

UPDATE:  In just a little more that a month, the fine art exhibit "Time: Tattoo Art Today," on view at Somerset House in London, will close on October 5. Our friend Serinde recently visited the show and sent photos, which we've posted to our Flickr stream. Serinde described the show as "surprising, striking, and above all extremely well executed." If you plan on attending the wonderful London Tattoo Convention, make sure to put this exhibit on your must see list while you're there.
 

...
Garnering rave reviews in London, "Time: Tattoo Art Today" presents the fine art of 70 some of our finest tattooers around the globe, including Filip Leu, Ed Hardy, Horiyoshi III, Paul Booth, Guy Aitchison, Kore Flatmo, Rose Hardy, Mister Cartoon, Chuey Quintanar, Volker Merschky and Simone Pfaff, among other artists. "Time" opened at Somerset House in London last week, and drew a great deal of media attention, highlighting just how skilled the artists in our community can be in mediums beyond skin. For a glimpse into the exhibit, the BBC offers this video.

Curated by tattoo artist Claudia De Sabe and publisher Miki Vialetto, the tattooers were asked to create a new work for the exhibition on the theme of time. Here's more from Somerset:

The resulting collection ranges from oil painting, watercolours and traditional Japanese silk painting to paint layering on real skulls, airbrush and bronze sculpture. Time and all it infers (such as life and death) is a classic, common motif in tattoo art, expressed through a vast variety of iconographic combinations. For example, the popular inkings of butterflies, blossoms and the handled cross signify life, while memento moris such as skulls or the goddess Kali denote death. Many of these symbols are also present in the original pieces displayed.
See more works from the exhibit on the museum's site and on Miki's Tattoo Life site.

"Time: Tattoo Art Today" will be on view at Somerset House until October 5, 2014. All artworks on display, as well as the show's catalog, prints and other memorabilia, are available to purchase at the Rizzoli Bookshop.

Horiyoshi-III.jpgHoriyoshi III
filip-leu-big.jpgFilip Leu
Aug201427
03:46 PM
yann black.jpgTattoo above by Yann Black.

mel tattoo.jpgTattoo above by Mel of Sin City studio.

Anam Kustom Kulture studio.jpgTattoo above by Anam of Kustom Kulture studio.

The MTL blogs' "Best Montreal Tattoo Artists" is an extensive list of top tattoo talent, which also shows the breadth of unique styles, expertly rendered in that one fabulous city. It seems that the MTL blog culled Instagram for their choices, and did a good job of doing so; although, as one commenter of the post noted, some of the choices of tattoos picked to represent the artists did not reflect their most dynamic work. Nevertheless, I highly recommend scrolling through the 47 picks, a number of which I've posted here.

Many of these artists, as well as renowned tattooers from around the world, will be working the Montreal Tattoo Convention coming up September 5-7. It's one of my favorite shows and I'm bummed that I can't be there this year, but I welcome pics and stories from the show from anyone who attends.
 
Pierre Chapelan tattoo.jpg
Tattoo above by Pierre Chapelan, owner of Studio TattooMania.

Vero tattoo mania.jpgTattoo above by Vero of Studio TattooMania.

Simon Golygowski tattoo.jpgTattoo above by Simon Golygowski of POL Tattoo studio.

Aug201421
08:38 PM

Yantra: The Sacred Ink from Cedric Arnold on Vimeo.

Two weeks ago, I put up this post on Cedric Arnold's "Yantra: The Sacred Ink,"  which is, as I previously wrote, an exceptionally beautiful series of portraits and documentary photography -- a product of four and a half years of travel throughout Thailand to fully explore Yantra, or Sak Yant. Yantra are sacred marks performed by monks in Thailand in which the wearers believe that the tattoos are imbued with magic, offering protection and even bestowing certain powers.

Showing the tattooing process and ceremonies attached to the tradition, Cedric Arnold recently posted this 4:34 minute documentary short (embedded above), which uses footage shot between 2008 and 2014, and includes incredibly powerful scenes of "Khong Khuen," states of trance that tattooed devotees enter when "possessed" by the spirit of their tattoos, as Arnold writes.

