In preparation for this week’s class we were given some reading. The text was ‘Magic: A Gramarye for Artists’ by Jamie Sutcliffe. I read through the piece and highlighted a few statements that I found interesting:
‘These historical oscillations lend themselves less to the story of a ‘dis’ or ‘re’ enchantment, than they do an awareness of the imminent co-production of the secular and the magical, a process that needn’t necessarily be perceived as reactionary but as a broadening of our sense of just how weird the world actually is, and how limited any one interpretive approach might be for assessing its strangeness.’
‘Magic: A Gramarye for Artists’, Jamie Sutcliffe, p.13
‘Irrefutably, magical cultures persist regardless of whether contemporary artists take an interest in them.’
‘Magic: A Gramarye for Artists’, Jamie Sutcliffe, p.15
I have been thinking hard over the last week, trying to figure out what I want to make of my project this semester. Last week was a bit of a tough one; I had begun slipping back into my old habits of unproductivity and negative thinking leaving me not wanting to do or make anything. But I’m pretty stubborn and I feel like I’m managing to pull myself back out of that slump, which is good. I’ve definitely come a long way in a positive direction this year in regards to my mental health, and I intend to keep moving forward. After a long and refreshing walk over the weekend, I managed to unjumble a lot of my thoughts regarding this semester’s project. I realized that, as usual, I was totally overcomplicating the whole process, trying to combine too many different forms of art and ideas and goals. So I went back to the sheet from last week’s lecture and answered each of the questions as follows…
Describe my project: What do I want to make?
I am going to design and tattoo onto fake skin a tattoo for myself. The piece will explore the reality of death in life and the way I feel it changes me as a person each time I encounter it. The design will take inspiration from the trope ‘memento mori’ (“remember you must die”, Latin) and the Christian artistic genre of ‘Vanitas’ still life paintings, as well as from artists like Shawn Barber, who captured the art of tattooing itself as well as the interesting shrines of the artists he met and painted, and Ed Hardy, who pioneered the personal and unique style of tattooing we see today. Tattooing is a method of symbolic self-expression and communicating something that you feel adds to what makes you you, without the need for sound. Whether the tattoo displays a journey, experience or is representative of someone special to you, it is a piece of your current consciousness and is exhibited on your skin canvas until the time of your death. My project from now will follow my journey of learning to tattoo correctly and hygienically, my research further into the meanings behind tattoo placement on the body and looking deeper into historical and contemporary tattoo icons and the connotations they hold.
How does it relate to the theme: ‘Site Specific Sound Art’?
In regards to the site specific aspect of the theme, I think where the tattoo is placed on the body can have different meanings. For example, a tattoo over the heart could connote love or one on the back could represent carrying the design. Also, tattoos are art specific to the person as the site. One person’s tattoo would have different meaning on someone else’s skin. As a response to the ‘sound’ or sonic part, tattooing is a form of symbolic and pictorial non-sonic communication, like cave paintings or hieroglyphics. It requires no words or sounds to convey it’s message or purpose, it just is.
Who is my work for? What do I want it to do?
My project is first and foremost for me, as it will be a bespoke tattoo design for myself. It will also be for people interested in fine art and the art practice of tattooing, as well as anyone interested in art that looks at the subject of death and personal growth. Demographically speaking, my project would most likely attract young adults and adults between the ages of 18 and 45, but could also appeal more broadly than that. It isn’t limited to a female audience, as the work that influences this piece has been made by male artists such as Ed Hardy, however I feel it would definitely appeal to a female audience as I identify as a young female artist. Death affects everyone and so this could allow my work to evoke a broad scope of empathy and identification. I want my work to communicate my representation of this stage of my life, as I loose more of my beloved pets and consequently learn to cope with and mve forward from my experience with death and grief each time.
