INK + SKIN + THE ROCKTattoos of SaltSpring on the Body
I’ve been fascinated by skin illustrations since I was a kid. I read Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, a collection of short stories strung together by the premise that a boy at a lake stares into the images of a stranger in a full body suit of tattoos-each one spins the reader into its story. The mesmerizing Rod Steiger plays the colourful stranger in the movie version. My teenage posse The Hacks had embraced the great Irish guitarist Rory Gallagher as the soundtrack of our youth. We would don our plaid shirts and work boots and press to the front of the stage flapping our arms to the music like emperor penguins as only teenage boys can. Songs like A Million Miles Away, Cradle Rock. Bullfrog Blues and the straight ahead rocker Tattoo’d Lady :
Tattoo'd lady, bearded baby, they're my family
When I was lonely, something told me where I could always be
Where I could wish for pennies, if we had any
You'd meet me down at the shooting gallery.
I knew I wanted to meet a tattooed lady when I grew up.
In 1981, I was in Las Vegas and went for a haircut on a Monday unaware that barbershops across the town closed that day of the week. Las Vegas Tattooing however was open-the Doctor was in-and within an hour Dr. Dog had applied my one and only tattoo. The good doctor was an illustrated man with a dangling cigarette. In painful, pinching, buzzing strokes he emblazoned a postage stamp sized representation of the cosmos above my heart. For the next few days I kept it lathered in Vaseline and covered from the blistering desert sun-sneaking a peak now and then at the vibrant rendering.
I came very close to the second tattoo many times. Very close: on the waterfront of Antwerp in the middle of the night after a raucous party at the Voll Moon Club…in New York, Leningrad and Miami. It was to be an image of paradise, perhaps with palm trees, so a tropical one. The project was thwarted many times because I truly didn’t have a clear vision of what paradise looks like, although I’m leaning toward Laurie Anderson”s version: Paradise is exactly where you are right now only much better…
The summer of 1986 found us settled in to our round shack on the beach at Fulford Harbour. On a message board at Luigi’s, I saw a poster advertising “An Evening with a Tattooed Lady” at Off Centre Stage. Micki T. was going to show her body suit, I was to see my first tattooed lady in my new home town-you just have to love SaltSpring Island! Sid and Micki opened with a skit that has her preparing to leave her skin to the Smithsonian. A slide show of Micki in exotic costumes was followed by the exhibiting of the suit on a gorgeous body, six months pregnant. Young kids were running around as she ended her performance with a Q and A. We learned she would save up money and then travel to seedy motels deep in the southern US to catch up with the itinerant tattoo artist, always loyal to the same one. On her long solo journey north she would leave faint impressions of the newest section of tattoo on motel sheets.
There was the loveliest patch of pale white unadorned skin under her right armpit, a tabula rasa amidst the mayhem of dragons battling for pearls (her nipples), spouting phallus and so on. The artist in me appreciated the negative space and how it defined the colourful areas around it. An audience member next to me asked the question on my lips. No, she had committed to a full body suit so she would be filling in this blank shape.
What is the story, what is the hook, the attraction that propels our contemporaries to ink their skin? Much academic ink has been spilt on the history of human self-marking. Yet more ink describes the psychological-fetishistic imperatives in play. My purpose is to studiously avoid such pondering. These photographic images rendered in the printer’s ink are not statements or manifestos although they have germinated from a single, simple question.
What lies beneath the decision to immortalize SaltSpring Island on one’s flesh…its outline, its initials, its name, its topographical features, its nicknames?
After all, people are not walking around with “West Saanich” or “Metchosin” tattooed on their breast.
If you have an interest in the nature of this photo exhibition or have a wish to participate as a subject to be photographed, Please contact Peter Allan email@example.com