In a pinch , lacking paper and needing to remember some word or number, we might jot it down on palm or arm. The brief participation these notations offer only pokes at the long-standing tradition of body art. Indeed, skin has been used as a printing surface for longer than ink and parchment have been available. The exhibit Indelibly Yours on display at Donna Beam Art Gallery at UNLV embraces and intermixes the traditions of printmaking and tattooing from a range of historic cultural backgrounds.
The exhibit began at the Smith Andersen Editions printing studio in Palo Alto, Calif., where 10 artists, five with tattoo backgrounds and five with printmaking backgrounds, were invited to participate. The collaboration encouraged the exploration of “the interconnections of ink, plate, and skin,” writes Dr. Hillarie Fabermen, a curatorial assistant at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, in the exhibit catalogue.
The eagles, skulls and gypsy girls comprising the imagery of tattoo artist Ross K. Jones brings classic American tattoo iconography into traditional printmaking, savoring the dialogue between the two. Thermal transfer stencils, normally reserved for the skin tattooing process, are collaged onto an untitled piece with an assortment of butterflies, a ship’s anchor, eagle and skull surrounding a stern eagle, asserting a direct cross-pollination of the two mediums.
Touching upon themes of Victorian Edwardian romance, Jen Lee works with a monotype of matrimonial hands clasping with scrolled borders above a curling banner proclaiming “True Love.” Working in a similar vein, Mary Joy depicts vintage Victorian women both gentle and strong, their soft expressions adorned with fierce fashion accessories including live fox stoles and hissing ‘boas’; snake in place of fluffy feathers.
Nearby, Kathryn Kain’s mermaid in jeweled tones sports a mermaid pinup tattoo on her back, romantically touching upon the self-reflexivity inherent within the tattoo process.
Very common choices selected for tattoo art are images and icons taken from Asian and Hindu philosophies. Kahlil Rintye makes use of the Buddhist deity Fudo Myoo, called “The Immutable One,” whose sword and rope are used to bind evildoers. Playing with positive and negative space, the symbols and figure come forward and fade, referencing the notions of absence and presence. Kara Maria riffs on the Chinese zodiac with multi-colored animals - rabbits, dragons, roosters, rams, dogs and more -multiplying and forming patterns on top of the outline of a long slender arm hovering in the center of the composition.
Lastly, a few of the works comment upon the opportunity for highly unique expression developing a personalized history and iconography that tattoo’s offer. A series of prints by Enrique Chagoya use tattoos present on the artist’s body, relaying a personal narrative through flaming skulls, roses, guitars, bones and paintbrushes printed into acidic washes surrounded by a kelp-like garland.
Using found imagery such as numbers, dressmaker pattern’s, circles and rings, George Herms creates symbology that evokes the power and ideas of tribal tattoos. In the work, “Flower,” a series of sevens form a red blossom, demonstrating the ability of orthographic text to unite and form pictorial concepts.One of the final images viewed in the show, a humorous work by Richard Shaw, depicts a woman receiving copious bird tattoos on her back only to have them life off and fly away at the end. This image grasps at the concept of living art, which is at the heart of the tattoo process. By infusing printmaking with tattoo imagery, breath found pulsing within the living canvasses fuses into the printed works.
Indelibly Yours is on display through Nov. 2 at Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery, 4505 S. Maryland Pkwy. The gallery is open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Close Sunday. www. donnabeamgallery.unlv.edu/