Tattoo Artists Working Beyond The Flesh

1078 Gallery June 26 – July 19 

maybelle small for webAs an outsider looking in (I have zero art on my body), the most striking thing about tattoos is the dance between beauty and pain. The process of suffering a person endures to become one with an image, to embrace it permanently, seems to hold a certain elusive symbolism. Is it that we believe suffering is a rite of passage into a more defined identity? Does the fact that I could never commit to
a tattoo mean that I could never decide what my identity is? Do people commit too flippantly, choosing generic or trendy tattoos, or having lovers names scratched indelibly into their skin? Does that desire to display these symbols, these important or funny or beautiful images (chosen flippantly or not), say as much about a person as what they choose to have inked?

Beyond the pain of having the tattoo done, there’s also a certain theme that emerges through some of the most beautiful body art―an odd tension of things that shouldn’t be, or a sudden twist of subtle violence―a darkness that cuts through the singularity of emotion that usually comes from looking at something pretty. It speaks to a primal undercurrent hidden in the artifice of modern life, and maybe says a thing or two about what draws a person to become a tattoo artist in the first place.


wendy phamDeath and the Maiden, co-curated by Ben Lucas (of Eye of Jade Tattoo) and Kayla Lunt, showcases this theme through the work of several North State tattoo artists. Among the many contributors are Ben Lucas (of course), Max Kilbourne, Jeremy Golden, Juan Ortega, Tanner Drake, Kip Delaney, Wendy Pham, and Grass Valley’s Cory Norris.

When I asked Ben about how the show came together, he laughed morbidly, “It was way more work than I would’ve ever thought was possible for a show [this was confirmed by his lovely wife, Kylee, who told me of the ridiculously long hours he had worked]… Kayla Lunt approached me—she’s one of my clients—she saw [a piece] I did, and asked me if I’d ever done a show. I said I don’t really think I have enough talent to do a show, but I’d be interested in maybe doing a group thing… I named it Death and the Maiden because I thought it’d be fun for tattooers to experiment—well, not experiment, to do what we do: make some things gritty and some things beautiful. It’s kind of the balance that we strive for in order to make [our art]… viable… the masculine and the feminine, I guess.”

I enjoyed the use of the word viable in that sense: the idea that the balance of masculine and feminine―harmony and discord, light and darkness―is necessary to give art life and a kind of autonomy. Perhaps that is the elusive appeal of this medium, and the reason these artists have been called to it: like people, it’s born of blood and suffering.

I-want-a-peacock-featherWhile Ben Lucas was obviously wrong about having enough talent (his work speaks for itself), I think the show benefits from having so many contributors; so many perspectives on the central idea. The show is indeed gritty, beautiful, and well worth the sacrifice that went into bringing it to life.

Reception | Thursday, June 26th 6-8pm 

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Managing Editor for Synthesis Weekly. Amy likes to make clothes, plant flowers, and chase butterflies.