That's the Flavor Tattoo Exhibition
Tattoo parlour Skullduggery Tatu in Belfast prepare to host an exhibition of works by artists Lola Garcia and Diego Balderas. 'Now tattoos are for everybody'
Long the province of sailors, outlaws and other ne’er-do-wells, tattoos have come a long way in the past few decades.
Where once 'tats' denoted an allegiance with the criminal underclass, or signified a penchant for hardcore heavy metal, now everyone from squeaky clean pop stars to swing-obsessed mothers are sporting ink.
And while the social taboo shrinks, appreciation for the art of tattoos, as well as for the artists who produce them, continues to grow. The proliferation of websites devoted to iconography and aesthetics, fine art books detailing techniques and history, conventions and exhibitions all point to the transcendence of tattoo art into the mainstream.
Catalan artist Lola Garcia – whose artwork will be featured alongside that of Mexican ink maestro Diego Balderas in a show entitled That’s the Flavor at Skullduggery Tatu in Belfast from February 16 – recalls that, when she started tattooing nearly 15 years ago, the art form was still relatively underground.
'In that time, people that were tattooed were criminals or outsiders, these kinds of people. But things change and now tattoos are for everybody,' she says, further referencing football players and actors as driving forces behind tattoos’ increased acceptability. 'Society understands that people can get tattoos and it's not a problem.'
Nowadays those of an artistic bent can look to tattooing as an employment option too. The more tattoo parlours that open for business, the more opportunities for apprentices to learn the craft, while the growth of the Internet has allowed artists to share their work to an extent not possible before. 'Now there’s a lot of good information,' Garcia agrees.
When Garcia started out, however, finding a way into the industry was difficult. After studying fine art at the University of Barcelona, she went on to work at a graphic design firm whilst continuing to paint and doing private airbrush work. Always interested in a new challenge, when a friend decided to open up a tattoo parlour and needed a workforce, Garcia signed up.
'There were no good tattooists in Barcelona,' Garcia recalls. 'So my friend thought it would be a good idea. He had some contacts for good tattoo artists from other countries that he could bring in, to let people from Barcelona learn with them. I never thought I was going to work in tattooing. I was just trying it.'
Garcia fell in love with tattooing whilst working in Barcelona’s well-known LTW parlour for more than a decade, before setting out on her own, tattooing and travelling the world. Her first years as a tattoo artist were challenging – she says she struggled with making the work perfect, and wasn’t sure she should continue – but now she 'can’t live without it'.
'I thought it was difficult to learn and make good work, and I wasn’t really sure I would stay with it,' Garcia admits. 'Now, if I spend a week not making tattoos, I feel like I need it. If I’m stressed out, I make a tattoo and I feel good.'
Garcia emphasises that creating tattoos is very different to working with paint or taking a photograph. Whereas paintings and photographs have a single author, who works with colour, light and composition to achieve his or her unique vision, a tattoo is a collaborative effort between the artist and the client. For Garcia, the interests of the client are paramount.
If they seek her out for her recognizable style – which is heavily influenced by Mexican iconography – they also seek her out for her assured touch and reputation. Ultimately, tattoos are permanent marks – unless you have the money to have them removed – and, as such, says Garcia, the client needs to be happy with the finished product.
'When I’m tattooing, it’s not for me,' she adds. 'Some tattoo artists make what they want and it really doesn’t matter about the client. But I really care a lot about the client, they’re very important.'
Visitors to Skullduggery Tatu over the next few weeks will get a flavour of Garcia's tattoo style through an exhibition of her paintings and drawings, which will be on show until March 12. The works on display there may have the feel of tattoos, but there’s no co-author, no unseen extra person influencing the work.
As a painter, Garcia and Balderas have the freedom to express their own personal vision – tattoo addicts will be impressed. 'When I paint,' Garcia concludes, 'I paint what I want for me and what I want to explain. I think only about me and what I want, and I do it. In that moment, it’s just something I want to express for myself.'
That’s the Flavor opens Saturday, February 16 at 7pm at Skullduggery Tatu, 75 Dublin Road, Belfast. For more information, visit the Skullduggery Facebook page.