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Reviving the art of Filipino tribal tattoos

By Aya Lowe

Source: www.bbc.com

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Each tattoo is designed around an individual’s life story.

The Spanish conquistadors who landed in 1521 dubbed the Philippines the Islands of the Painted Ones after the heavily tattooed locals. Nearly 500 years on, tribal tattooing is almost extinct. Aya Lowe met the islands’ last practitioner and those trying to keep the tradition alive.

For more than eight decades, Whang-Od has been inking the headhunting warriors and women of her Kalinga tribe.

Using the traditional “tapping” style, dating back a thousand years, she hammers ink into the skin using the spike of a calmansi (lime) tree attached to a bamboo stick that has been dipped in wet charcoal.

The simple designs are evocative of the nature around her in the mountainous region of the Cordilleras – outlines of centipedes, trees and snakes or basic geometric patterns such as diamonds and squares.

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Kalinga tribal tattoo artist Whang-Od

These, she says, are “earthly messengers from the gods [that] protect you from enemies or bad spirits”.

Not for the light-hearted, this slow, primitive method is extremely painful and would have been endured for short periods only. Large tattoos might take several months to complete.

However, at 94, Whang-Od – whose own skin is etched with a variety of designs – is likely to be the last of her kind.

Training her niece

Tradition dictates that skills can only be passed down family lines. Having lost the love of her life at the age of 25 in a logging accident, Whang-Od did not marry again and bore no children.

“It can’t be passed on to anyone else,” she insists. “It has to be within the same family because if someone else who is not from the same bloodline starts tattooing, the tattoo will get infected.”

However, the young in her village are not keen on adopting the body work of their elders. Though she is training her niece to carry on her work, Whang-Od says that her young relative is more interested in her studies to become a teacher.

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The “tapping” tattoo method is extremely painful and can be endured for short periods only

The preservation of tribal tattooing may, however, lie thousands of miles away in Los Angeles, where a group of dedicated members of the Filipino diaspora has been working hard to ensure the tradition is not lost.

Tatak Ng Apat na Alon, which translates as “Mark of the Four Waves Tribe”, was formed nearly 15 years ago in Los Angeles by Filipino-Americans.

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The traditions of the Kalinga tribe elders are not being adopted by the younger generation

Their name is a reference to the “waves” of immigrants who came to the Philippines.

The group has grown to become a global community made up of hundreds of people with Filipino heritage looking to revive the tattooing traditions of Filipino tribes by having their designs etched on their skin.

 

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Tribal tattoos have been popular with the Filipino diaspora

“People are sacrificing their skin to revive this ancestral form of art and make sure it is not forgotten,” says Elle Festin, the co-founder of the community.

“The only way you can find proof of designs is through oral history and artefacts. The only way to stop it becoming obsolete is by reviving the designs.”

Having left the Philippines as a teenager, Mr Festin said his journey into the world of tribal tattooing became a way for him to connect with his own heritage, something he felt he had lost growing up in the US.

“Filipinos in the Philippines don’t need to define themselves, but for the Filipino diaspora many are looking for a connection back to their heritage,” he says.

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Filipino heritage is essential if someone wants to have a tribal tattoo.

“It’s more important for them to define themselves as Filipino in a foreign country.”

Tattoos were a prominent feature among pre-Hispanic tribes of the Philippines. They acted as a corporal roadmap designating people by tribe and rank, acting as a protection charm or medal, or as permanent make-up.

Dr Lars Krutak, a tattoo anthropologist in the Visayas region of the central Philippines, says traditional tattooing practices had vanished in the region by the 1700s because of the presence of the Spanish military and the influence of the Church.

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But in Mindanao, an island in the country’s far south, and the mountainous region of the Cordilleras – the home of Whang-Od – the practice survived because of the area’s remoteness and warrior tribes who successfully defended their ancestral homelands from foreign invaders, like the colonial Spanish.

Pilgrimage

People who receive a tattoo have to be of Filipino heritage. The artists work closely with their clients to research their family histories and life events to create a design.

“We were very careful about how it grew and who our tattoo artists were,” said Mr Festin. “We didn’t want it to go viral and turn into a trend like Polynesian designs. We wanted to encourage curiosity to getting people talking about the meaning behind the markings.”

