Photo by Gemma Angel
There's been a bunch of talk in the news recently about what to do with your tattoos once you're dead. The buzz largely surrounds the skin preservation offerings of the Foundation for the Art and Science of Tattooing -- the work of Peter van der Helm, owner of Walls and Skin, a tattoo and a graffiti supply shop in Amsterdam.
This isn't a new story. I posted on Peter's "preserve your tattoos" project last year, when he began working on the service, but it seems that interest has grown exponentially since then. According to The Guardian:
More than 50 people have already signed up with the Foundation for the Art and Science of Tattooing, so that after their deaths, pathologists can remove the skin carrying their tattoo, pack it in formaldehyde and send it to a laboratory where the water and fat will be removed and replaced with silicone. They then become the property of the foundation, put on display or "loaned" to family and friends of the deceased.The Guardian also spoke to our friend Dr. Matt Lodder on the history behind tattooed skin preservation; Matt notes that there are collections of tattooed skin at museums in Krakow, Tokyo and London; however, a big difference in this case, is that "the foundation is ensuring the tattoos that are preserved are kept with the owner's permission."
Considering just how many tattoo books have been recently published, it's interesting to see how much media attention has been focused on Pen & Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them -- a collection of illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton depicting people's tattoos along with the stories behind them. MacNaughton and editor Isaac Fitzgerald, who based the book on their Tumblr (of the same name), highlight the tattoo stories of rock stars as well as "ordinary people" in an "exploration of the decision to scar one's self with a symbol and a story."
Overall, the book's reception (from outside of the tattoo industry press) has been favorable. For one, Maria Popova had quite a positive review of the book on her Brain Pickings blog (of which I'm a huge fan). In her review, which offers extensive excerpts and illustrations from the book, Popova writes:
From a librarian's Sendak-like depiction of a Norwegian folktale her grandfather used to tell her, to a writer who gets a tattoo for each novel he writes, to a journalist who immortalized the first tenet of the Karen revolution for Burma's independence, the stories -- sometimes poetic, sometimes political, always deeply personal -- brim with the uncontainable, layered humanity that is MacNaughton's true medium.These stories are not necessarily well received by all. As Margot Mifflin writes in her review in SF Gate, she found Pen & Ink to be "a slight and parochial collection of anecdotes that reinforces some awfully weary tattoo cliches." She explains:
One [anecdote], occupying an entire page, written by someone who wears the words "pizza party" across her toes, says only, "I really f-- love pizza." Most of the other contributors muster a paragraph or two, saying in print what you can hear on any tattoo reality show, if you must: backstories for memorial tattoos, pet tattoos, relationship tattoos and "reminder" tattoos -- those permanent Post-its bearing personalized platitudes.Those of us in the tattoo community like to say -- especially in light of the endless reality shows -- that not every tattoo has a story. We can get a tattoo simply because we like it, and the design itself need not be imbued with grave significance and meaning. But really, every tattoo does have a story in some way -- the story of the experience of getting tattooed. And a key component to that experience is the artist. That seems to get lost in Pen & Ink. As Margot notes, "[...] respected tattooists [are] consigned to the back pages of this collection as footnotes to bar tales, some of whom are not even identified by name, but instead by "parlor.'"
As a lawyer, I was naturally intrigued over whether the tattooists ever gave permission to have their tattoos reproduced as illustrations. As I have written about endlessly regarding tattoo copyright, tattooers generally hold the copyright to their designs, or at least share them with the client, unless those rights are otherwise transferred, licensed or assigned. I wonder if the tattooers were ever even contacted to give permission to have their artwork reproduced. [In general, the copy need not be exact, and creators could retain their rights even if their work is translated in other forms.] I'll leave an extensive legal discussion out of this post, but only wanted to mention it in the context of how this book falls short by not giving the proper credit and respect to the very reason why the book exists -- that there were tattoo artists behind every story.
Nothing in this post should be relied upon as legal advice. Obviously.
One of San Francisco's long standing and highly respected tattoo studios, Everlasting Tattoo, was recently profiled, along with owner Mike Davis, in Hoodline.com. In addition to a brief history on the studio, which has been in operation for 22 years, the article focused on Mike's fine art work and his solo show and book signing tomorrow, October 21st, at 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco, from 6:00 pm - 10:00 pm.