The full version of the film will be released online at a later date, and is currently being screened at the "Tatoueurs, tatoues" exhibit at the Museum du quai Branly in Paris until Oct 2015.

For more info, visit "Yantra: The Sacred Ink."

Apr201408
08:59 AM
parkinson_maori.jpg
Sydney Parkinson's illustration of a tattooed Maori from Cook's first voyage.

In case you missed it on the Needles & Sins Facebook group yesterday, Anna Felicity Friedman recently posted a large portion of her tattoo-history dissertation on her wonderful TattooHistorian.com blog about the "Cook myth," which, as she writes, is "the common assumption that modern Western tattooing somehow derived from contact with Polynesian peoples during Captain James Cook's voyages in the late 18th century."

Here's a bit from her writing:

In addition to demonstrating that tattoos were often seen in a positive, or at least neutral, light, a crucial subsidiary aim of this dissertation is to debunk what can be termed the "Cook myth": the perception in many scholarly and popular texts from at least the 1950s that the historical origins of modern tattooing among Westerners exclusively derived from Cook's first voyage to the Pacific and his and his crews' encounters with tattooed people in Tahiti--that Cook, et. al., somehow "discovered" or "reinvigorated" tattooing.[1]  But this is clearly not the case.[2]  A look at texts from before the mid-eighteenth century demonstrates that many authors, explorers, scientists, etc. were wellfamiliar with the practice of permanently marking the body with a substance embedded underneath the skin. For example, one of Cook's contemporaries, explorer Charles Pierre Claret de Fleurieu, writing about the Marquesan tattooing he saw in 1791, noted the similarities to and contrasts with the European tattooing that he said was not only common but of great antiquity:

We should be wrong to suppose the tattooing is peculiar to nations half-savage; we see it practised by civilized Europeans; from time immemorial, the sailors of the Mediterranean, the Catalans, French, Italians, and Maltese, have known this custom, and the means of drawing on their skin, indelible figures of crucifixes, Madonas [sic]. &c. or of writing on it their own name and that of their mistress.[3]

Read more, and check the footnotes for additional reference, here.
Apr201402
09:11 PM
Fuzi tattoo.jpgFrench artist FUZI-UVTPK was interviewed by Complex Magazine in this video (shown below) while he was in Brooklyn, tattooing at Muddguts gallery.

Complex describes FUZI as the pioneer of the "Ignorant Style," which I have to admit, I'm pretty ignorant about myself; however, in the video, FUZI explains his tattoo philosophy, heavily influenced by his graffiti background, to shed some light on how he approaches his work. For example, he says that one of the most important things for him to "be free to create [his] art, to have no rules" -- how he's not looking for someone to tell him to do his tattooed lines better; he wants to do his lines, his own way.

Whether his lines are strong or not, FUZI was booked solid for his NYC trip. See more of his work here to see if you dig his style yourself.

Apr201401
03:50 PM


If you ever hung out in an American independent record store in the 90s, there's probably no doubt that you've heard of Rocket From The Crypt - an awesome alt-punk band (with a horn section!!) who emerged from the San Diego scene in 1989. Well, they've recently reformed for a reunion tour - which some pals of mine just caught in Los Angeles, and they'll be in NYC for the next two nights - but there's some unfortunate news for those who have chosen to permanently adorn themselves.

Here's the backstory: around 1991, the band decided to take a logo from one of their singles and get it tattooed on themselves. Then, they decided that anyone who got the tattoo would gain free admission to their shows FOR LIFE.

But, as the Wall Street Journal reports - it simply isn't feasible anymore on their current set of dates.

Mr. Reis says the group heard from "hundreds" of tattooed fans asking about admission. When the band asked clubs to let them in free, they were told there was no room. The venues had sold out. "When we were around the first time, selling out shows was not our forte," he says. "There was usually plenty of room."

What was fun was to see how artists (and clients) reinterpreted the design to their own personal interests.