In 2008, Mr Festin made perhaps the most important pilgrimage in his career as a tattooist when he returned to his homeland to visit Whang-Od and the Kalinga tribe.

“When I first met Whang-Od I was afraid of what she would think of my designs, especially as they were modified from original form,” he said.

“But she was impressed with my tools and asked me to tattoo her. You could tell she was experienced by the way she lay down and stretched her skin.”

While the sight of a fully tattooed man or woman is becoming a rarity in the Philippines, it is this small dedicated group of enthusiasts, far across the ocean, that is keeping the art form alive, hopefully for many decades to come.

About the author: Based in Manila, Aya Lowe writes business, travel and human interest stories around South East Asia and the Middle East.

Tim Lehi’s Father, Rick Lee Peter’s Cancer Memorial Fund

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Donate to Rick Lee Peters and his family as he continues his fight against Cancer. Please help provide him peace of mind in his final days.

Rick Lee Peters received his Masters of Fine Arts with Honors from The University of Kansas.  But who needs a fancy piece of paper to notice the true talents of this man.  One peek at his repertoire is a clear display of a truly wonderful, creative and talented man who our Universe is preparing to take away due to Cancer.

He began his battle about a year ago and we all had hopes that he would pull thru this routine procedure.  The other side of the curtain must need some funny, bright new personalities and probably some new artwork!

As Rick prepares for a battle that his body no longer has control over, his family – his beautiful wife Jill, his son Tim and daughter Aimee, his grandchildren and a long list of loved ones and friends take comfort in being able to see and speak with Rick, and share encouraging hugs during these final days.  His good humor helps everyone ease thru an extremely heartbreaking and difficult process.

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Painting by Rick Lee Peters

Of course – with any medical battle there are costs involved.  Not only the hospital and treatment bills, but cost of living expenses, final resting costs, and the stress of being able to provide for loved ones once that fateful day has come.  One of Rick’s requests is to have a simple heart shaped headstone  -even the most modest design is worth a mint.

Rick has provided this World with laughs, smiles, love and brightness – not only thru his amazing being but thru the beauty of his artwork.  Whether you knew him in person or not – his paintings and sketches will spread a smile across your face and in your heart.

Skip the line at Starbucks and donate that $5 to someone who really matters.  No amount is too small or too big.  Every little bit helps.  Please donate and share this fundraiser with others.  

Thank you and much peace.

For donations, please visit: http://gfwd.at/1oQHJQO

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Last Rites Tattoo Studio and Last Rites Gallery presents: Lastrites.tv

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Lastrites.tv: A NEW and Online Community

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New York, May 2014 – Last Rites is excited to announce the launch of its brand new website, Online Community and Forum. Lastrites.tv will serve as the umbrella site for both Last Rites Tattoo Theatre and Last Rites Gallery, uniting the two separate meccas for the dark arts under one roof, alongside the birth of the Last Rites Online Community. Although Last Rites Tattoo Theatre and Last Rites Gallery will still exist independent of one another, we hope this new site will make it easier for our patrons to enjoy all the talent and beauty under one roof, similar to our space at 325 West 38th Street in NYC. Our intention is to provide a digital space to serve as a comprehensive community of like-minded individuals that have a true appreciation for the dark side of art.
We’ve designed the structure of the website to make your journey simple yet visually stimulating as you peruse all facets of the dark art world that is Last Rites. Our main navigation gives constant access to Last Rites Tattoo Theatre, Last Rites Gallery, the Last Rites Store, Forum and Online Community. Each category gives you access to drop down menus allowing you to choose which component you wish to explore. Further, we have integrated social media streams, videos, appointment forms, a forum and tons of images for your viewing pleasure! It is our hope that our patrons will browse and interact with the art and one another on our platform through our Forums and Online Community.

Paul Booth truly wishes to unite friends, fans, and enthusiasts from both the Fine Art and Tattoo worlds. His inspiration and aspirations can now be accessed through the free Last Rites Online Community and Forum. The Online Community will allow visitors to create their own profiles, photo and video albums, chat, and interact with the website fully, including commenting and liking on artwork and pages. The Forum will offer a wide array of subjects to ponder and discuss, also accessible from logging on to the Online Community. It is our hope that these avenues of discussion and social sharing will allow you, without the restricting guidelines of censorship, to explore, contribute and embrace the dark arts.