Entitled A Blind Man's Journey, the book and solo show feature Mike's modern surrealist oil paintings, described by publisher Last Gasp as follows:
Surrealist painter Mike Davis captures mysterious scenes in the style of the Dutch Masters. Davis uses oil paint to create an alternate world where anything is possible, combining arcane personal symbols with social commentary. His vivid, narrative work pulls viewers into dreamscapes where they are soon lost among burning birdhouses, cannon-toting eggs, anthropomorphous insects, and skeletons holding what may be the keys to it all. Will the forlorn subjects who populate his paintings spill their secrets? What happened among the rubble and where are the travelers going? Davis' tableaus can reveal important parables to the attentive mind, but only if we study well and learn to read his visual poetry.Buy A Blind Man's Journey on Last Gasp here and check more of his fine art work here.
One of the largest, if not the largest, collection of Russian prison tattoo photos has recently been published by Fuel in the 256-page hardcover Russian Criminal Tattoo Police Files. The 180 photographs are just a sample of the thousands collected by Arkady Bronnikov during his 30 years as a senior expert in criminalistics at the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs. According to Fuel, as part of his duties, Bronnikov visited many correctional institutions of the Ural and Siberia regions where he interviewed, gathered information and took photographs of convicts; he also regularly helped solve criminal cases across Russia by using his collection of tattoos to identify culprits and corpses.
Text offering more information on the symbolism behind the tattoos are included in the book as well as a 48-page section printed on pink paper with texts, mug shots and criminal profiling. View more photos here.
Vice interviewed Damon Murray, co-founder of FUEL, to talk about the book. Here's a taste:
In London, there will be an exhibition of photographs from the Arkady Bronnikov collection at the Grimaldi Gavin gallery at 27 Albemarle Street, October 17th to November 21, 2014.
The book is sold exclusively on the Fuel site for 20BP (approx. $32 US).
Building really strong tattoos, that flow from the dark and brutal to light and playful, Lionel Fahy Out of Step Tattoo in Paris has amassed an exciting portfolio that has inspired others to think differently about tattoos. You can find more of his work on Facebook and also his blog, where he often offers more (in French) on the works he shows.
After eight years with the team of Art Corpus, Lionel is moving to a new location: Sanhugi at 88 rue des Dames, Paris 17. For appointments, he's best reached at lionel.fahy at gmail.com.
Looking forward to seeing more from Lionel at his new tattoo home.
I 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.Read more of "Kuniyoshi Dreamin'" here. And see more of Jay Cavan's tattoo portfolio on Instagram.
Before Ami James, Kat Von D, and reality TV, there was tattoo superstar Lyle Tuttle. Tattooing since 1949, Lyle rose to fame in the late '60s tattooing a predominantly female clientele and celebrities like Janis Joplin, Peter Fonda, and Cher at his San Francisco studio. He appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and was photographed by Annie Leibovitz for the inside cover of Rolling Stone in the 1970s, an iconic image of modern tattooing. Despite criticism for being the tattoo media darling of his time, he is credited with presenting tattooing as an art form to the mainstream and promoting safe and hygienic industry practices. Tuttle officially retired around 1990 but continues to travel the tattoo convention circuit, often teaching seminars on machine building and lecturing on tattoo history. In this interview, he offers some history lessons, discusses fame, and muses on tattoo artists as contemporary witch doctors.
With your long and exciting history in tattooing, what do you consider one of the most significant landmarks in the art during your career?
Women's liberation. With more freedom, more women got tattooed. Back in the day, I was in more panties than a gynecologist--because women were getting their tattoos inside the bikini line, little rosebuds and butterflies.
What about female tattooists? In the documentary Covered, you said that when women would come into your studio wanting to be tattooers, you'd say: "Look, honey, you got the world's oldest profession tied up, now you want the second? Do me a favor and buzz off." How have your thoughts on women in tattooing changed since then?
Tattoo shops today are a lot kinder and gentler places than they used to be. In the past, tattoo artists worked in arcades, and it wasn't a good environment. Sometimes it was hard enough to protect yourself, let alone be the frontman for some woman. Women who were involved in tattooing at that time were generally married to a tattoo artist, so they worked together--there were a few man-and-wife teams. There was a woman who tattooed before WWII in the 1930s. Her name was Mildred Hull. She was on the Bowery in NYC and had a sign displaying that she was the only woman tattooist on the Bowery. She was very proud.
So you're saying that you were talking more about the environment of tattooing at the time?
Yes, the environment has changed. It's eco-friendly to women now! It's a pink world! And I think women in tattooing have been good for the industry.
Do you think that celebrities have also played a big role in the popularity of tattooing?
