two sides of the coin

Good and bad about tattoos in the news:

Times changing and either people’s growing openmindedness or a clear sign of the Apocalypse coming in a German ‘even policemen have tattoos these days’ piece, ‘subversion of tattoo’ and ‘tattoo-tired?

Two articles on the subject of eco-friendly ink: ‘is tattooing eco-friendly?’ and ‘all eco-friendly tattoo shop.’

Since tattoos are said to be about self-expression, here two ones trying to support this theory from different perspectives: a funny interpretation of the most popular motives in German and an article retelling a few people’s stories behind their tattoos in English.

An interesting idea for a tattoo in ‘linked by the ink’ and making fun of tattoos seen on a popular TV show: ‘an analysis of tattoos on The Hills show.’

Health and risks: ‘dentists rap oral piercings’ where Ryan Quellette presents quite sensible point of view!

A Polish one about prison tattoos in Poland in the past.

And finally one that truly shows how exceptional and recognizable our mods make us: a modified mug shot from OK.

Updates will be resumed at the end of July as this coming Tuesday I’m going to Hungary to ‘hurt myself’ and have other forms of fun!

Tattoo Fest 2010 – my subjective review

 It’s been just over a month since this year’s Tattoo Fest in Cracow, Poland, and let’s just blame the current wave of heat for me not having posted anything about it sooner!

The heat is quite relevant here, though, as the Fest, celebrating its fifth anniversary no less, was tormented by the heat as well! Just when we stopped complaining about the cold and rain, we became favored by high temperatures and it didn’t help that the whole event took place in a big expo place that very early in the afternoon was heated by the sun. Not that it bothered us that much; after all, who doesn’t like to show some more of their tattoos off?

The first thing you got to see after entering the event premises was a huge stand with the Tattoo Fest merchandise. It’s obvious that by now the Fest, organized annually by the local tattoo shop Kult, became a big brand itself and it enjoys quite good a reputation so far. I remember the first Fest I attended, back in 2007, in its second edition, and the t-shirt I bought myself then – an S size but so big that there’s room for three Anias in there and with not a very appealing image on the front. This year I grabbed myself a very nice (and nicely fitting!) t-shirt, black with white lettering on front, which is a proof that the Fest keeps evolving and the people behind it constantly try to do better than the last year!

The first day of the event was slow, as usual at such events. Artists were finishing their booths only to focus on work a little later on; visitors were strolling around, flipping through the portfolios and business cards, now and then grabbing something to eat (the food and beverage prices were awfully high, though!). I was doing exactly the same thing and quite enjoying myself although I must admit that I tried to go outside as often as possible to find some shade and even slightly lower temps.

This year’s jury board consisted of Slawek of Tattoo and Piercing studio Poznan, Junior of Junior Ink, Warsaw and two other guys from Gdansk and Grudziadz. All experts in their field, with a good eye and enough balls to defend their opinions. Brave and articulate how they are, though, they didn’t have any saying in the first contest that took place right at the beginning of the convention, the ugliest tattoo category. The audience hadn’t been properly warmed up and ready yet then, however, so its reactions were rather subdued and restrained.

Things were soon to be changed, however, and later in the afternoon, many of the visitors approached the main stage to watch closely the tattoo contests. Everything went smoothly and quickly (both the organizers and the judges learn from their experience!) – the pace was fast, majority of tattoos was good and the interest in it was quite high.

Tattoo conventions are not only about selling merchandise, staring at other people’s tattoos and buying way overpriced candy bars and the organizers sure know this. Among the attractions provided were a karate show, an art exhibition where some of the tattoo artists could present their skills in mediums other than human skin (its title, quite rightly, was ‘Instead of Skin’) and there were also activities involving people visiting the convention as well – a few mannequins were given to those willing to show their artistic vein to paint them as they pleased. The final effect was quite interesting and most mannequins were sold. There were also two music shows (I especially liked the Wadada concert – there’s something nicely hypnotic to the sound of drums, especially when you are among people aspiring to be the Modern Primitives!) and an auction of the art items with profits destined to help the local ZOO.

The second day of the convention was a little more relaxed and ran quite smoothly until there was time for the Altered States Suspension show. Now, I love the fact that there is finally a Polish suspension group but I would love it even more if it was more professional. Their performance was scheduled for 5.30pm and even though a small delay would be totally understandable, they were way more than just ‘slightly’ delayed and there never was any form of apology from them! No wonder people waiting for the show to start were growing impatient and more and more irritated!

When the guys finally started, I tried to make sense from what I was seeing but it was quite hard to do it! So you see a guy clad like a medieval monk that sets up the stage; two prominent features of the stage are two tied up girls (a nice try on bondage elements but, honestly they were far from being subtle!) who are going to be suspended by the ropes from a suspension rig. The girls are dressed differently and you start wondering if the monk and the girls symbolize being exposed to various temptations and an ability to resist them but, sadly, the answer never comes. After a very long while of tightening the knots, suspending the girls by the ropes etc. there was finally the moment for the show to begin but, as a whole, it was as anticlimactic as the whole waiting activity the audience was forced to do first. The doubtful climax of the whole show were probably two guys suspended the suicide mode and swirling around with the tied up girls and then on their own. They never did any spectacular tricks, there was never even a sparkle of mystic, ‘altered’ atmosphere and, as a whole, it left me feel disappointed and missing the Bobo’s Loco Carneval even more than before! To quote a German guy I got to talk to before the ASS show, we still have a lot to learn when it comes to suspensions and related to them performances and I never was as ready to agree with this statement as right after watching this particular suspension show.