Lastrites.tv is also mobile friendly and easily accessed from all smart devices. We hope our site proves to be ergonomic and a haven for all friends, fans, and enthusiasts.

Last Rites Gallery
325 West 38th st #1 NYC
212.560.0666

http://www.lastrites.tv

 

 

Sunrise News has No Love for Tattooed Ladies

By Kevin Miller

www.tattoosnob.com

This video by the Sunrise morning show in Australia has a lot of people upset, and for good reason. There’s too many ignorant statements to count throughout this segment, but the woman at approximately 1:00 takes the cake. She starts off comparing tattoos as a fashion statement, and then she informs everyone they’ll regret their decision to get tattooed. Oh, and she also discusses how men don’t find tattoos attractive and pokes fun at one of the tattoos they show as a visual example.

I tried to figure out who each one of these women were by using the ‘Meet our Team’section on the Sunrise website. Unfortunately all of their face lifts and botox sessions make them blend together.

I already sent my feedback to Sunrise using their Contact Us section on their website, and I would encourage you to do the same. Let’s tell Sunrise and theirs ‘news team’ what a bunch of ignorant assholes they are.

http://bcove.me/1a8f4ra1

GUEST BLOG: “TATTOOISTS, TATTOOED” EXHIBITION

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At the prestigious Museum du quai Branly in Paris, the “Tatoueurs, tatoues” opened on May 6th to great acclaim, with renowned tattoo artists in attendance for the opening, as well as international media (including the New York Times). Reviewing the exhibit for Needles & Sins, our friend Serinde in Paris offers her thoughts in this guest post as well as photos of exhibit pieces here on Flickr.

By Serinde

A tattoo exhibition? You mean, not in the corner of a tattoo convention? In a real museum? Well, it’s for real, and it’s happening now in Paris, at the Museum du quai Branly, which is quite famous for showing high quality exhibitions, usually specialized in anthropology and ethnology. And it is now showing “Tatoueurs, tatoues” (or “tattooists, tattooed”).

Of course, having a few tattoos myself, and being both interested and a bit educated in tattoo history and techniques, I had to rush there, and report back on what this exhibit has to offer:

The exhibition was curated by Anne & Julien (who’ve been involved in the modern art scene for many years now), and advised and directed by famed French tattoo artist Tin-Tin. The goal of the exhibit, as explained by Anne & Julien, is to show how tattoo, which has existed since ancient times, has changed, developed, disappeared, and been reborn to the art we know today.

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In the first part, named “from the global to the marginal,” the exhibition tells the story of tattoo throughout history, and society. You can view a mummified tattooed arm from Peru, antique tools, and amazing portraits of Algerian tattooed women. This part also explores the role of tattoos in the navy, and in prisons with, among other things, a short movie that I highly recommend: “La peau du milieu” (1957), showing the “underground” side of tattoo, at a time when the meaning was much more important than the style, which was, well, rather poor.

Then, you enter the marginal and colorful world of sideshow, circus, freaks, and…traveling tattoo artists. As a transition, there’s a very interesting “Wall of Fame,” displaying a timeline of tattoo culture, including laws, techniques, famous tattoo artists, and famous tattooed people.

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The exhibition goes on with a focus on tattoo in Japan, North America, and Europe. The Japanese selection shows some stunning paintings, tattoo projects, photos of tattooed people, videos, a photo of a tattooed skin taken from a dead man (gulp! I first didn’t notice it was only a photo); other incredible artifacts include a kabuki costume painted so that it looked like a tattoo when worn by the actor. In the North America and European selections, there were more photos and prints of tattooed people, and interestingly, a copy of Samuel O’Reilly’s patent for his tattooing machine (and some modern day machines as well).

Moving through the exhibit, at this stage, museum goers now view works made by tattoo artists exclusively for this exhibition: 19 artists worked on “tattoo project” paintings, and 13 artists tattooed silicon body parts to great effect.

