Artists, tattoos, and meaning: pissing ink in Duchamp's urinal?



Art: the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty, meaning or emotional power.

Should art be imbued with meaning? That question has been reverberating ever since Duchamp shoved a pisser in a gallery, giving meaninglessness a meaning more profound than meaning itself.

And beauty? From philosophers to advertisements to your significant other, beauty is a chameleon and our eyes the arbiter.

I believe, as with beauty - art is in the eye of the beholder. And most often than not, the initial beholder is the creator - the artist.

There’s an abundance of talented artists in Melbourne (where I live), with many of them donning tattoos they designed themselves. This left me wondering about their opinions on meaning, beauty, originality and emotional power regarding their own art, and if the transposition of their work into tattoos affected that view. So I presented numerous questions of this nature to five Melbournians who not only create art on a regular basis through a diverse range of mediums, but who also happen to be tattoo enthusiasts.

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Nina Waldron: Bartender, coffee maker, supplier of beverages.

Nina Waldron: Bartender, coffee maker, supplier of beverages.

what is art to you? 

A hobby, and a really nice thing to be surrounded by. It's overlooked a little too much by most people, including myself.

Medium and style of art: Mostly I use ink from a pot and a fountain pen. I also use watercolour and oil paints, biros, grey lead pencils, and sometimes a Photoshop-tablet combo.  It's usually described by others as "cool" or "creepy" or "weird", but they’re descriptions I get told to my face, maybe people describe my art as boring. I hope not, I'd like to describe it as creepy and endearing.

why this specific medium?

Over the years they’ve worked best for me. That being said, I have a very short attention span and find that new mediums are the best way for me to reignite any form of motivation. I was recently in an exhibition where my pieces were beeswax sculptures made of cast from my own hands and fingers. I've also just started experimenting with tattooing.

how does meaning fit into your work?

My works have zero meaning.  I'm not trying to express anything. I just like the way they look.  People like to think my work is a criticism of society and 'the human condition' and all that. I used to play on that a bit to give my exhibitions and works a bit more substance, but it was pretty much just bullshit.

Tattooed by Vincent... or Victor, at Three Kings Tattoo in Brooklyn.

Tattooed by Vincent... or Victor, at Three Kings Tattoo in Brooklyn.

does the tattoo hold meaning?

 I was on a big trip, that trip was significant to me and I wanted a souvenir.

considering that you’ve designed tattoos for other people, does it bother you having to share the satisfaction of your piece with the tattooist? And what if they disfigured your work?  

It used to, the thing that really stopped me from doing it for so long was the idea that somebody was going to have my picture on them for the rest of their life.  Whether they like it or not didn’t bother me, I just didn't like the idea of re-using a tattoo design, either on another person or as its own artwork. Everybody wants their own personal tattoo, and once you get the ball rolling it doesn’t stop and you find yourself designing all this stuff for other people, and you cant fucking re-use it! Can’t use an already tattooed design in an exhibition! It's already been exhibited! I would care if the tattooist disfigured my drawing, it makes me look bad if they fuck it up, it's happened before and it's embarrassing. I think I used to feel like designing tattoos was a waste of my time and creativity unless it was for a very close friend or relative. Random strangers were a waste. Or so I USED to believe.

what would you do if you saw a stranger donning your art? 

Bitch about it for a while to my friends until we collectively came up with a solution/plan of action.

do you think it would be a bastardisation to see high art tattooed? Or is high art already a bastard? 

Nope, I think most things can be turned into a tattoo. Any tattoo can be a bastard in anyone’s eyes.

what are your thoughts on tattoo artists and their profession vis-a-vis originality and art? Would you ever become one? 

Maybe. Hopefully. I think a lot of tattoo artists only want to tattoo their own art on others but get roped into tattooing lame designs ripped out of magazines or off the internet in which case I think the customer is to blame - tattooing is just a trade like everything else.

Nina’s work can be viewed at www.ninagoatwaldron.com.


Zandor Burai viii: Artiste/humanoid

Zandor Burai viii: Artiste/humanoid

art?

Art is an infinite of possibilities; it’s an energy. Art is what can affect you emotionally, and compel you to react. The Earth without Art, is just “EH”.

describe and define your art:

My approach to creative endeavour & artistic initiative is in direct reflection to life as I know it. I mostly paint profiles of unrequited love, echoes of moments that no longer exist. I mainly express this through acrylic & enamel based paints and wood surfaces.

how does meaning fit into your work?

My work is of course open for interpretation, for if I gave away the meaning, it would cease being infinite. But, I do have reason for why I do paint subjects and symbols of personal significance.

Tattooed by Mick Squires from Korpus Tattoo.

