Tattoo Art

Monday, September 1st 2014

Tigger has two weeks on holiday from work and we mean to make the most of it. We shall be going away for a few days (more about that later) and spending the rest of the time in London or making day trips.

The weather today is rather dull and we decided to take in an exhibition at Somerset House. It is entitled Time: Tattoo Art Today. You can see information about the exhibition by clicking on the title and here is some further detail from the exhibition itself.

Somerset House
Somerset House
Looking out from the Victoria Embankment entrance

I have to say that I am not very keen on tattoos and it would never occur to me to deface my body with one. All tattoos, even if clean and bright to start with, age badly, becoming foggy and discoloured. When the body sags, as it inevitably does with age, the tattoo sags too, altogether presenting a sorry and sometimes disgusting sight. Can tattoos be considered as art? Some people (not least, tattooists) obviously think so but I remain sceptical. I think the reasons people have for acquiring tattoos are complex and have little to do with artistic expression but I shall have to leave that to the psychologists to investigate. A related question is whether tattooists, or at least, some of them, are also artists? The exhibition provides an opportunity for them to answer that question.

Photography is permitted in the exhibition and below I show five samples of the works on view. These are the ones that caught my attention for some reason or other. I did not photograph everything. You might think that tattooists, accustomed to working on skin which, though not necessarily flat, presents a two-dimensional surface, would, for the purposes of making artworks, stick to painting. Most of the items on show were indeed paintings but that there were also some sculptures. I will present  two examples.

Pascal “Bugs” Jarrion
Click for slide show

Despite my misgivings about much modern art, I rather like this piece. It at least prompted me to look up Pascal Jarrion to see what I could find out about him. This French artist and tattooist living and working in the US produces paintings and sculptures in a manner similar to the Cubist works of Picasso but with his own individual style. There is a personal Website with examples of his work – see Pascal Jarrion – but entering his name into your favourite search engine will produce a lot of hits. One to watch, I would suggest.

Time's Up Time's up
Time’s up
Luke Atkinson

This piece by Luke Atkinson is a human skull (lacking the lower jaw) painted with lacquer with the addition of mother of pearl and placed upon a chequered board. The design on the forehead is presumably a character from a language unknown to me and I have no further information on that. The placing of the skull on a board produces the slightly uncanny sensation (in me, at least) that this is a loaf ready to be sliced. Was that intentional? I would not place this work in the same category as the bronze by Pascal Jarrion though there is possibly a serious purpose behind it. Atkinson has a tattoo studio in Stuttgart called Checker Demon Tattoos, which includes a short biography and, for those with a strong stomach, examples of his tattoo work.

Now to some paintings.

Time Machine
Time Machine
Timothy Hoyer

This elaborate and somewhat curious painting called Time Machine is by Timothy Hoyer. He has a Facebook page and a presence on Instagram. To judge from the works displayed on those sites, Hoyer has a love of big cats and Japanese art. He is clearly a more than competent draughtsman and his works often seem highly symbolic even though the meaning of the symbolism is not clear to me. The lion in the above painting seems frightened or startled and is that a Buddha seated upon a lotus? Unravelling the meanings might be fun but I lack a key to do so.

Where is the shop?
Where is the shop?

“Playful” is a somewhat overworked adjective in modern art. I think it is too often used to cover the fact that the artist hasn’t bothered to think what s/he intends with a particular piece. However, I think this painting by Hide Ichibay is genuinely playful in the good sense. It imitates or caricatures classical Japanese art and the subject seems to be holding a smartphone or a GPs – the latter would fit with the rucksack on his back, implying a journey in search of something. And is that a spray can on the floor beside the painting-within-a-painting? And what shop is he looking for? You can find something about Ichibay on the Three Tides Website and some more examples of his tattoo work on Rattatattoo. Though apparently predominantly a tattooist, Ichibay is clearly a competent painter and I would like to see more artworks by him.

Hodie Faunas
Hodie Faunas
Nikko Hurtado

This painting by Nikko Hurtado stood out from the rest. To be honest, judging from what I have seen of his work, it also stands out from the rest of his art. Hurtado has a Website called, reasonably enough, Nikko, where you can see that he specializes in portraiture, both of real people and of fictional entities. It’s perhaps unfair to judge from photos of tattoos but his tattoo portraits seem to me competent but average, nothing special, and the above painting stands out all the more because of that. Crystallizing an instant and a personality and a mood, it is very successful. Is it my favourite work of the exhibition? Quite possibly.

A foggy day in London town
A foggy day in London town
Looking across Waterloo Bridge

After refreshments (and Somerset House provides several possibilities for this), we went out again into the dull weather. This view across Waterloo Bridge shows the  somewhat misty conditions. It took little persuasion to decide to go home for the day.

So, has the exhibition answered the question as to whether tattooists (or “tattooers” as some prefer) can be artists? I think it has answered it positively and there were a few works that I liked and enjoyed, counterbalanced by a ballast of those I felt overblown and needlessly fantastical. But perhaps that’s as it should be. Art, like everything else, evolves by trial and error and every success emerges against a background of mediocrity and failure. These artists show imagination and vigour, at least.

For my part, I was looking forward to getting home for a cup of tea.

Copyright © 2014 SilverTiger,, All rights reserved.


About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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2 Responses to Tattoo Art

  1. WOL says:

    Back catching up on my blog reading. I was at first surprised that an exhibition of art by tattooists would attract you, but then you go for some street art, and art is, after all, where you find it.

    • SilverTiger says:

      Welcome back 🙂

      It’s true that I don’t like tattoos on the body and that I often find modern tattoo design garish and inartistic. However, if the art is good, then one should say so and admire it and I think that some of the works in the exhibition did have artistic qualities.

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