Don Ed Hardy
Don Ed Hardy was born in 1945 in America and has previously been named as the Godfather of tattoo. He is a tattoo artist known for his influence on popular contemporary tattoo styles and his designs have spread into a global phenomenon, now being featured on clothing and accessories all under his brand name. His works are heavily inspired by Japanese woodblock prints, which he was re-introduced to by his mentor Samuel Sparrow after having been interested in the history, art style and culture for many years. After studying and tattooing in Japan for several decades, he brought his style of working back to America, where he was then recognized as one of the main influences on the merging of traditional Japanese tattoo style and that of America. Hardy noted from his early career that tattoos were usually just picked from a sheet of flash designs and wanted to change this. He was motivated to create bespoke, personalized tattoos for his clients that would focus on self-expression and creating an emotional connection between the art and its’ wearer. Because of this progressive approach to the art of tattoo, his works became more of a fine art and hence brought tattoo from a subculture into the mainstream pop culture. His works commonly include motifs like skulls, tigers, butterflies and dragons and are typically made on a large-scale with lots of differing aspects. He tattooed a lot of full back and body pieces, in which bold icons, colours and marks create fluid story-like scenes. I appreciate the way that Ed Hardy stopped to think deeper about not only the roots of the art of tattooing but also the effect it has on the clients. He was prepared to spend the time with people and ensure that their tattoo represented the meanings that they envisioned, to truly be able to tell a personalized story.
Japanese Woodblock (‘ukiyo-e’)
Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre,
Woodblock print, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, c.1844, Japan. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Komurasaki of the Tama-ya House, Woodblock print,
ca.1785-1790, 375mm x 247mm
The technique of woodblock printing (‘Ukiyo-e’) was invented in China under the Tang Dynasty and later migrated to Japan in the 700s. It became a widely adopted artistic technique during the Edo period between 1615 and 1868 and used vivid water-based inks on engraved woods such as Cherry and Mulberry. It remained a popular and widely accessible form of art until the end of the Meiji period (1868-1912). Ukiyo-e portrayed many differing scenes, from natural scenes of everyday life, fashion, architecture and landmarks in Japan, to folklore, legends and mythical creatures. The art of tattooing in Japan began quite negatively. Criminals were tattooed as to be identifiable for their crimes and some people involved in the pleasure industry would get tattoos alongside their customers as to display their loyalty and make them return. However, during the Edo period tattoo saw developments that are linked with the graphic art prints of the Ukiyo-e style. Some of the motifs and themes displayed in these artworks began to appear in tattooing. With the arrival of the Chinese tale of ‘Suikoden’ (Water Margin) in Japan, a tale of 36 outlaws and 72 soldiers who fought against a corrupt government, the master printmaker Utagawa Kuniyoshi began using these heroes as subjects for his woodblock prints, with the inclusion of visible Chinese influences as to not be seen as making a political statement against the military dictatorship of the time. To accentuate the heroicness of these subjects, Kuniyoshi depicted them with tattoos that represented mythological creatures and religious symbols covering large parts of their bodies. It is then that tattooing became more widely popular in Japan, with people appreciating the heroic imagery and craftsmen beginning to recreate it on their own bodies. From this emerged a new form of tattoo craftsmanship and style, called Horimono in Japan.
I find the evolution of the art of tattooing in Japanese culture very interesting. It has developed from being a negatively perceived to something of self-expression and admiration of the heroic figure in society. The large-scale woodblock-inspired styles of tattoo are designed to be bold and vivid and I can see why this style has been so widely adopted in Westernized tattoo culture, as it not only looks elegant but holds many different symbolic meanings and messages.
My Project: What is Next?
What I want to create this semester is gradually becoming clearer in my mind, with my research helping my gain a clearer understanding of aspects of the tattoo industry and global cultural significance, as well as the importance of symbolism and motifs in all tattooing to create connotations specific to the beliefs and personality of the subject of the tattoo. I have begun to plan out my next steps towards completing my project on time. This begins with my ordering some black tattoo, as my previous one was old and not good enough in quality for a project of this magnitude. I will begin thinking and researching motifs for my design: I will look back at the book Tattoo Meanings & Tattoo Design Symbolisms by Grahame Garlick that I referenced in my week one post, and I will also start collecting information on Vanitas paintings as well as a few examples of them that I find inspirational, as my piece will take a lot from the use of symbolic tropes surrounding the topic of death and inevitability in these still-life artworks. I will also over the weekend continue to build a clearer plan for the next 6 weeks, so that I ensure everything is completed on time and to my high personal expectations.