Screen shot 2014-04-01 at 4.23.36 PM.png[Tattoo by Mike Stobbe]

Long before I ever decided to get tattooed, I always that this was a brilliant piece of marketing (as well as a way to truly connect with your fans). Sure, it's real easy to get your favorite band's logo tattooed on you, but it's rare to get something back from it; true artistic reciprocity.

While most of the work that I've found online isn't of the caliber we usually feature, I still think that they had an awesome idea.

Read the WSJ article here.


Mar201426
09:42 AM


Featuring some of black & grey's finest, "Tattoo Stories" is a video series by Estevan Oriol and Mister Cartoon, with the goal of exploring the work, and personal lives, of esteemed tattooers from an insider's perspective -- and not just the usual "How long have you been tattooing?" Q & As.

The videos, which average around 6-7 minutes, take you into the studios of legends such a Jack Rudy and Rick Walter's, who offer tattoo history as well as philosophy lessons. There are also interviews with some of the most exceptional tattooers today, including Shawn Barber, Chuey Quintanar, Carlos Torres, Luke Wessman, Franco Vescovi, and many others.   

The series launched last summer, and when I first checked their SanctionedTV YouTube page at that time, I thought it was largely focused on their "LA Woman" series. As we stay away from the "tattoo model" thing, I didn't share it.  And so it was a happy surprise to go back and see that so much important tattoo footage, and not just T&A, had been amassed and offered in an engaging way.

Oh, and there's also this really moving Snoop Dog (yes, Snoop Dog) vid.
Feb201413
07:59 AM
pierre tattoo mania tattoo.jpgpierre tattoo mania.jpgWhen I think of talented tattoo families -- and the warmest and kindest -- one of the top that comes to mind are the Chapelans of Studio Tattoo Mania in Montreal, Quebec. Second generation tattooer, Pierre Chapelan and his wife Valerie are not only renowned for their stellar studio, but also organizing the fantastic Art Tattoo Show Montreal.
 
Pierre is celebrating 20 years in tattooing, and there's a wonderful online (and offline) appreciation of his dedication to the craft. Here's more on this milestone:
 
"It's been more then 20 years since Pierre Chapelan first held a tattoo machine in his hand, but in 2013, he celebrated his 20th anniversary as a professional tattoo artist. He fell into the tattoo world early on while watching his dad Michel tattoo his way around France and accompanying him to various tattoo shops and conventions in Europe. He was only 17 in 1993 when he started tattooing full time in Bordeaux, France. A mere few months after starting, he came to Canada for his first tattoo convention as a professional artist.

The Montreal Tattoo Convention was filled with many well known artists including Tin-Tin, Bernie Luther, Eddy Deutsch -- all artists Pierre looked to as inspirations. A year later, he came back to Montreal, fell in love with his future wife,Val, and soon enough, decided that Montreal would be home. He worked at Tatouage Artistique along side Keith Stewart and Bill Baker for a few years until he opened his own shop.

Studio TattooMania opened in 1997, the same year his daughter Audrey Lune was born. What was a small one-person operation is now one of the most renowned tattoo parlors in Canada with 9 artists, as well as guest artists who have included Filip Leu, Horizakura, and Tin-Tin, among many others.

Pierre is fully dedicated to his work; he truly "eats,*•#s, sleeps tattoo," as one of his t-shirts states so well. He's been involved in the tattoo community as the host of the Art Tattoo Show Montreal, one of the most successful tattoo conventions worldwide.

He's a polyvalent artist who believes it's his duty to do great work, whether it's a full backpiece or a small walk-in. At only 37-years old,Pierre still thrives on learning and loves talking about his craft.

His next 20 years are looking bright and fun as ever with new projects but always bearing the same respect and love of tattooing."

Congratulations, Pierre!
pierre chapelan.jpg
Dec201323
08:59 AM

MattEllis_homeless portrait1.jpgCelebrity portraits are common tattoo odes that pay tribute (whether seriously or ironically) to someone whom the wearer may not have met, but feels a connection to. What if the person being memorialized on one's body is not on the A-List, but instead, has been marginalized and often ignored by society? Tattooist Matt C. Ellis uses his particular skills in tattoo realism and offers clients a chance to make a connection with those who are forgotten, shedding light on the issues of poverty and homeless.

