Other People's Tattoos

I literally gasped aloud when I read this article on Scott Campbell's art show where he gave tattoos to people WHO HAD NO SAY IN WHAT THEY GOT. 

Yup, he was on one side of a wall, and someone on the other side just stuck their arm through a hole and hoped they liked what they saw when it came out an hour later.

 Rebecca Smeyne for the NY Times

Rebecca Smeyne for the NY Times


Now don't get me wrong. My "?!" sentiments are not anti-tattoo judgement. It's more astonishment, awe. In fact, I think this is a really fascinating idea. As Campbell says in the article:

I love tattooing, but it's always a collaboration. When I work in my studio, it's just me. I get to follow whatever whims and curiosities pop up. With tattooing I have to get permission to be exploratory. So it's always been this romantic idea: if I could ever tattoo with the same freedom that I draw or paint.

 Rebecca Smeyne for the NY Times

Rebecca Smeyne for the NY Times

Since Steven writes and illustrates books, we wind up talking about this idea a lot. The nature of collaboration and editing, of producing art that is also a product. At what point do you get to say, "Well I don't care what the consumer might want or think they want, I AM THE ARTIST." ?  I can imagine it's something a tattoo artist, especially one like Campbell who is also a "fine artist", thinks about with some frequency. Are you an artist? Simply the person behind the instrument who gives the customer exactly what they're requesting?

For a long time, I imagined that if I were to ever get a tattoo I would have the whole thing planned to a T and that the tattooist would simply execute my vision exactly with their tools. But then, when I was working at NU Hotel, I went to an art show at Brooklyn Tattoo on Smith Street and started chatting with one of the tattoo artists about their work. I asked him if he's ever turned anyone down for any reason. He said he obviously doesn't do intoxicated people, he doesn't do names of anyone but your own children, and sometimes he has to convince someone that what they've drawn looks good on paper but won't look good on a body, and that that last one is often the hardest. Because it's a three-dimensional thing, you know? Especially stuff like arm pieces that curve around. I can't quote him verbatim because it's been a handful of years but he basically said, "Listen, I've given A LOT of freaking tattoos. Shouldn't you trust me when I say, this isn't going to look good?" 

It really stuck with me. To the point that when I read that piece back in June on Jezebel where a woman was refused a neck tattoo I realized, "Hmmm, I see the tattooist's perspective here more than I would have had I never spoken to that guy." Reading the response of the actual tattoo artist who refused to do the tattoo was even more enlightening, but aaaaaaanyway, how'd I get three paragraphs deep into other people's tattoos when I don't even have any myself?

BECAUSE I'M FASCINATED BY OTHER PEOPLE'S TATTOOS. I am that horribly annoying person who's all, "Tell me about your tattoo! Oh, it goes up your shirt. Well lift up your shirt, I don't care, I wanna see the whole thing come on!" 

But guess what my reoccurring nightmare is? Like my literal nightmare?

That I've gotten a tattoo.

More particularly, that I run into a friend who then points at me and say, "Whoa, you got a tattoo! What's it say?" And then I look at it and it's an Arabic poem on the inside of my forearm and I'm trying to read it aloud for them while simultaneously desperately trying to remember when or why I got it and they're looking at me like I'm super insane because I'm looking at my tattoo like I've never seen it before and... you get the picture.

So perhaps this all explains my obsession with temporary tattoos. Tattly tattoos in particular, because they are extra hilarious and well made.

I'm especially a fan of "chest pieces", probably because, aside from my face, it might be THE LAST place I'd get a real tattoo, but also one of my favorite places for other people's tattoos. 

Anyway. If anyone is going to get a tattoo and needs a pal to sit there and watch I AM SO GAME. Call me.

Btw, this is what the guy in that first photo wound up with: