Critical Review on 'Time, Tattoo Art Today'
Pushing tattoo artists out of their comfort zone, this is an exhibition at Somerset House which showcases tattoo art today in the form of various pieces which all avoid the obvious medium of human skin. Original artworks are on show, by 70 of the world’s most influential tattoo artists, including Ed Hardy, Paul Booth, Mister Cartoon, Horiyoshi III, curated by tattoo artist Claudia De Sabe and publisher Miki Vialetto. These 70 artists were given a brief which included staying within the theme of ‘time’, by working with any medium they choose. This could be watercolour painting, oil painting, silk painting, sculpturing or whatever else they decide; as long as it was not on human skin. The theme (time) is a classic motif used in tattoo art. For example, time relates to life and death, life being butterflies and flowers, and death being skulls, all of which are common in tattoo art. This theme therefore was shown in this way throughout the exhibition; but was also portrayed in a more original, unexpected way.
The exhibition was executed in a minimalistic fashion, with white walls and flooring. The lighting was great for complimenting the artwork; however if it was darker then the atmosphere of a tattoo parlor would have been created. It all seemed so bright, but this didn’t really connect with the work, some of which had darker meanings. Nor did this relate to the tattoo themed exhibition. You imagine a tattoo parlor to be shady with light aimed at the artwork. It would have been far more successful if this had been the case, because the audience would then get a better understanding of the context that the work relates to.
The size of the room that the exhibition had been allocated, felt too small. For 70 pieces of work, there were two rooms and two side corridors. Each piece of work was several inches from the other. This was okay if there were a handful of viewers in the room; but when I attended there were around ten people. This meant that on several occasions, I had to view a piece whilst others did too, and because of the small space each piece had, it made it difficult to look at the same work together or even the one next to it. The exhibition therefore would have been more successful if the work had more room. That way, each piece would have more emphasis, rather than making the audience instantly distracted by the ones nearby.
As touched upon beforehand, the use of space was unsuccessful. Not only was each piece close together, but some of the work did not compliment the ones that were near it. For example, on one particular wall was four pieces of art. 3 of them looked as if they were all by one artist, as if they were a series of work. However they were by different, unrelated artists. These were next to a larger, distracting piece which was totally different. If the three pieces were alone then it would have worked, but this one piece ruined the composition of the wall. This occurred throughout the space, where works were set into a composition which wasn’t great. Another example is the Ed Hardy piece. This was the largest and was in the back room. Therefore it seemed as if this piece was the last piece for the audience to observe. It gave the exhibition flow, because it was as if all the others had led to this final larger piece. On the other hand, smaller pieces were very close either side, which ruined the finale effect. Not only this, but the side corridors meant that you had to walk through to get out, so seeing more work after this tainted the idea of the final piece. Nevertheless, some of the work was curated well. Colours in pieces complimented others, which added to the flow of the exhibition.
The exhibition reveals how the old-age art has surpassed boundaries of simple stencil drawings. These pieces show work in graphics and fine art. This meant that there was more to the piece than just tattoo work, and I enjoyed finding out the background information on the work. This information was not given by the pieces. Only a few pieces of work had background information on them in the free leaflet given on arrival. I saw this as a weakness because without the written element, the audience couldn’t deepen their knowledge of the work. Although I like the thought that the work is up to the viewer’s own interpretation, I would have enjoyed also reading what the artist actually intended.
Overall, despite these factors, I enjoyed this exhibition. I appreciated seeing work that was possibly out of tattoo artist’s comfort zone and seeing how they work in the studio rather than in the tattoo parlor. However, I felt that the exhibition was cramped and too formal; this is because the concept of it was amazing and could have been taken so much further - I think that the space could have been used so that it was darker, with spotlights on the work. Benches that resembled tattoo beds would have enhanced the theme, and the work could have been on the walls as drawings are in a tattoo studio, rather than all being lined up neatly. The exhibition had potential but I believe it could have all been pushed further to give an amazing experience for the audience. I wasn’t there long because after a while it did become fairly boring. Generally, I would recommend seeing this exhibition, only to see the pieces of work, not for the atmosphere or the overall experience.