There’s also an exploration into the revival of traditional tattoo in Oceania and South-East Asia, displaying some impressive masks and head sculptures (I was especially impressed by those), traditional tools, as well as modern tattoo projects. There’s further cultural discussion of tattoo in China, the Latino and Chicano cultures in the US, among others.

At last, the exhibition ends with the “new generation” of artists, such as Yann Black and the “Art Brut” movement in tattooing, as a nod to the future of the art.

Tin Tin tattoo silicon

 

 

To read the rest of this article, go to: http://www.needlesandsins.com/2014/05/tatoueurs-tatoues-musee-du-quai-branly.html

 

*New* Photos Added To The Gallery

Tattoos by Hanumantra Lamar

www.modernbodyart.co.uk

Modern Body Art, Birmingham

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Woman’s journey to beat breast cancer ends with nipple tattoos

By Victoria Hansen

vhansen@abcnews4.com

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MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) — It’s been five years since Sharon Dempsey took the shower that changed her life. She bent down to pick up a razor and immediately felt it, a lump beneath her breasts.

“My tumor was right under where they pull it up so it never made it on to the mammogram screen,” said Dempsey.

She quickly called her doctor.

“I said, ‘Dr. Scott, I felt something I’ve never felt it before. It doesn’t move.’ I went in to see him on Monday and by Friday I was already lined up for surgery,” Dempsey said.

The moment is still vivid as she makes what she hopes is her last doctor visit.

“I’ve always before I’ve had any of my procedures, I do research about it and there’s not a lot of research out there on how they do the tattooing,” she said.

At 55, Sharon is about to get her first tattoo — make that two tattoos.

“I wasn’t nervous until my son told me it was going to hurt, and then yes I was nervous,” she said.

Dempsey lives in Irmo, but has come to The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction in Mount Pleasant to have most of her work done. Here, Dr. James Craigie took fat from her belly to build new breasts

“Tummy tuck and like the ladies at work say, I’ve got 18 year old boobs,” said Dempsey.

 

But that’s not all. Dr. Craigie even managed to create natural looking nipples from Sharon’s own skin.

“Well, we take the skin that is there and we turn the skin on itself,” said Dr. Craigie. “And we fold it up and we actually make the nipple from that skin.”

The nub of skin certainly looks like a nipple, only it lacks texture and color. There is no areola, just pale skin.

That is where medically trained tattoo artist Kimberly Kay comes in. She greets Dempsey for this final appointment, walking her through every detail.

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“I will mark you in the area that will be the size of the tattoo, and then we’ll do color matching against your chest,” she said.

Together, Dempsey and Kay decide the size and shape of her new nipples. They use stick ons to trace.

The next decision is color.

“She said normally your areola matches your lips and that is why she wanted me to remove my lipstick so that she could match it,” said Dempsey.

Like an artist, Kay pops open small pots of color — pink, beige and brown in so many shades.

“She basically takes a little pot and she just starts mixing the color and then she puts splotches on your skin,” said Dempsey.

Once the perfect combination is created, Kay cranks up the tattoo needle, but not before giving Sharon a little numbing medication. Dempsey does have some sensation still in her chest.

“She does a basket weave when she does the tattooing. She goes this way and then she goes this way,” said Dempsey.

“There are different techniques,” said Kay. “It’s not exactly drawing. We have to actually put it into scar tissue.”

Kay pushes the tattoo needle hard, but Dempsey doesn’t flinch. She’s been through so much more.

“I’m just thankful that I’m here,” she said.

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Kimberly finishes with some contrasting colors for a more realistic look.

“I’m going to spot do just brown and actually just do a brown ring around the base of the nipple to create the shadow effect,” Kay said.

She hands Dempsey a mirror and the reaction is immediate: “I look normal again, I mean it looks normal to me again.”

Dempsey will no longer have to be reminded daily of what cancer has cost. Her new tattoos cover the physical scars that will eventually heal. Mentally, she’s ready to move on.

“Well my tattoos are symbolic. My tattoos symbolize that’s the end,” said Dempsey.

