Monday, 6 July 2015

Three Days of Heaven or The St. John's Tattoo Convention, July 3-5, 2015

Crystal underneath her portrait by Ned Pratt at the St. John's
 Tattoo Convention.  Special thanks are owed to Dave Munro
 for allowing us to exhibit these portraits at his event.

I dump my purse out on the kitchen table and out falls: a Norwegian hunting knife, a pair of snippers that my friend assures me could be used to castrate an elephant and a razor blade.  My son laughs, "that's my Mom".  Yeah, you will not find eyeliner in my purse.  That day I had been installing an exhibition of sorts, a selection of large photographs by Ned Pratt.  It was an excerpt from the More Than Skin Keep project and the venue was the Bella Vista.  Like a dutiful mom I had picked up the forgotten toys of my crew and put them safely away.

The next day the disco ball over the dance floor of the Bella Vista would be shining down over a swarm of tattoo artists gathered for St. John's first tattoo convention.  Forty of them would be clustered around tables and chairs tattooing clients who had made appointments and some who had walked in and lucked out.  The air would be filled with the buzz of ink guns like cicadas on a warm summer afternoon.  And I was one happy camper.

NTV's photo captures the intense activity at St. John's first tattoo convention.

Tattooing by and large is a private event.  It takes place at a tattoo studio and it is the client, the client's ideas and the tattoo artist's skills and equipment.  I think that is one of the reasons why such close bonds often develop between the tattooist and the client. Factor in pain and trust that is implied by the physical contact and the permanency of the tattoo and you get a better idea of some of the other reasons.

By contrast, tattoo conventions are social events.  The excitement is palpable as friends stroll the aisles comparing flash art in various artists' portfolios; other friends are showing each other fresh tattoos still glistening wet; and of course you can see wall to wall bodies being tattooed.  There are posters for sale, badges, t-shirts and prints.

But make no mistake this is a far cry from the "reality TV" versions of tattooing.  Nowhere is this more apparent than the "Tattoo of the Day" competitions at the conventions.  The proud owners of the tattoos register their new art work for the competition.  They await their name to be called at the appointed hour to take to the stage and be inspected by a panel of judges.  Some of the tattoo owners are still peeling off bandages.  Others are visibly in pain as they gingerly work calves up the stairs bearing large, heavily worked tattoos.  Some apologize for the blood that is still visible.  This is real life.

During some of the more quiet times, I notice tattoo artists slipping into each other's booths to get tattooed.  Artists, whom I recognize from local studios, are also making special trips in to the convention to add to their own body art.  Gathering outside the convention centre over take out noodles and vegetables one bright-eyed young apprentice crows that his hero has just tattooed him.  Ironically, they both work in studios based in Ottawa.  But here in St. John's Newfoundland and Labrador, the young artist has secured a hand and needle tattoo – rather than one done with an ink gun– from a senior artist with more than 35-years experience.  It is a delicate sakura or Japanese cherry blossom.  

The event is clearly a success, so much so that before it is over Trouble Bound Studio's Dave Munro says "We're proud to announce the Second Annual St. John's Tattoo Convention July 1-3, 2016!" #‎stjohnstatooconvention #‎sjtc #‎stjohns 

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