Oh yes, sure. I remember there was this one guy who was getting an armband--his arm was the size of an oak tree--and tattoos always hurt more on the inside of the arm than the outside. And when the tattoo got into the inside of the arm, the guy said, "When I get a hold of that Dennis Rodman, I'm going to kill him..." I thought that was pretty funny.
You've tattooed so many celebrities yourself. Cher, Peter Fonda, Janis Joplin...
The first day I went into work after Janis died, there was a girl waiting by the front door, and she wanted Janis's heart on her chest. A lot of people wanted the tattoos she had. I still get inquiries about her wristband, which I just freehanded from a piece of jewelry she had.
Tattooing celebrities also brought you notice, like being on the inside cover of Rolling Stone and even on their Christmas card. What was one of the best things that came of that?
Well, I'll tell you what wasn't: Fame and fortune don't necessarily walk hand in hand. You have to be smart enough to make the fortune from the fame. But I never was a money-grubber. The buck was never first and foremost to me. All my publicity, which was mostly from women I tattooed, started in the late '60s. 1970 was a bumper year for me, '71 even more so, and '72 was my heyday. I don't even know why you're talking to me now. I'm a has-been. But I guess that's better than being a never-was.
Has there ever been a backlash to your popularity?
Not really. There were some people I alienated because of my popularity. Today, I have guys coming up to me and saying, "I want to be as famous as you someday." And I say, "You ain't fucking good-looking enough!" [Laughs.] But tattooing has really been kind to me.
What do you think about today's popularity of tattooing?
It's too easy. Too accessible. Today, you see supplier catalogs in the tattoo shop waiting room. And the shops have become pussycats and hangouts for yuppies and other degenerates. These silly bastards are getting tattooed on the sides of their necks and getting their hands all marked up. When people start screwing around with their bodies, they keep looking for new avenues and then it gets into one-upmanship. How do you take a day off? These people can't take a day off unless they go to some blind farm. I'm not ashamed of my tattoos, but they are nobody's goddamn business.
Tell me about your first tattoo.
When I was growing up during WWII, many servicemen coming back from the war or on leave would have a tattoo dribbled on them, and boy, those were hot stuff to me, something everything teenage boy would admire--travel, adventure, romance. Tattoos to me were like stickers on my luggage. I just had to have one.
When did you get it?
In 1946. I went to San Francisco when I was 14 one day--I lived 120 miles north of San Francisco--but not to get a tattoo, just to see the big city. I passed by a shop and peeked in the door and the guy says to me, "What the hell do you want?" I said, "Umm," and pointed to a heart with "mother" because I could afford that one. I remember when I stepped over the threshold of that shop I had no idea where it was leading me. It was stepping into a time machine. It consumed my whole life.
I don't know. It was an atavistic tug. Atavism is a reversion to primitive nature. I believe in genetic remembrance. How many thousands of generations of cultures have had tattoos as an important part of their culture? Tattooing is the mother art. It's been around as long as anything else. Neanderthals could have tattooed; there's evidence of that in cave paintings. But the damn church got involved and destroyed everything they didn't agree with, so there's a gap in the record, but it dates back long before written history. Being a tattoo artist is the closest goddamn thing the general public has to a witch doctor they are ever going to get. We all suffer from the lost tribe syndrome.
When did you start tattooing?
Three years later I was tattooing professionally, in 1949. The designs we'd do in those days are what they now call "old school." At least they spell school correctly. Now there's "new skool" with a K. I'm coming out with a school, a style of my own called "old stool." We'll only use brown outlines.
You can come out of retirement for that!
Yeah. [Laughs.] It's funny because I come out of retirement a lot. Anywhere I'm at, I'm asked to do a free autograph tattoo. I've been doing it for 15 years or something. One guy came up to me and said, "I get so goddamn tired to roll over in the morning and see your name on my old lady." There are also people with my portrait tattooed on them that I've signed. What I got a bang out of is, one time, a woman got so mad at me, she went out and had my name laser removed. That's a real peacock feather in my hat!
Why was she mad?
She erroneously thought that I had said something about her at a convention. Someone must have told her a lie, which started off as me being drunk in a bar. I drink. I usually start around 12 noon, but I don't get drunk.
You mentioned conventions. I see that you're still going around the convention circuit a lot and teaching seminars.
I've been doing seminars on machine building for 10 years. I'm an amateur machine builder. I don't have a factory or anything. I build them for my entertainment. But I'd never thought that I'd be teaching anybody sitting in a classroom and divulging secrets. In the past, it would be unheard of.
But you have done a lot to preserve tattooing's past. Tell me about your museum collection. What are some of the highlights?