“I made it. It’s over, yeah. I did it.”

http://www.abcnews4.com/story/25497833/womans-journey-to-beat-breast-cancer-ends-with-nipple-tattoos?hpt=us_bn8&autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=10153637

What is Art? (Part 2)

By Nick Baxter

Last year I started collecting my thoughts on the continual debate in my head about what art is, and how it can be (among other things) an effective form of communication. That effort was and still is intertwined with the process of further understanding my own art, and all other art, as well. In hindsight, I thought the initial writing (here and here) was a bit unfocused, and since it was also incomplete, I took the time recently to revisit those blog entries and rework them into a more cohesive essay.
The final part of that essay, as mentioned in the second of those prior blog posts, is about my belief that photojournalism can be viewed as a creative art form, possessing an almost-accidental form of raw beauty capable of inspiring other works of art (such as many of my own). This critique of photojournalism introduces broader questions about the “unintended” as art, and–for now–completes my investigation into the sneakily complicated debate “What is art?”

In the future I’ll post the final version of the essay in its entirety, but for now here is the “part 2″ continuation of those prior blog posts.

Photojournalism and the Unintended as Art

In the last 100 years, photojournalism has become a fixture of our visual landscape. On the surface, it’s simply defined as the use of images to tell a news story or to report on current events. In this role, the photos are not art, and their photographers are not acting as artists, which means their images are typically held to strict ethical standards of honesty, impartiality, and objectivity. But these attributes are graded on a scale that becomes increasingly inexact amidst the complexity of postmodern thought and the digital age of endless reproduction and re-appropriation. This is the point at which the question “What is art?” becomes relevant and fascinating to me, when applied to the medium of photojournalism.
I’ve always appreciated the naïve purity of an image that’s been produced with no pretense of art, utterly uninhibited by the finicky shackles of artistic rules or the whims of unreliable muses like inspiration. In this open and wild space, artistic qualities and natural beauty are given the chance to emerge on their own, unintended and raw, like the strongest of weeds in a perfectly manicured lawn, and photography seems to be an ideal medium for this phenomenon. This element of chance can produce quite powerful images, capable of communicating intensely to the viewer while remaining—and precisely because they remain—firmly grounded in the truth of reality “as it happened.”
And so the commonplace photos we’re bombarded with through ever-increasing media saturation begin ostensibly as visual data comprised only of ‘facts’ or neutral information, yet end up loaded with symbolism, embedded with the perceptions and beliefs of their creators and audience after becoming the subject of this artistic line of inquiry.

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One of my all-time favorites (sorry I could not find the photographer or credit online).

In studying art history, it seems this afterlife of the journalistic image became much more possible in the wake of the Dada movement, when artists (including photographers) carved out new niches for their work beyond mere decoration or commemoration of important people or places. Art in the 20th century became increasingly deconstructivist, philosophically charged, and conceptual in nature, filling multiple roles while having its meaning manipulated by the increasingly complex worldviews of both creator and audience1.

Because of this evolution, just about anything could be considered art in the right context, meaning that most contemporary art now resides as much in the blurry, ambiguous realm of provocative ideas as it does in the realm of traditional craft. Hence a museum visitor might encounter an exhibit of random paint splotches that, beneath its completely underwhelming, childlike appearance, contains a metaphor referencing complex political or psychological theories learned by the artist through years of intense academic study.

 

This can be maddening to the viewer who simply wants to marvel at a skillfully executed object of beauty, or it can be liberating for those who want to engage in debate, controversy, or social change through the arts. My own art has always attempted to straddle this fence by incorporating the best of both worlds: technical, precise handling of paint in the realism tradition, yet depicting modern subject matter and informed by the angst and alienation of postmodern philosophies. It is my belief that photojournalism in the modern age, thanks to that 20th-century process of expansion and deconstruction, straddles a similar fence, one separating objective observations from subjective beauty and meaning.

This ability of the journalistic photograph to transcend genres is confirmed in the academic community by the fact that “Breaking News Photography” is a Pulitzer Prize category. This prestigious yearly award started in 1917 as a way to honor impactful achievements in American journalism, literature, and music. Winning photographs are resurrected as art objects, receiving appreciation for their poignancy and beauty—a second life of sorts, after their initial purpose or function in the journalistic media has been served.

This second life also takes the form of photo essays, curated and arranged into cohesive narratives, which are now commonly presented in art and lifestyle publications, fine art galleries, and museums throughout the world. Depending on the intentions of the photographer and exhibiting institution or publication, as well as the sensibilities of the viewing audience, these photographs may be appreciated for their communication about the world events that comprise their content, or for their artistic qualities—or both.

In his 1995 essay about the modern age of photojournalism, writer Richard Lacayo wades into the debate surrounding artistic subjectivity and meaning:

“Photojournalists tend to stay aloof from talk about camera aesthetics. There is something about dodging gunfire in Beirut that discourages ruminations on style, understandably enough. More to the point, no one who catalogs bloodshed or poverty wants to be thought of as yet another vendor to the senses. Some news photographers spend half their lives chasing wars; who can blame them if they reach for the door when they hear the word art? …The stereotype survives: artists have visions; journalists have assignments. They may both think to themselves, ‘I am a camera,’ but each means something different.

“Yet aesthetic questions have a moral dimension. Color is pretty; misery is not. How does one keep the simple appeal of color from confounding the full range of meanings a photograph may convey? If pictures of genocide come to us in the muted pastels of a GAP ad or the vivid hues of a rock video, how does a photographer keep atrocity from looking palatable?”2

While the moralist in me sympathizes with this sentiment, the artist and rebel in me, raised in an age of cynicism, desensitization, and ambiguity, views adjectives like ‘palatable’ as mere subjective opinions, impossible to resolve into an absolute truth for all to agree on. Human culture is so diverse that practically anything could be considered palatable art, by someone. And so I answer Lacayo’s question with another question: “Why should the photographer keep atrocity from looking palatable?”

I want to ask this question not because I enjoy atrocity, but because I am capable of the postmodern complexity of holding multiple feelings and competing appreciations within me simultaneously. In this case, that multiplicity includes the horror and revulsion at the tragic events occurring in our world as well as the aesthetic delight at the spectacle of color, shape, line, emotion, symbolism, and meaning on vivid display, emerging somewhat accidentally (and perhaps with more purity) through the photojournalistic medium.

As if to concede this very point I’m making and pay homage to the “What is art?” debate, the author goes on to admit, “The most capable photojournalists…have learned to incorporate the unruliness of color into a deliberate statement. …Barbaric rule can operate in the broadest daylight, suffering can happen in sensual settings, a place can be cruel and inviting at the same time.”

And so we see that through the inescapable conduit of subjectivity, passive observation becomes intentional communication, and thus, photojournalism can also be the highest of art forms, loaded with inspiration for artists working in any medium. I’ve always appreciated the best journalistic photography for this transcendent ability, the point at which the happenings of this world become awe-inspiring images, and the deepest truths contained in the human condition are put on poetic display.

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Various newspaper and magazine clippings I’ve save over the years for reference and inspiration.

So once and for all, “What is art?” This question may never be fully answered. But with an integral approach and an open mind, artists and viewers alike can use this line of inquiry to enrich their experience of reality, to deepen the communication that is the purpose of all art, and to find beauty everywhere, even where it may be unintended.

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Another powerful, poetic image (sorry I couldn’t find the photographer or image credit online for this one either).

1The Situationists of the 1960s took this evolution to the extreme, espousing radical anarchist views on art that embraced destruction and merciless re-appropriation of all imagery, in the service of transforming society and conscious reality into a powerful and playful dialogue with the present moment.

2Lacayo, Richard. “IV: Resurgence 1980-1995.” Eyewitness: 150 Years of Photojournalism. New York CIty: Time, 1995. 166. Print.

Mark My Words. Maybe.

By Leslie Jamison

www.nytimes.com

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MY tattoo kept getting delayed by other people’s weddings: a bachelorette party in Vegas, cliff-top vows in Zion, a ceremony in Westchester. I wasn’t just attending the ceremony in Westchester, I was officiating at the ceremony in Westchester. I couldn’t picture giving my blessing in front of 200 people while my left arm glistened under Saran Wrap. I felt the slightest twinge of resentment. My life seemed perpetually tucked into the pockets of time created between the milestones of other lives.

I was getting the tattoo, in part, to mark a break from the man with whom I’d spent four years building and then dismantling a life. I was branding myself to mark a new era: my body was no longer entwined with someone else’s. It was mine alone again. I was moving to a new city and I had a new book coming out, and the tattoo would be its epigraph: “I am human: nothing human is alien to me.”