Matthew, who has been tattooing for 12 years, is working on a project that involves tattooing portraits of New York City homeless individuals on clients for free, and any money a client gives is donated to a homeless charity. I asked him about his project, which he graciously answered in this Q & A below:

What sparked this project and what keeps driving it? Is it a political statement or just a humanist act?

I started this project because I find the subject of homeless culture very intriguing. To have such a large percentage of our populace so overlooked; these persons are right outside our door but we continue to ignore the homeless. When I tattoo these portraits, I am trying to raise awareness for their plight and our culture's disregard and dehumanization of homeless individuals in our society. I tattoo these portraits for free, and 100% of any money that the client decides to give me is directly donated to a local NYC homeless charity.

When I was living in Miami, I developed friendships with many homeless persons, most of whom were war veterans. I became close to these people and developed a certain connection with them. One of the persons I particularly became close with was a local artist in the area, and through this friendship, I continued to make more friends that happened to be living homeless.

The experiences that I have had with some of these individuals is what I am trying to capture in my works of art. I am trying to portray a glimpse into the raw interaction between myself and these persons. Some of these personalities can be so beautiful and are overlooked in our culture, and I'm trying to look at this concept in a broader sense. This project is not just about homeless individuals, but how our culture lives -- the way that we take many of our comforts for granted. We place so much value on the material. We cherish material beauty and what we see on magazine covers and television. I find these homeless individuals to have more of a raw and powerful quality to themselves that is extremely intriguing.


MattEllis_homeless portrait2.jpgWho are these people whose portraits you are tattooing?

The faces that I create these portraits from vary from homeless people that I have a close friendship with, to homeless persons that I have randomly encountered and approached. Each of these persons I converse with and take photos of, which I use as reference and inspiration for my artwork. When I approach an individual, I will walk up to the person and straightforwardly ask if I can take a few photos of them. Some of these individuals are taken aback and are cautious of my intent. I try to explain to them more about my project and what I am trying to accomplish. I go on to tell them my views about how I see an unfiltered beauty within them that cannot be found on the cover of a fashion magazine. About half of the people don't agree with me but appreciate my ideas. Many of the people I speak to outright deny my claims and cannot see the beauty within themselves.

Once the person I am speaking to becomes more comfortable with the idea of my project, I begin to take photos randomly. I do not ask the person to pose and I do not look through the viewfinder. I hold the camera at different angles and push the shutter button randomly, attempting to capture a glimpse of that moment experienced between us. I do not interview these persons, but rather "hang out" with them and try to capture an unfiltered, raw experience with this other human being.

MattEllis_homeless portrait3.jpg

For those who wear these portraits, what are their thoughts about immortalizing people whom they may not have a personal connection with?

People will get tattoo portraits of celebrities who they do not know personally and will not think twice about it. They may do this because they find the imagery beautiful or they admire the person. When a client is interested in getting one of my homeless portrait tattoos, they are usually drawn to the idea of the project, and they like the fact that there is a strong meaning behind the tattoo. It is a piece of art with a purpose and is also raising awareness. My clients like that they have something more than just an image on their skin. Art is about ideas and making people think. I am trying to help push my tattooing into a direction that is more fine art rather than solely illustration.

**
For more on Matt and his work, check his website and follow him on Instagram.

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Nov201325
07:48 AM
walter moskowitz bowery boy.jpgLast Friday, November 22nd, would have been the 76th birthday of an iconic tattooer and a truly good man, Walter Moskowitz of the legendary "Bowery Boys."

Walter and his brother Stanley (who still tattoos today) learned the craft from their father Willie Moskowitz.  Willie emigrated from Russia and opened up a barbershop on The Bowery in NYC, but soon learned that he could support his family better through tattoos than cutting hair, and so he had his friend Charlie Wagner, another legend, teach him the craft. Along with tattooing came the drunken shop brawls between (and with) rowdy clients, police harassment, and the general hustle to make a living during and after the Depression. Not an easy life, but it made for good stories.

