Art, Fashion, Symbol, Statement: Tattooing in America, 1960s to Today

June 22–October 13, 2024

Tattoo by Tony Deville.

According to data gathered in Statista Polls from 2018 to 2023, 39% of Americans have tattoos and of those, 18% have more than one tattoo. While only 18% of the baby-boomer generation are tattooed, that number rises to 41% for millennials, (those ages 28–43). Today, tattoos are more popular with women, with 38% having at least one tattoo, compared to 27% of men.

“Tattoos are very personal—they are permanent alterations to the individual’s body, and that decision, and the resulting artwork, is worthy of closer examination,” said museum Executive Director Sarah Hall. “The idea for this exhibition generated from the museum’s exhibition and education staff —who I admit are all younger than I am —and I challenged them to make an exhibition that elevated the voices of regional artists involved in tattooing, while also providing art-historical context, history, and depth.”

Some of these works are paired with examples from the museum’s collection to illuminate significant stylistic parallels and influences. In addition, a selection of tools and equipment allows us to understand how tattoos are made and the important role that technology has played in their development.

Tattoos can be powerful symbols of identity, holders of personal memory, and emblems of accomplishment, inspiration, or protection. A form of contemporary art patronage encompassing a variety of aesthetic sensibilities, the process of creating tattoos is often an intimate collaboration between artist and client.

Often considered taboo, and even prohibited in some areas, through the mid-20th century, tattoos have gradually become recognized as deeply personal forms of artistic expression and evolved from a trade to a type of fine art.

“It used to be taboo for a long time, and now I see going to the doctors that the nurses will have tattoos and it’s more acceptable, more in a business setting. People with tattoos are being accepted, so that’s pretty cool,” said Anthony Chestnut aka “Ink Boy the Don,” and owner of Free Ink in Baltimore. “People don’t have to hide their tattoos as much depending on what they do. I appreciate that.”

Tattoo by Adelina Mai.

Adelina Mai, an artist at Fleur Noire in New York City, has  a passion for art and works in watercolors, sketching and drawing as well as tattooing. A nursing student, she also studies the human body, believing that the two professions coexist as jobs that work to make people feel happy and healthy. Mai specializes in fine line designs focusing on delicate flora and objects found in nature, which sometimes incorporate abstract or fantastical elements.

“Art, Fashion, Symbol, Statement: Tattooing in America, 1960s to Today” also features the tools of the trade including an Edison electric pen and base. The electric tattoo machine was first patented in 1891 by Samuel O’Reilly, a tattoo artist from New York City. His invention was based on Thomas Edison’s “Electric Stencil Pen” that was part of a mimeograph machine (which duplicated hand-written documents). Prior to this, all tattooing was done by non-electric methods/.

FASHION & INSPIRATION

The exhibition title (Art, Fashion, Symbol, Statement) lists some of the roles tattoos take on, often impacting fashion on a larger stage—you don’t need to be tattooed to enjoy the lively and playful impact tattoos have had on the design of clothing and accessories.

The exhibition includes examples by Christian Audigier (French, 1958-2015) after Don Ed Hardy (American, b. 1945). Audigier worked at the label Von Dutch for three years before he decided to start his own company. In 2007, he was granted the exclusive rights to work with the designs of tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy. From Britney Spears and Madio to Madonna, Ashton Kutcher, Paris Hilton, Hilary Duff, and Justin Timberlake, Audigier created a virtual who’s who of celebrity hipsters wearing trucker hats, jeans, and the now infamous Ed Hardy T-shirt.

WHAT IS A TATTOO?

Tattoos are among the oldest means of visual and cultural communication. A permanent form of body modification, a tattoo is an insertion of pigment into the skin using needles, bone, knives, or other instruments to create a design or image.

Tattoos have been associated with ancient spiritual beliefs and healing rituals and have been documented in diverse cultures. The exhibition includes a selectin of 18th-century mezzotints on loan from the New-York Historical Society documenting tattoos on indigenous American people. Tattooing has also been used as a way to punish criminals and subjugate individuals. The history of tattooing is long and colorful.

An exhibition catalogue published by Washington County Museum of Fine Arts is forthcoming. Featuring a complete list of works in the exhibition and interviews with the artists, it provides a personal look into the art, craft, and technology of tattooing today.

Tattoo Expo

Come rock out with us Saturday, July 13 ,11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tattoo Expo, Kaylor Rose Garden. Tattoo artists and selected vendors will display and sell their wares. Beer by Cushwa Brewery, signature cocktail by McClintock Distilling; non-alcoholic options; food trucks; live demonstrations; punk art vendors; mini-workshops/artist highlights and tours of the exhibition. Some tattoo artists will offer tattooing at first-come, first-serve basis to those 18 and older (with ID). Those artists are: Raya Yeary of Talon Salon

Robert Elliott of Blue Crab Tattool Erikka James-Heckman of Incognito Tattoo Studio; Anthony Chestnut of Fresh Ink; Edward Howlett Illustrative Ink Tattoo; Raven Rauth of Alley Cat Tattoo Studio; Dustin Socks of Black Heart Tattoo Gallery and Old Line Tattoo; and Tony Deville of Deville Ink Tattoo. Free admission. Under 18 years old must be accompanied by an adult in the garden.

Savage Mountain Punk Arts is hosting a “takeover” that evening three bands outside. After the expo, the takeover continues with an all-ages concert at Live at Hub City Vinyl with three more bands. Doors open at 6 p.m., concert is 8 to 11 p.m. Tickets for the second concert are $18 and must be purchased through Live at Hub City Vinyl at liveathubcityvinyl.com.


Talk with Tattoo Artists


Tattoo Stories

This mini web series is inspired by this exhibition. Area people share the stories behind their tattoos. \\