Sunday, 28 September 2008

More Than Skin Deep

Well I was introduced to a new sub-culture today - the world of tattooing (or Irezumi in Japanese) at the London Tattoo Convention which took place over the weekend at Tobacco Dock in Wapping.

There were lots of stalls set up in the old shop premises on the site, each area of the first floor roughly corresponding to the country that the tattoo artists came from - there were European artists, lots from the States but also quite a few from Japan, Thailand, South America and so on. The ground floor was given over to the rather spooky Voodoo Crypt and stores specialising in t-shirts, magazines and other paraphenalia.

I was initially surprised to find that there weren't many artists exhibiting tribal tattoos at the convention (or many visitors with them for that matter) , but apparently this tattooing style is rather frowned upon by professional tattoo artists, who see it as being very simplistic and relatively easy to do. That is of course unless these 'tribal' tattoos derive from the traditional cultures where they originated - there were one or two artists displaying Mauri and Polynesian examples of their work for example, which don't really look like the jagged, spiky designs you see on the street these days. One or two were even using traditional techniques for applying the tattoos - tapping sharpened bamboo sticks into the skin rather than using mechanical tattoo machines - that looked really scary!

I should just say that what I saw today really convinced me that these people are artists in their own right - almost all of it was absolutely breathtaking in its complexity, and many designs were really beautiful, particularly in my view the Japanese-styled ones. Long gone are the days of a rose and a scroll with 'mum' written across it...

Many examples I saw reflected very traditional Japanese design, including dragons, koi carp, samurai warriors and so on (the friend I went with today is entirely covered in these from neck to ankle!) , whilst others explored images associated with heavy rock and metal, so there were lots of grinning skulls, daggers, devils and the like. Other artists specialise in bio-mechanical designs similar to those drawn by HR Giger, and yet others use bold, cartoon-like themes - 50s belles that you might have seen painted on old aircraft seem to be a favourite at the moment. Black and grey designs, sometimes with occasional hints of a single bright colour, also seem to be very popular.

I managed to pick up some publicity material while we were walking around, and for those reading this in London and the South East, here are the groups of professional artists working in the area that you might want to look into if you're considering getting a tattoo - Frith Street Tattoo, Jo Harrison, Woody's Tattoo Studio, Immortal Ink, New Wave Tattoo, The Family Business and George Bone Tattoos (who had a grimly decorated stall - you can imagine!). Apologies to any of the big names I've missed out

Finally, some tips. There are lots of magazines dedicated to tattooing where you can find out more about it, such as Total Tattoo and Skin Deep in the UK, and you'll learn a lot from looking through the websites of the artists I've mentioned above. There are also regular conventions around the UK and Europe - the next big one will be in Brighton in January of next year. You can also sign-up to this site - it seems to be popular and informative. Also if you're talking to someone who is serious about tattooing, you're going to have to learn some new words - there's a whole language associated with it. I'll provide a few examples here but you can learn more from the links above:

'inked' - someone who has a tattoo ;)
'flash' - pre-drawn tattoos displayed in tattoo parlours that people can select as the design of a tattoo, rather than the tattooist creating a unique design - sort of an 'off the peg' tattoo
'sleeve' - a design that runs from shoulder to wrist covering the entire arm
'scratcher' - an amateur tattooist

And I bet that you're also thinking "Is he getting a tattoo?" I'll let you know!


Doug said...

Those neon signs look great. I would love to get one.