Audubon Inspires Today’s Tattoo Artists

By Daniel Fulco, Ph.D., Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator

To mark the new special exhibition Art, Fashion, Symbol, Statement: Tattooing in America, 1960s to Today (June 22–October 13, 2024),we hope that you enjoy this print in our collection. If you visit the museum, this work is on view in the exhibition.

John James Audubon
b. Jean-Jacques Rabin, American, b. Haiti, 1785–1851

Night Hawk, 1860, plate 43, from The Birds of America
Published by Julius Bien (American, b. Germany, 1826–1909), New York, 1860
Hand-colored lithograph on paper
24 1/2″ H x 19 1/4″ W   
Collection of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Gift of Russell and Jane C. Maisch, A3513,99.0321
In this lithograph, Audubon captured three nighthawks in their natural habitat with remarkable detail and accuracy (note his fine line technique and the refined textures of their feathers). While two birds are perched on a tree branch, another one with outstretched wings has arrived and attempts to capture two insects, the night hawk’s main source of nutrition. 
One of the most renowned American artist-naturalists, Audubon is often recognized for his extraordinary undertaking to visually record the birds and mammals of North America. Of French-Creole descent, Audubon was brought up in a French village near Nantes. Encouraged by his father and the naturalist Alcide d’Orbigny (1810–57, he had an early interest in art and natural science, and settled in America when he was eighteen. In the United States, he developed a keen ability to depict wildlife of many types, especially birds.
Printer and publisher Julius Bien was a pioneer in the field of chromolithography and was selected by Audubon’s sons to engrave the American edition of The Birds of America after their father’s death.  
Audubon’s engravings have influenced the work of tattoo artist Juan Martinez, which are on display in the exhibition Art, Fashion, Symbol, Statement: Tattooing in America, 1960s to Today. Martinez’s design (see below) displays his interest in scientific illustration and similar use of fine line realism in black and gray to achieve detail. Influenced by the work of Audubon, Martinez combines naturalism with fantasy. In his drawing, a bird swoops down through the air and is about to land on a branch, the leaves of which are filled with large eyes (an almost surreal addition). Below, two other birds await the arrival of their companion. Like Audubon’s Nighthawk, we observe textural variations in the birds’ feathers and are invited to imagine their chirping (as suggested by the title) and interactions in a bush or tree. In addition to deriving inspiration from scientific illustrations, Martinez enjoys spending time in nature and also visits the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, where he studies numerous plants and animals.

Juan Martinez (Mexican, b. 1997)
Bird Song Story, 2024
Pen and ink on paper
23.875 x 19.9375 in
Collection of the artist