There were the final moments of the convention as well, delayed as they became by the suspension perfomers. Many people already left the event and there was only a small handful of people under the stage to watch the Best of Day tattoo contest. At least artists had more time to finish their pieces before presenting them to the critical eyes of the judges. One of the winners was an artist from Buena Vista Tattoo Club whom you can see below!

All in all, a pretty cool event with many attractions and foreign shops presenting their work. It’s obvious that the Tattoo Fest keeps evolving and becoming better with every passing year which gives even more hope for the future!

highs and lows

 I like to think that in one regard I’m just like William of Baskerville – I also think fondly of my countrymen and like to point out how wonderfully weird and crazy they are. Here, on the left, an example of their craziness and resourcefulness for how to popularize music of Chopin (another important anniversary in Polish culture, by the way!). People’s opinions are mixed.

And since I got so highbrowed, let me hover on here a little bit longer to present two links to an interesting tattooing project that will take place in one of Dutch museums this summer (Dutch, German). Another museum project, this time in the UK, involves the ‘Skin’ exhibition and live tattooing soon.

Still the UK but this time let’s hit the bottom: ‘Quarter of tattooed Brits admit they regret their body’ and another one in this same vein telling us that ‘tattoos on women are a turn-off.’

If you really care, there’s hope as tattoo removal industry gets bigger and bigger, along the tattoo industry itself, and – more and more often – it’s tattoo shops that step in to profit from people’s regrets (or new projects). Steph is going to love me for this one as it quotes her ‘favorite’ shop staff again! 😛

From AZ quite interesting article with a thought-provoking title: ‘Tattoos’ popularity spurs new shops, new debates.’

Two good ones from Japan on the same subject: ‘keep your Yakuza-style tattoos to yourself’ (more) about a famous local voice actor arrested for showing his nude tattoo photos online.

help, trends and a history lesson

The uproar around BP and the catastrophe they are responsible for got quieter although it’s sad and true that people living in the areas most affected by the spill will be paying for it for years to come (or, rather, it will affect all of us). All we get to hear is official news, so here something way more personal and telling how ordinary people from the spill-affected areas must feel: ‘tattoo artist ‘screams’ against BP with painting.’

I do believe that ordinary people can make a difference, so here another local initiative to help others: ‘backpacks for tatts’ in TN.

More related and still important question from Canada: ‘Government urged to ink laws regulating tattoos, piercings;’ it’s interesting also because it briefly discusses how looks the legal side of the industry in different Canadian provinces.

Also from Canada an article about a tattoo convention focusing on a Tahitian artist, Tautu, quite prominently featured in a new book by Tricia Allen.

Something from the Old World in articles from the UK: ‘Edinburgh proves a just capital for fans of tattoos’ present a handful of information on the current tattoo-related statistics while ‘current trends in tattoo art’ are all about, yep, current tattoo trends.

This one shows that not all of us go for self-expression: ‘Billy the Billboard and his tattoo sponsorships.’

A short history lesson for all who might be interested: in July 1410 a Polish army won a battle which memory stays alive among Poles even now. During a famous Battle of Grunwald the Poles destroyed quite huge and well equipped an army of Teutonic Knights. Ever since then, whenever the Poles got a chance to win against the Germans (and it seldom happened), the spirit of the Battle of Grunwald was recalled and it’s valid even now whenever the national Polish football team plays against the German one. The painting by Jan Matejko devoted to the battle is very well-known to pretty much everyone in Poland but looks like it never occurred to any Pole to get it tattooed on them. Two Lithuanians, however, decided to do just this thing to show their patriotism (as it was not only Poles who beat the Teutonic Knights but also their allies, the Lithuanian knights). On a funny note, the Battle of Grunwald is staged every year in July and this year it’s going to happen next weekend. The outcome of the battle is already known! 😛

memories and hopes for the future

I haven’t come across any English article about Herbert Hoffmann’s death yet (obvious reasons maybe), so here another one in German; it’s quite interesting to read, though, as it provides not only references to ‘Flammend Herz’ documentary but also provides a hort biography of Hoffmann.

Another European ‘old school’ tattooer, Henk Schiffmacher, is doing quite well and here you have two short articles from the Netherlands on Schiffmacher ‘tattooing’ Sony Vaio laptops!

(in)direct references to two books, ‘Tattoo Machine’ by Jeff Johnson and ‘The Tattooed Lady’ by Amelia Klem Osterud, in ‘body art goes mainstream in Portland area’ and ‘tattooed author make sher mark.’

Not easy a topic described in this article from USA, ‘tattooed revolutionaries change face of art form’ where the Louisville Tattoo School and its six-weeks training courses are described. Up to a prospective tattooee to decide if six weeks of training is enough to be a good tattoo artist.

