I’ve talked before about some art forms that are disrespected by the art establishment and artistic community, like comics, architectural rendering, medical illustration, botanical illustration and paleontological reconstruction art. None of them, however, collect the artistic disdain reserved for that intentionally lowest of lowbrow art forms, tattoo art. Yowsa!
Regino Gonzales appears to be a tattoo artist by trade, but his site also includes paintings, illustrations, sketches, fashion graphics and digital comic coloring. Some of his sketches and studies would seem at home on the web site of a more traditional illustrator or painter. Gonzales may be an interesting artist to allow those put off by the very idea of tattoo art to creep across the border into outsider territory and take a peek at what the other side creates.
Some of Gonzales’ tattoo images are of what you might consider “typical” tattoo subjects, skulls, snakes, dragons, etc., while others are more unusual, with Aztec themes, rendered images of the Buddah, naturalistic plants or faces and figures that look almost classical. Some are heavily rendered and over-the-top, but some of them are graphically spare, nicely drawn and would elicit a very different reaction from us if they were presented on paper in a frame and matte rather than on the sweaty arm of the drummer from the thrash band down the block.
Many of his images, the tattoo images in particular, are intentionally unsettling, created to provoke a reaction, and are probably successful at that.
There seems to be a certain mindset in much of the tattoo culture, a carry over from the biking and punk subcultures, that says that if a tattoo isn’t depraved enough to send Mom-n’-Pop-n’-Buddy-n’-Sis from whitebread middle-class America screaming back to their Barc-A-Loungers in mindless panic, it isn’t a proper tattoo.
At its most basic, however, a tattoo is a graphic image, pattern or decoration applied to a surface. The fact that that surface happens to be human skin is enough to bother many people in itself, but people in various cultures have been decorating their bodies in both temporary and permanent ways since the dawn of recorded history, and probably long before.
The fact that the surface, or “canvas” if you will, is a human body presents other challenges for an artist in addition to the obvious ones. The human body is composed of curved surfaces. Not only is this challenging in terms of working on the drawing, but the design and proportions must compensate for the curves in order to be perceived correctly as a coherent image.
I know a couple of tattoo artists, and the good ones work as hard at their craft as any illustrator I know. I even designed a simple tattoo myself, at the request of someone I know, and did not find it simple to do. Like the 19th century illustrators whose work had to be interpreted for printing by woodblock engravers, I had to design for someone else to create the final piece. I also had to consider that someone would make this drawing a permanent part of their body, a sobering thought. It was enough to give me some respect for tattoo artists and what they do.