TIME: Tattoo Art Today

21/09/14

TIME: Tattoo Art Today

Tucked behind a glass door in the South Wing of Somerset House, the art world meets the tattoo parlour in the exhibition, TIME: Tattoo Art Today. Focusing on the theme of ‘time’, the exhibition hosts original pieces from 70 of the world’s most influential tattoo artists, including Mister Cartoon, Chris Garver, Ed Hardy, Horiyoshi III, and Paul Booth. The artists have been commissioned by fellow tattoo artist Claudia De Sabe, and publisher Miki Vialetto, to create new original pieces of art. With the common theme in mind they have been challenged with the freedom to use any medium of art on any type of canvas, aside from their typical surface of skin. With different approaches to the theme of time, the collection ranges from traditional Japanese silk painting, watercolors, oil painting, and extensively airbrushed pieces. Some other interesting pieces use a real skull, a rubber doll, and carved wood as their canvases. These works of art provide confirmation to the art world that tattooing isn’t just that, but is really in-fact a type of art.

I had visited this exhibition on two different occasions, and both times my experience started out with receiving an informational booklet including art work and information on the exhibit. The hallway to the gallery seems fitting with the theme. On a red wall in darker red text reads a quote from Don Ed Hardy, one of the tattoo world’s most influential artists. At the end of the hallway the name of the gallery is presented above a painting encompassing life and death through tattoo art. The exhibit itself fills two rooms, both on the smaller scale with artworks lining the walls, and sculptures and various art pieces displayed in the middle of the rooms. I was pleasantly surprised and engaged with the works of art as they all seemed to send a separate message, although all based around the same vague theme. Skulls, flowers, and clocks ran common in various works of art, yet still all told a different story. Heading back to the gallery for a second time, I was able to observe my surroundings rather than absorb the pieces of art. Visiting the exhibit were males and females appearing to be in their mid-twenties, to those in their 50’s, some of which visibly sported tattoos of their own. These guests which generally were slow moving through the exhibit also seemed to be intrigued by the diversity of the art.

A review from Disorder Magazine by Jillian E. Phillips suggests that exhibits like this one are the start of emerging the work of tattoo artists to where they belong--the world of fine art. In many cases tattoo artists turn to other forms of art, aside from skin tattooing, thus helping them to develop as artists. Phillips also shares with us that many tattoo artists are trained in fine art and graphic design, and merely use skin and ink as their chosen canvas and medium.

I would recommend for any type of art lover to visit this gallery, even if they aren't mainstream tattoo lovers. It really showcases the diversity of the tattoo culture in a way that is inviting, and doesn’t make you feel like it’s exclusive to those who engage in tattooing their own skin. As I am not one to be ‘tatted up’, I can say that I was able to appreciate the deeper art behind tattooing, and recognize that the art world and tattoo culture go hand-in-hand.

The TIME: Tattoo Art Today exhibit runs until 5 October 2014, daily from 10:00-18:00. Located in the Embankment Galleries in the South Wing of Somerset house, admission is free. 

Visit the website for more information: 

http://www.somersethouse.org.uk/visual-arts/time-tattoo-art-today

© Lauren Holly Best, all rights reserved