Tattooed by Mick Squires from Korpus Tattoo.

how would you respond if someone asked you to design them a tattoo?

have been asked if some of my paintings could be taken for tattooing purposes, & I liked the idea of someone I may not even know having my art on them for the rest of their life. Makes my creativity all the worth while…

what would you do if you saw a stranger donning your art? 

Smile & ask them their reasoning for doing so.

what's your opinion on originality and tattoos?

There will always be some form or phase in art. As a direct explanation to the condition of society, whether it’s continual or passing, it has the ability to define modern times and what is now.

do you think it would be a bastardisation to see high art tattooed? Or is high art already a bastard?  

I have no clue what high art is, does it involve smoking crack?

would you ever consider creating a book of tattoo art, or do you think people should stick to what they know?  

Art is an open medium that cannot be pushed or pulled. I think if you made clothes and then created a book about poo - that would make sense. Art is infinite.

Zandor’s work can be viewed at http://doubledoublehappines.wix.com/zsandor


Rik Lee: Illustrator.

Rik Lee: Illustrator.

what is art to you? 

My job. But more importantly it's what I love doing and live to do. Art is beautiful. Even when it's ugly, it's still beautiful. We're very fortunate to have the passion to create and appreciate art.

define and describe your art: 

Illustrator with pencils, marker pens, pastel, watercolor and digital. I generally draw cute girls with tattoos alongside animals, flowers and all sort of other stuff. It's been described as graphic art, lowbrow art, fashion illustration, portraiture, anime, tattoo art. My art is just... my art. As soon as I try to categorise it I get confused looks, and as soon as I try to describe it, I look confused. 

do you create work with a meaning in mind? 

I usually begin a work with a meaning in mind. Yet find that the meaning evolves during the process and rarely does the finished piece look or mean what I had originally intended. I quite like this.  I love letting the process guide me. Whatever meaning (or lack of meaning) people derive from my work is cool with me. I have my meaning and they have theirs.

Tattooed by Tim Dywelski.

Tattooed by Tim Dywelski.

tell me about the tattoo you’ve designed for yourself: 

It's a silly one – a hot dog in a top hat with a bow tie and monocle.  I designed another one with a little sailor outfit. My friend and I got them before she moved overseas to celebrate our friendship, mutual love of hot dogs and her moving away. I got it tattooed on my stomach because it seemed like the right place for a hot dog to go.

if someone approached and asked you to design a tattoo for them, how would you respond? 

I'd be flattered. It's rad that someone would like to have my artwork on themselves indefinitely.

considering that you’ve designed tattoos for others, does it bother you having to share the satisfaction of your piece with the tattooist? What if they fucked it up? 

Oh man, that's a tough question and something I've struggled with. I don't mind sharing the satisfaction with the tattooist at all. I'm stoked if they enjoy tattooing it and they do a great job - the customer gets a tattoo they love, the tattooist has a fun few hours, gets paid, and I have the honour of my work tattooed on someone. However, there are so many other directions this scenario can go. One of which, as you say, is the tattooist fucking up my work. Obviously it's a bummer for me to see my work re-created in a way I'm not into. Yet, this is much worse for whoever got the piece tattooed - because they're stuck with it (and paid for it). I can only hope that when someone decides to get tattooed, they shop around and make certain they get the right artist for the particular job. There are so many amazing tattooists out there that if they need to wait, travel, or pay a little more to get the right artist, ultimately, it's always worth it.

and how would you react if you saw a stranger donning your art? 

It's happened and it's cool. Obviously if the tattoo came out rad then it's even cooler. I'm not really the kind of person to approach people I don't know so probably I’d just smile from afar.

what are your thoughts on tattoo artists and their profession vis-a-vis originality and art? Would you ever become one? 

Tattooing seems like it can be a rad job. You can do amazing original art, travel a lot, meet incredible people and impact someone's life in a really positive way. On the flip side, you can get lazy, trace stuff from books, go nowhere, meet no one worthwhile and tattoo some ugly stuff on ugly people. I guess like so many professions it’s what you make of it. Many times I've considered pursuing tattooing, but I get so busy with my own work that I've yet to.

Rik’s work can be viewed at:

www.rikleeillustration.com

www.riklee.tumblr.com

www.riklee.wordpress.com

www.nightcallbrand.com

www.facebook.com/Rikleeillustration

Instagram: @rikleeillustration


Shane Ivezic: Graphic designer, artist/illustrator, and part-time office maestro for four Melbourne bars. 

Shane Ivezic: Graphic designer, artist/illustrator, and part-time office maestro for four Melbourne bars. 

what is art?