The quotation belongs to Terence, the Roman playwright. In the original Latin, it reads: homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto. When I first came upon it, I felt its force beyond rational explanation. I knew it was something I needed to keep saying.

I got the job done by an artist who worked in a converted fire station. His walls were lined with giant beetles in jars of formaldehyde, taxidermied birds and bright oil paintings full of wizards and dragons. “Sure you don’t want anything drawn?” he asked, gesturing to his art. I pictured a dragon with a thought bubble: “nothing human is alien to me…” I said I was fine with just words. He wrote them in a cursive line from elbow to wrist. “I’m going to do this so we miss your veins,” he said. I said that sounded great.

It hurt just enough to make me feel like something was happening. There was a sense of deserving — that I’d earned this by hurting for it. It was an old logic I hadn’t felt in a while: Pain justifies ownership. It scared me, a bit. It also thrilled me. I left with Very Serious Aftercare Instructions and an arm encased like a pale sausage in plastic wrap.

The woman at the drugstore where I bought my Very Serious Aftercare supplies immediately wanted to know what the tattoo said. When I told her, she looked at me for a long time. “I think there is so much evil in this world,” she said, “and so much good.”

From now on, I realized, my body would basically be asking every stranger, “What do you think about the possibilities of human understanding?” During the months that followed, I found myself explaining the tattoo to a parade of strangers and acquaintances. It’s about empathy and camaraderie, I would say. Or else, it’s a denial of this lifelong obsession I’ve had with singularity and exceptionality.

We often think of tattoos as declarations of selfhood: this is what I am, love, believe. But there are other things we might inscribe on ourselves: what we fear, what we hate, what we hope to be but can’t yet manage.

“I am human; nothing human is alien to me” — my tattoo wasn’t true for me, not yet. But it was what I most needed to hear, an asymptote, a horizon.

On a hot day near the end of summer, another drugstore clerk reached for my arm with a searching look on his face. He was a large man, imposing.

When I told him what the tattoo meant, he shook his head. “There are people going through things in this world that are really bad,” he said. “Do you understand that?”

I tried to explain about aspiration, asymptote, attempt.

“You will leave a little piece of yourself with everyone you imagine,” he said. “You will get exhausted trying to give yourself away.”

I didn’t know what to say to this. I felt exhausted by him. I felt how much I needed, from him and everyone, a certain kind of response: to feel inspired by the tat, and tell me so.

“You tried to give me something,” he said, pointing at my arm. “But I blocked it. I blocked what you were giving me.”

He was interrupting the ticktock rhythm of my righteousness, saying something about the easy aphorism on my arm: how it didn’t go down easy for him and shouldn’t go down easy for me, either.

He wasn’t the only one with questions. My father wrote from the Rwanda Genocide Memorial: Did I really believe what my tattoo said, even about perpetrators of genocide? And on a first date, a man asked me whether my tattoo could even apply to evil? We never went out again. But there were other dates, other men wanting translations, running their fingers along the script. It started to feel uncomfortably like philosophy as accessory, something to match a certain kind of intellectual posture.

Before these men, there was a moment with the original man, the one from whom the tattoo marked my liberation. I ran into him on an ordinary afternoon, about a week after I got the tattoo and a week before I moved away from the city we shared. He was surprised to see my arm holding something it hadn’t held before.

I realized how different things were now. Something could happen to my body and it would be weeks or months before he knew about it. The tattoo was supposed to represent a new freedom but in that moment it felt like a shackle. It showed me how much it still hurt to feel the new distance between us. I felt that loss of proximity like a flesh wound.

It’s like being pregnant, people would tell me. Your body is a conversation-starter. Eventually I started drawing the comparison myself. But the truth was it didn’t feel like being pregnant at all. I was alone; my body was my own. It was a deep privacy, an autonomy tinged with sadness. It was the opposite of pregnancy, the residue of intimacy.

I’d always insisted I didn’t get the tattoo so that people would talk to me about it. In fact, I told myself I wanted nothing less. But at a certain point I’ve had to admit to a desire for contact I couldn’t own at first: It’s there and it isn’t.

