Meet the Artists Behind Some of the Coolest Tattoo Art in America
Since ancient times, people have used tattoo art to mark their bodies. These permanent designs have been used as makeup, amulets, status symbols, professions of love, emblems of religion, adornments, and even as a means of punishment. They can be simple or intricate, but they are always unique to the wearer.
- Tattoos have been around for thousands of years for a variety of cultural, physical, and aesthetic reasons
- The history of tattoos holds much controversy
- Modern tattoo is an endless ocean of ideas, concepts, and designs
The earliest known record of a tattoo was found in 1991 on an Iceman on the Italian-Austrian border, carbon dated 5,200 years old. However, upon inspection and discussion, it seems these tattoos served as a means of pain relief and were merely therapeutic.
Further evidence of the earliest tattoo then comes from the Egyptians, where figurines dating to 4,000 BCE and mummies dating to 2,000 BCE have been unearthed. These tattoos consist mainly of lines and diamond patterns and are seemingly restricted to women. These findings lead experts to believe that tattoos mainly functioned as pain relief during pregnancy and labor.
The first record of tattoo art, serving not as a means of pain relief, comes from a Scythian male's 2,400-year-old body found in Siberia in 1948, frozen in ice, with elaborate tattoos of legendary creatures covering his limbs and chest. Then, in 1993, a female with similar-dated tattoos of legendary animals on her shoulders, wrists, and thumb was discovered in an Altai tomb.
The custom of tattooing is documented in Scythian and Thracian history. They believed that having a tattoo was a sign of nobility and that not having any was a sign of low birth. This may be where we first see tattoos viewed as a positive addition to oneself. Across time and cultures, the consensus on tattoos is highly volatile.
The Romans called one tribe in the north "Picti," which means "the painted people," because they had "different kinds of creatures" tattooed on their bodies. However, among the Greeks and Romans, tattoos, or "stigmata," as they were then known, appear to have been primarily used as a way to brand someone as "belonging" to a religious group or, in the case of slaves, to a master, or even as a punitive measure to mark them as criminals.
Then, during the Ptolemaic era, the view of tattoo art started to shift again when Ptolemy IV (221-205 B.C.) was said to have had ivy leaves tattooed on his body to represent his love to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and the royal family's patron deity at the time.
Roman soldiers continued the practice, which expanded across the Roman Empire until the rise of Christianity when Emperor Constantine (300 AD) outlawed tattoos because he believed they "disfigure that made in God's image." This decision is arguably the most significant reason there has been lasting prejudice toward tattoo art.
Across the postmodern world, tattoo art developed and remains today:
- Columbian cultures of Peru and Chile produced tattoo art with highly ornate images of stylized animals and a wide variety of symbols found in their textile and pottery designs.
- Japanese men adorned their bodies with tattoo art serving to display strength and endurance as well as spiritual armor. These tattoos were often placed on the back, hips, and buttock, or in places that would not be seen in public.
- Polynesians, like the Japanese, also used tattoo art as a way to show strength, endurance, and spiritual armor. However, Polynesian tattoos were not hidden. It was a demonstration to their community and served as a visible symbol of status, and ancestry, and was an integral part of one's identity.
- Native Americans considered tattoo art a sacred and spiritual ritual across tribes. Individuals were often marked with symbols representing guardian spirit emblems for protection.
Colonization and the spread of Christianity around the world led to the suppression of many traditions and practices including tattoos. Today, the general opinion of tattoos in America is relatively positive seeing as now 30% of Americans have tattoos. However, it is still not uncommon to hear of employers deeming the appearance of tattoos unprofessional. Despite these existing views, tattoo art is alive and thriving.
Top Tattoo Artists
The tattoo community is essentially limitless. There are artists that specialize in every type of tattoo style you can imagine. Essentially, the challenge is not finding a tattoo artist but choosing one. Here are just a few incredible artists:
1. Dasol Kim: A Los Angeles-based artist, Dasol specializes in watercolor, botanic and micro realism. His tattoos are astonishingly delicate and bold. They are possibly the most beautiful flower tattoos I've ever seen.
2. Ilya Cascad: This Las Vegas artist is a show stopper. He deals in the black and gray, Polynesian, dot work, and ornamental styles. All of Ilya’s work features excellent contrast and sharp lines, resulting in profound patterns and illusions.
3. Pony Reinhardt: New York boasts this surrealist, dot, and line work queen. Pony primarily uses black to create her intricate designs of another world.
Tattoos have been around for thousands of years and aren't going anywhere anytime soon. The tattoo industry is constantly growing as more people want tattoos and even more people see an opportunity to provide them. As a medium of artistic expression, tattoo art is incredibly unique. Its permanence makes it an extension of its wearer, a way to constantly send a message to others and ourselves.
Written by Kiana St. Onge