Personally: a gift and a curse. Culturally: utterly necessary.

define and describe your art: 

For the most part, it requires nothing more than black ink and a sheet of white paper - pure illustration. I also utilise the Adobe Creative Suite, and do sculpture and video editing.  It blends illustration, graffiti, typography, technical drawing, and comic art with traditional design elements.

why did you choose these mediums? 

I started drawing when I was six, and it was just good, clean fun. It was more rewarding than any other activity I could think of. Plus, I couldn't paint for shit and Photoshop hadn't been invented yet. I liked the fact I could draw anywhere, anytime.  If I was bored at school - I would draw. If my friends were grounded or being dicks - I would draw. Eventually, it seemed weird not to have a sketchbook and some ink with me. 

do you create work with a meaning in mind? 

I generally have little interest in creating a socio-political statement through art, although I respect people that do. First and foremost, I want my art to invoke the 'fuck me, that looks amazing' response, as opposed to the 'hmmm, that works on so many levels, I really like your reinterpretation of the quasi-corporeality of my disenfranchised anus' response. I like the approach of artist creates image/observer creates meaning. That really is the joy of art and it's ambiguities.

Tattooed by Caleb at Voodoo Ink

Tattooed by Caleb at Voodoo Ink

does the tattoo and area have any deeper significance/meaning? 

The design itself is not a reference to any symbology or culture. I was just looking for something precise in a very imprecise period. Shit is deep. Ha!

considering that you’ve designed tattoos for other people, does it bother you having to share the satisfaction of your piece with the tattooist? 

I think it’s a great way to share art between people. If they fucked it up, I wouldn't care in the slightest.  It would be a bad reflection on the tattooist, not on the designer of the tattoo. I would have more concern for the person that got tattooed: 'is that a permanent black shit stain on your arm? Looks amazing!' I would say, half crying half laughing, every word dripping with cynicism as I face palm myself and howl at the moon.

what would you do if you saw a stranger donning your art? 

I would simply smile with a glowing sense of humble satisfaction.

do you have an opinion on unoriginal and ubiquitous tattoos? 

As soon as I see ANY tattoo, I'm immediately interested. Shit, generic or a fucking masterpiece of tattoo art... I like them all - to varying degrees of course.  More critically, my interest in the unoriginal or ubiquitous is often unsustained and fleeting. But then I'll come across a tattooist’s interpretation of, for example, a sugar skull or Koi fish, and be utterly blown away by either the technical prowess or original take on it. Artists (in any medium) often have the uncanny ability to turn the ubiquitous into something highly original. Look at skulls for example. A staple of any artist and as common as bread and water, yet they still manage to excite and intrigue.

Shane’s work can be viewed at http://sinkpress.blogspot.com.au/ 


Simon Lowther: Industrial designer.

Simon Lowther: Industrial designer.

what is art to you?

It is an outlet for our absurdity and hopeless questioning as to who we are, why we are here and what for. It also fulfils a primal need to create and construct and control. Despite this, art is ultimately useless (As Oscar Wilde put it). That’s not to say it does not hold value, enrich our lives, carry meaning, and tell stories. 

define and describe your art: 

I would define it with its title: industrial designer. So I’m not an artist, but I employ creative practices in my work nonetheless. I sketch, make models and employ 3D CAD programs. 

why this medium?

 I wanted to do something utilitarian and creative rather than just creative. 

does meaning have a place in your work? 

I don’t go out of my way to embed meaning into my design deliberately. That would be too contrived. Meaning will be inherent in a design if it has been designed well. A design also carries meaning purely by virtue of the time and place (culture) it originates from.

Tattooed by himself.

Tattooed by himself.

tell me about the tattoo you’ve designed for yourself: 

It’s a very simple and small stick’n’poke tattoo of a Penny Farthing. It is the 3rd stick and poke tattoo I’ve done on myself so it’s a bit rough but I like it.

does the tattoo have any significance/meaning? 

They are an object I find amusing and in a strange way beautiful. I like how utterly absurd and impractical the design is while still being a very pleasing form in its simple geometry and iconic profile. It also reminds me that people do ridiculous things.

do you have an opinion on unoriginal and ubiquitous tattoos? 

When I’m on the way to work and feeling particularly misanthropic or severely hung-over or just in a bad mood I’ll arbitrarily choose things to hate. Sometimes it’s tattoos. Originality is a tenuous subject in art and especially in tattoos. For most people (excluding people from cultures with traditional tattooing) tattoos are just a way to feel better about themselves. It’s image based, and it’s about identifying with a particular milieu. It’s difficult to argue that getting a tattoo is appreciating art although I think the tattoo artists themselves can sometimes be considered artists. I can look at art or listen to music without having it painfully and permanently adhered to me.