Ink in Canvas

‘The tattoo’…still a taboo? Illegal in some countries, frowned upon in some societies, but for the most part, widely popular and barely questioned by millennials. To tattoo or be tattooed is a personal choice. At what consequence? It depends on the individual, but the presence of tattoos can distinguish contemporary art in the 21st century.

Mariska Karto. Lilitha. 2017. Photography. Edition of 30.

Tattoos as art
It was a speedy transition; from tattoos being marks of allegiance to clubs and gangs, to some seriously fine contemporary art ink on skin. For some societies, the implications of these early associations have yet to be shaken to improve universality, and the discourse of tattoo art as contemporary fine art still goes on. Today, there are too many well-respected and talented tattoo artists to simply name a few, their numeracy and differing styles mean they are making art for all. Although there is the question of funds, but like so much contemporary art, you are able to purchase work depending on the artist, materials, and associations. The difference is when you leave, it’s with you, it’s on you…it’s part of your body’s permanent collection. Now, people have become roaming galleries. 

Matthew Cort. Tattooed Cow. 2002.

Tattoos in art
Tattoos are realised on the world’s visual arts stages, as part of self-referencing contemporary works of art. Matthew Cort’s Tattooed Cow from 2002, is a sculpture that was made in collaboration with inmates at HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs, London, UK. Cort states that his “use of media and techniques is determined solely by the idea [he is] exploring at a given time”.


L-R: Caroline Rudge. Patterns. 2010.     Mary Cassatt. The Child's Bath. 1893.

Similarly, Caroline Rudge’s diptych Patterns has the express purpose of depicting tattoos, in figurative works. Mary Cassatt’s The Child’s Bath has a perspective inspired by Japanese woodblocks, and Rudge’s paintings loosely ally with Irezumi. The painterly sensibilities are incomparable, but the content is identifying.

Jane Hoodless. Robert & Sarah (Ancestral Hands). 2005.

Tattoos are part of the permanent makeup of the 21st century, the art of today; as long as there are people, there are tattoos. Jane Hoodless explores this concept in her sculpture, Robert & Sarah (Ancestral Hands), where she inscribes the alabaster hands of loved-ones as fashionable, death-obsessed Victorian mementos. In doing so, she recalls the decorative nature of tattoos, mortality, and permanency.

Mariska Karto. La Grande Delusione. 2017. Photography. Edition of 30.

‘The Devil Inside Me’, the latest exhibition by The Public House of Art shows work of express and effective subtlety in relation to tattoos, amongst other things. Peer a little closer at the work of Mariska Karto - La Grande Delusione, where she offsets those milky, writhing forms with tatted skins. Classicism married with the tell-tale ink of contemporary society, accentuating the curves of the female form. Between what is the past and the future, lies the extraordinary and inclusive realm of the contemporary; moulded from what has been, and identified by what is, today. More than ever before, this includes tattoos.


Written by Manchester-based freelance writer, Imogen Webb for The Public House of Art






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