My brilliant and very supportive mom put up with decades of shenanigans from me. She didn’t object too much when I bleached my hair to a shocking shade of tangerine, thereby causing an uproar at my uptight, proto-Fascist British public school in the late 1970s, or when I joined a punk rock band at the age of fifteen. I was allowed to travel around Britain on my own at a relatively tender age, drink booze in the house before I was eighteen, and was also accorded many other liberties that were not so freely doled out by my friends’ less progressive parents (all of which explains a lot about who I am today, but that’s another tale).
Among the few serious requests my mom ever made of me were that I (a) not drive motorcycles, and (b) not get my ears pieced. Since, by the age of sixteen I already had a secret dirt bike stashed at my friend’s house way out in the English boonies, I thought I could bend a little, respect her last remaining wish, and not get holes punched in my earlobes. To my surprise, she didn’t say anything about tattoos so that door was left open if I wanted to explore it.
I have always been interested in tattoo art. I am a bit of a contrary fellow, so things that are regarded as slightly “out there” by polite society are naturally of interest to me. That would explain the delight I take in punk rock, motorcycles, protest singers, animal rights activists, Burning Man, and so on. The world of tattoos fits in rather well with a number of those subcultures. In fact, my girlfriend, and most of my pals have them, and I can only think of a couple of close friends who do not sport the ink.
Despite that, I don’t have one myself—yet—and it seems there are two possible reasons for this. The unnecessary infliction of pain could be one, as could my ever-changing taste in things. I am well aware that the art and music I enjoy today are somewhat different from what I doted on, say, thirty years ago—except for The Clash and The Ramones of course, oh, and I was listening to Abba’s “S.O.S.” this morning. Yes, I know it’s hard for you to believe that I listen to Abba, but “S.O.S” is one hell of a good pop song. Anyway, my hesitation to get inked may be due to the obvious longevity of tattoos. In other words, they are permanent; many of my tastes are not. In addition, my favorite live-life-by quote is: “If something is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing,” so if I were to get inked it wouldn’t be some itty bitty affair on my ankle, but likely a hugely involved tapestry on my back. I’ve always imagined that I would wake up one day—possibly many years hence—look in the mirror, and say to myself: “Idiot! What on earth were you thinking?!”
I was discussing this very concept of the permanence of inked skin versus the changing moods of my own fickle art-mind with one of my staff members, Beth, just the other day. She explained that her view was precisely the opposite of mine: A tattoo that she acquired would always remind her, specifically, and in a very colorful manner, of that precise time in her life. To which I replied, jokingly: “I don’t want to be reminded of those times.”
Fortunately, none of these weighty matters prevented me from journeying down to The Hotel Arizona on Sunday for the Tucson Tattoo Expo. Who wouldn’t want to hang around with goths, bikers, punk rockers, and skin artists? Sounded like a good time to me, and also, I had an appointment to meet celebrated, award-winning Tucson artist Jim Quinn II, owner of Istari Tattoo Studio, as he is working on an illustration project for my company.
Tall, slender, jovial, animated yet laid-back, with spectacular wings tattooed on both sides of his neck, it was really quite easy to pick Jim out of the crowd. I looked through the portfolios of his work and was amazed by how well he handled a wide variety of styles, including Celtic knotwork, classical Japanese, and even Aztec/Inca. He’s a serious artist, and we reminisced a little about art school days, and how invigorating it is to be surrounded by the influence of talented people—taking a bit here, taking a bit there, all the while gradually developing your own style.
You know how when you go to a typical expo it’s all very serious and corporate, with products on lucite display stands, monitors running ads, backdrops, banners, and prim, well-dressed hired salespeople who are just a little too eager to discuss their product with you? Well, the Tucson Tattoo Expo couldn’t possibly have been any more different from that stilted vision. They had a bar set up inside the venue, a smoking area, a line of Harleys parked outside, sassy-looking girls wearing dog collars, and guys covered—literally—from head to toe in multi-colored ink. What’s not to like?
I was surprised how many people—in various states of undress—were actually being worked on during the convention. One gentleman had stripped down to his red underwear while a local artist addressed some of his few remaining square inches of unadorned skin; a lithe brunette lay on her side on a big table while her back was decorated; other pro artists were having some of their own tats touched up by colleagues. And that begs the question: When you’re an accomplished tattooist, how do you feel when another artist is working on your own personal canvas? Walking around, I found the soft, layered buzzing of multiple electric needles to be oddly soothing and intriguing, like a hive of industrious underworld virtuosos.
Shortly after my arrival at the expo, I realized I’d left my cell phone at the auto parts store on the other side of town, and I really needed to have it with me. Before making the twenty-mile round trip to pick it up, I considered that if I were to get inked at some point down the road, perhaps I should select a stylized cell phone design. Not very interesting artistically, but at least it might prevent me from leaving the damn thing behind on a regular basis, and always at the most inconvenient times.
Text and photograph © by Geoffrey Notkin. All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.