A piece of news about a changing attitude toward tattoos from Poland: ‘tattoo doesn’t mean ‘jail’ anymore’ points out that there are more and more tattooed Poles and their tattoo taste gets more and more sophisticated!

Finally, a slide show of tattoos based on internet memes.


Sad news from Switzerland where on June 30 died Herbert Hoffmann, a tattoo artist, tattoo historian and photographer.

Since Herr Hoffmann, a.o. in this interesting documentary about him and his friends, showed that tattoos are beautiful no matter how old your skin is, here’s a cool article about two elderly ladies getting their first tattoos, courtesy of grandson!

A new wave in German and Austrian articles makes a reader aware of a health risk posed by spur-of-the-moment tattoos done while away on holiday.

Even more uproar caused a tattoo on the new German president’s wife’s shoulder!

Maybe it’s much ado about soemthing seeing as English psychiatrists tell us that ‘The prevalence of tattoos is higher among people with mental disorders and those likely to come in contact with mental health services.’ Very interesting, isn’t it?

From La, news about the first eco-friendly tattoo studio in the world!

A German slide-show presents some interesting tattoos, among which you’ll find famous hand tattoos on Allen Falkner and (not that famous?) Otzi.

Tattoos and technology go hand in hand these days; here for those looking for a new one, iPhone provided an application with the list of some best US-based tattoo shops.

Something less edgy but at least eco-friendly in this article from Poland about ‘tattoos’ applied to bikes in Warsaw to prevent them from being stolen. Hopefully it’ll work!

book review: the Polynesian tattoo today

 The first book by Tricia Allen, ‘Tattoo Traditions of Hawai’i,’ was a fascinating read-up in my favorite style – lots of pages to read, some interesting pictures to study. The book was a perfect blend of a historical outline of the culture, people and traditions and a modern touch of tattoos today. There was a strong base deriving from the past directed for the future. A new book by Allen, ‘The Polynesian Tattoo Today,’ differs from this formula.

According to the author’s own words in Foreword, the feedback from readers showed her clearly that ‘there’s a huge demand for a book that is predominately pictorial, from both tattooists and readers, hence this endeavor.’ Unlike the Hawai’i book, here one won’t find elaborate information on Polynesian tattooing, explaining traditions and meanings but if readers look for inspiration and an overview of possible motifs and modern variations on the traditional Polynesian tattooing, this book certainly is the right choice.

What I found the most interesting here is placed in the introductory part and barely hinted at. The questions what Polynesian tattoo really is, whether it is defined by a maker or not, is it still Polynesian if worn by an outsider having nothing in common with the culture itself and Allen’s fleeting mention of such tattoo categories as ‘Polynesian tattoo,’ ‘neo-Polynesian tattoo’ and ‘Polynesian tattoo style’ show clearly that there’s much more going on behind the scene than readers suspect and it’s certainly worth another book!

The main part of the book is focused on the tattoo art itself and consists of good-quality pictures of tattoos in various styles and done by various artists, not only those with the native background but also some outsiders (Cory Ferguson’s reflections on creating traditional tattoos by an outsider are especially interesting). Picture captions by Allen provide additional information and that’s where my little ‘problem’ with this book appeared.

Allen juggles with very specific terms while describing tattoos with impressive ease and again and again a reader has to struggle with words like ‘moko poho,’ ‘moko tuhono,’ ‘pe’a’ etc. without explanation provided. If it’s true (and without doubt it is) that traditional tattooing is heavy with meanings, then readers lose on appreciating cultural aspects of this book and, willing or not, are forced to enjoy only a visual aspect of it. Allen is quite inconsistent here as sometimes she provides English translation of traditional terms only to ignore others later on. Going through the ‘featured artists’ section and reading their personal statements somewhat helps as they briefly explain what they do and why it’s so important but still, I’d love if this book had a small glossary of the most important terms relating to the Polynesian tattooing. The same goes with motifs typical for specific parts of Polynesia. I’m sure that Allen knows what she writes when she states that this tattoo was inspired by ‘Marquesan designs’ while that one is about ‘blending Maori themes with Samoan elements’ but what is typical for Maori tattoos? What makes Samoan designs and which motifs are Marquesan? A short outline on this subject would be appreciated as well.

All in all, though, it’s a very nice book presenting in a concise and visually striking form the beauty of the tattoos in Polynesian islands and also documents, in a way, their revival. It’s good and useful both for the tattoo artists and readers interested in tattoos in an unprofessional way. And it’s all thanks to Allen, of course, who is both an outsider (an American tattoo artist turned a cultural anthropologist and historian determined to preserve the cultural tradition of the islands) and an insider (she lives in Hawaii and is a part of the local tattoo culture) and manages to keep both perspectives balanced. Thanks to her work, people from many different parts of the world can appreciate the beauty of the traditional Polynesian tattoo (even we can’t really tell what’s Marquesan and what’s Samoan) and enjoy the fact that – ancient as it is – the tradition of tattooing in the southern islands is still alive!

Tricia Allen, The Polynesian Tattoo Today, Mutual Publishing 2010