The script is full of vectors pointing in opposite directions, a statement both aspirational and self-scolding, a desire to be seen and a desire to be left alone; a desire to have my body admired and a desire for my body to need nothing but itself, to need no affirmation from anyone. The tattoo holds an idea and its refutation, a man and his absence, a vote of confidence from the world and — in that downtown drugstore, on that humid day in summer — something more like the opposite.

KURV Tips Available now from Morphix

9M_Top 7:9D_Perspective

Morphix introduces a line of autoclavable tips (branded KURV) which are available for purchase direct from www.morphixtattoo.com or one of our authorized distributors listed on our website.  KURV Tips are available in 4 different sizes: 7M, 9M, 3/5D and 7/9D with additional sizes to be introduced in the future.

Our patent pending designs and FDA approved biocompatible, medical grade material offer the artist and client several advantages over standard metal tips.  Bright colors and whites stay pure while tattooing for a better end result, and there’s no subdermal metal flake contaminant — a side effect with metal tips.

Our designs have incorporated smooth corners/edges throughout saving additional trauma.  The KURVed mag tips allow for easier cornering, and all tips have a low profile housing for maximum visibility.

Retail price per tip is $8.50 and come with a 45-day money back guarantee for all purchases made through the website.

 

ARTIST PROFILE: KIRIAKOS, SAKE TATTOO CREW

By Marisa Kakoulas

www.needlesandsins.com

Kiriakos sake tattoo crew 1 Kiriakos sake tattoo crew 2

In Athens, Greece, the Sake Tattoo Crew is an incubator for top tattoo talent — not just respected in the country, but worldwide. One artist from this collective is Kiriakos Balaskas. Tattooing for 8 years after a tough apprenticeship with Sake, Kiriakos developed a style combining abstract expressionism watercolors and graphic art. But I wanted to learn from him how he views his work, and tattoo culture as a whole, so I took him away from organizing the Athens Tattoo Convention, which is May 23-25, for a quick Q&A. 

If forced to define your style, how would you describe it? What are the strongest influences on your work?


My tattoo style in general has always been a combination of heavy themes/ lines/ shapes, and naive — almost childish — color details. I’ve always found this invasion of joy into strictness (two sides that equally attract me) very interesting and exciting. As soon as I started experimenting with the watercolor technique, I felt I had finally found the absolute way of expressing this ultimate combination. My pieces mainly include these distinctive elements: a black graphic stencil or sketch, and either a brush or wide, “clean,” kid-style watercolors — usually two colors only. It is hard for me to define it in a sole, strict term as there is no one else in Greece who practises this style, but if forced to define it, I’d use the term my costumers use when they ask for it, “Kiddo.”

Some old school artists believe that “only bold will hold,” and that every tattoo needs a heavy outline to stay strong longer. What is your response to this? 

I agree and I myself use total black outlines in the stencil/sketch part. But as far as the watercolors outline is concerned, I feel the lines should create an ephemeral impression — if you take the loose element out of the watercolor, the very substance of it is gone. 

Because you are doing something new and innovative with your work, what kind of reactions do you get to it?

The reactions are positive, if not overwhelming. People are interested in trying this new technique or inflowing the style into their tattoos, and their eagerness to experiment with unconventional styles sincerely moves me.

What are some of the greatest lessons you learned in tattooing?

I’ve learned the greatest lessons and values of tattooing from the person who initiated me to this art, Sake. It was a tough apprenticeship by his side that I had to go through in order to become a respected tattoo artist, and one of the greatest lessons he gave me was to pay this respect back to the customers. They will have that piece on them forever, and that is something we always have to keep in mind. 

What do you think makes a good tattoo — and what do you think makes a good tattoo artist?

A good tattoo is a tattoo that remains the same over the years, as if it was only done two weeks ago. I consider good artists to be the artists who won’t rest or let themselves go as far as their technique, style and inspiration are concerned.

How have you seen tattoo culture in Greece evolve? How has mainstream culture in Greece adapted to the art’s popularity?

**To read the full article, go to: http://www.needlesandsins.com/2014/05/artist-profile-kiriakos-sake-tattoo-crew.html

Kiriakos sake tattoo crew 3

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