Many of those stories are captured on the 
Last of the Bowery Scab Merchants, a wonderful two audio CD set (more than 2 1/2 hours of tattoo tales) accompanied by a 24-page color booklet with photos and articles. The audio documentary also includes guest commentators, and I'm honored to be one of them.

As I wrote on this blog in 2011 when the audio collection was released,
Walter's son Doug recorded these stories in the last year of his father's life so that they may live on. The stories are funny, educational, sad and triumphant. As Doug says, "You will not only get to hear great tattoo stories but you will also get a nice perspective of who my dad was as a person; the era he, his father, and brother tattooed in; and how that related to what he did."

In commemoration of Walter's birthday,
Last of the Bowery Scab Merchants will be discounted for the next few days, and can be purchased for just $15 on Amazon.  It is the perfect gift for tattooists, collectors, history buffs, and, really, for yourself (you deserve it!).

By sharing his stories, Walter gave us a gift, one I'm grateful for. 

Sep201316
08:27 AM
661016fa.jpg Yesterday, the Miss America pageant crowned its first beauty queen of Indian descent, which led to an onslaught of racist tweets by those who take beauty pageants seriously. "America's Choice," as decided by an online vote, was not the winner, but instead, a pretty blonde from Kansas who represented "American Values":  she's a sergeant in the National Guard, she's a hunter who can skin a deer herself, and she's tattooed.

Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail strutted across the stage with a large-scale rib tattoo of the serenity prayer, which she says she used to recite when bullied as a child.  Her tattoos were a big part of her platform, which centered around "empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers." She told ABC News:

"What I really want is just to inspire people by showing my tattoos," she said. "That's a bold move! And it's risky, it could very well cost me the crown. And if it does, I just want people to see that you can step outside of the box, you can be yourself. And I can only hope that it inspires them to do the same."
She didn't win the crown, but she won a lot media attention for being the first Miss America contestant to openly display her tattoos. Or at least that what the headlines touted.

But Teresa Vail was not the first tattooed beauty queen. It was Betty Broadbent, shown above on the cover of the first edition of Margo Mifflin's "Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women & Tattoo" (a must-have book). This cover photo captures the iconic circus attraction as she made history competing in the first televised beauty pageant at the 1937 World's Fair. As Margot Mifflin notes, "She knew that as a tattooed contestant she didn't stand a chance of winning, but she gladly reaped the free publicity." The same could be said for Miss Kansas.

I'm not a fan of beauty contests. Despite the fact that Miss Kansas has a degree in chemistry and speaks Chinese, she still had to put on stilettos and a bikini to put forth her "empowerment" platform. But I am a fan of those working in some way to stir a little trouble, to change up beauty ideals. So good on Miss Kansas for following in Betty Broadbent's high heels.
Sep201310
08:32 AM
amanda wachob.jpg
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.
Aug201321
09:04 AM
Mike_The_Athens tattoo.jpg
Mike_The_Athens tattoo 2.jpg
My friends at the Greek tattoo magazine Heartbeat Ink have a fantastic in-depth Q&A with Mike The Athens, in English and in Greek. Tattooing for 24 years, Mike The Athens is not only one of Greece's preeminent tattooers, but has garnered international acclaim for his work, which is largely inspired by Tibetan and Himalayan Art, Sak Yant, and mantras, but also moving towards Japanese-influenced tattooing.

Today, Mike The Athens splits his time between Athens, Greece, and Goa, India. In the Heartbeat Ink interview, he explains what living and tattooing on two continents is like, how tattooers must have a conscience, and even the fun way he got his name. Here's a taste:

Where are you now in 2013?