Well, for one, there's my Edison autographic printer. It was made for cutting perf [perforated] patterns. They punch all these holes in a piece of paper following a design to transfer the artwork, so it was used as a stencil to make copies. It wasn't invented as a tattoo machine, but it was the first electric handheld device with a reciprocating motion. You don't need much penetration to go through paper, but to tattoo a person, you have to have a much longer stroke. So in 1891, Samuel O'Reilly, an Irish tattoo artist who became well-known in New York, came up with the idea to increase the stroke to make it more powerful and penetrate the skin. He's credited as the inventor of the electric tattoo machine, but Edison really was. O'Reilly only made a modification of the autographic printer. That's the granddaddy of all tattoo machines even though it was not designed for it. Edison in all his stuffiness would probably have frowned upon tattoos.
A literary agent asked me once, "Why don't you write a book?" But something stuck in my head that I heard someone say: "To write is not to live because you're reliving." Why rekindle an old relationship when you [can] go out and make a half a dozen new ones? On Benjamin Franklin's [mock] epitaph--I don't remember the exact words--was something like, "Here lies Ben Franklin, like the cover of an old book with its pages torn out...the story will be written again in a greater and grander edition."
In your 80 years on this earth, what personal doctrine or ideology have you developed?
"No sweat." Don't ever sweat over anything and don't let anyone make you sweat. I have it tattooed on the back of my leg in kanji, but they couldn't translate "No Sweat" exactly so it reads "Perspiration No." I've been at Chinese places and pulled my pant leg up and they stare at it, beyond their comprehension. I'm actually just seeking to find one truth. If I find one, then maybe I will find the second one. Man is always looking for the secret. I'd like to know one goddamned truth before I die.
Tin Tin gets ready to tattoo Filip Leu (above).
One of the world's best tattoo shows -- the London Tattoo Convention -- celebrated ten years running, September 26-28, with the world's best tattooists (over 350 of them!) working and partying through the weekend. I was at the very first London show and almost all of them since -- including last year's debaucherous gathering -- but as work kept me in NYC, I was relegated to enjoying the show via photos, status updates, and tweets in endless streams on social media.
My friend Ino Mei, founder/editor of the Greek publication Heartbeat Ink (which is in English & Greek), just posted truly fantastic coverage of the convention, with what seems like a billion photos in her London Tattoo Convention Review (including those posted here). [Ino interviewed me at last year's London convention, posted here.]
For this year's show, Ino captured everything from artists tattooing, the scene outside and inside the venue, close-ups of stunning tattoo work, and tons more. Wonderful to see all the smiles throughout the image gallery. Her video footage should be up soon, and I'll update this post with the link, but I couldn't wait to share all the London tattoo goodness!
Tattoo over mastectomy scar by David Allen.
The true power of tattoos to transform lives is exemplified in Personal Ink aka P-ink.org or P.ink, a volunteer project, produced by the wonderful folks at CP+B, with a goal of connecting breast cancer survivors with tattoo artists who create art on mastectomy scars and offer nipple and areola tattoos as well. You can also find P.ink on Pinterest, which provides tattoo inspirations, ideas, and artist info.
On 10/10, 37 artists and 38 survivors in 12 locations will come together on P.ink Day to take that tattoo inspiration and make it a reality. Last year's P.Ink Day, which you can read about here, was a huge success, and this year, it's even bigger. P.ink Day artists this year include: David Allen (whose work is shown above), Ashley Love (NY Adorned), Joy Rumore (1228/Brooklyn), Friday Jones (Tattoo Couture), Darren Hall (Rising Tide/Boulder), Shannon Purvis Barron (Indigo Rose), Shane Wallin (Twilght Tattoo, Minneapolis) and Stacie-Rae Weir (who just finished a book on mastectomy tattoos). Find the full artist list here.
In addition, P.ink has just launched its Inkspiration app (a video of which is below). Here's more on the app from P.ink:
Inkspiration offers survivors a way to try on mastectomy tattoos in the privacy of their own home. Select a body type or upload a photo to get a better idea of what designs might look like. Inkspiration houses a growing library of tattoo inspirations and helps survivors identify and connect to tattoo artists who have mastectomy experience.Download the Inkspiration app for iPhone here.
P.ink is looking to grow the tattoo library in the app, and welcomes (vector-based) art to share through the site, which would also be sold/printed as temporary tattoos. [Think tasteful, eye-opening work that could inspire someone who's not initially used to tattoos, particularly vines, florals, and anything that's a bit flowing.] If you'd like to donate your artwork, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.