To the editor:
I applaud tattoo artist Amber Thorpe and others who organized the Tattoo Festival this weekend ("Body of art," May17), but when Thorpe said, "You'll never see a tattoo artist's work in a gallery," she was wrong. As a graduate student at UCLA in the 1990s, writing my MA Thesis in anthropology on contemporary tattooing, I attended a comprehensive and very impressive show at the Bryce Bannatyne Gallery in Santa Monica, California. The show, hanging from March 21-May 3, 1992, continued to drive home the point that the tattoo is one of the most ancient art forms, but it also clearly exhibited the rising level of artistic capability and the tendency toward a gradual gentrification of many tattoo studios, which encouraged more people to be tattooed. The gallery showed exquisite photographs of tattooed bodies with styles ranging from classic Japanese or woodblock print styles, to Polynesian black graphic work and more modern work, fusing traditional American styles with esoteric trends. Many of the artists (including Don Ed Hardy, Jill Jordan, Vyvyn Lazonga, Bob Roberts, Horiyoshi III, Bill Salmon, Cynthia Witkin and Leo Zulueta) were present at the gallery opening, creating an exciting mix of artists and bearers as some of the embodied tattoos featured in the prints on the walls mingled through the crowd. In that moment, perhaps more than any other, the tattoo artist as "Artist" was celebrated.
By Liesl Gambold