I split my time between Athens and Goa. Things are much different in Goa now, compared to how it was fourteen years ago, when it comes to tattooing. Around 150 walk-in studios have opened and two or three private ones. Nowadays, not only tourists get tattooed, but also locals. Goa is a very advanced place. Besides the great energy it possesses, you can meet really interesting people too. Plus, you don't need to convince anyone about who you are. Most of them don't have a clue about who I am, if I'm a renowned tattoo artist or not. The relationships formed in India follow totally different patterns from the Western ones. Everything is still original to a certain point. As the years go by, things are slightly changing, but the people living there, including me, aspire to keep the originality factor alive. 

Can you describe your everyday life as a tattoo artist in Goa?

I feel sort of cut off from the international tattoo scene, since I live so far away from the rest of the world. I have time to paint, create tattoos and painting collections. I would like India to be my base in the future, as far as tattooing is concerned, and people who want to get a tattoo from me to travel all the way there to get it. Some people are already combining it. All these, whilst guest artists and my senior apprentice, Thanos, will be working in my studio in Athens.

Read more, and view some wonderful photos, here. Also check Mike The Athens' site and blog.

Mike is also one of the featured artists in Black Tattoo Art 2, which is currently available for pre-order.

Mike The Athens.jpg
Aug201319
09:16 AM
nike samoan tattoo.jpg
Nike's limited edition "Pro Tattoo Tech Tights" had a limited run, as the company pulled the line after rightful outrage over its appropriating the ancestral art of the Samoan pe-a -- the traditional tatau of the Samoan men. Receiving the pe'a is a sacred right of passage, and so naturally, Nike's exploitation of the patterns for women's exercise gear was seen, at the very least, as insensitive to Samoans.

But this isn't the first time Nike and other companies have been accused of being "culturally exploitative." Check this video for more.
Aug201313
08:08 AM
The Game Twitter.jpg
The Game Twitter 2.jpgYesterday, FirstWeFeast.com reported that Jayceon Terrell Taylor, the rapper known as The Game (or just Game), was refused service at Houston's Restaurant in Pasadena, CA on Sunday because the manager allegedly said that his tattoos were threatening to customers.

The tattoos in question were on his arms and not the LA Dodgers logo on his face or the President Obama portrait on his torso. His sleeves include portraits of 2Pac as an angel and G-Unot -- which I find threatening to good taste -- but it's not like they are gang tattoos (or ones that could be identified as such).  And so it appears that it was the manager's personal fears and prejudices that led to the total sh*tstorm that one with over a million Twitter followers could easily unleash. The hashtag "#DontEatAtHoustonsPasadena" began trending, leaving the restaurant to extinguish Game's flame by asserting, according to Grub Street, that the manager was only "enforcing its strict dress code that requires sleeves" (not the tattooed kind).

The problem is that these dress codes are often subjectively enforced. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that a bunch of non-tattooed arms have been bared at Houston's before. Also, the manager supposedly told Game that his tattoos were "threatening," and did not simply say that tank tops were not allowed in the restaurant.

While the Game was able to mobilize his Twitter masses to get Houston's attention about the problem, many of us don't have that kind of clout.

Last week, Jeffrey posted in our N+S Facebook Group that he was with friends who wanted to celebrate a birthday at San Antonio's The Riverwalk; however, a number of places along the strip had a "No Neck or Facial Tattoo" policy. Jeffrey said that he's had his hands tattooed for ten years now and his neck tattooed for four and this was the first time he's had such a problem. His post led to an interesting discussion with differing opinions:  Shouldn't private establishments be allowed to set their own dress standards? Are tattoos considered "dress"? Are the policies there to protect against having gangs in these establishments? Or as Elaine stated, "And/or does it also function as de facto discrimination against certain ethnic groups?"

Feel free to share your opinion in the group under this post or hit me up on Twitter.

The postscript to Game's story is that he ended up taking his business to California Pizza Kitchen, tweeting: "Went 2 #CPK & they were happy to let me, my tank top & tattoos in 4 lunch. The mgr Kong even gave me a FREE desert." Manager Kong is a smart man.

And really, that's how I plan to play it myself -- take my money to places that will appreciate this "Handsome Ass Redhead" ... and maybe even give me free dessert.

[Thanks, Nick Schonberger, for the link.]
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