“Do you have a tattoo?”
Over the course of the night, visitors pulled up their sleeves, pulled down the backs of their shirts or even unbuttoned the tops of their pants to show off the designs imprinted on their skin. Showing off their ink got them free entrance into the opening night of CAFAM’s current show “LA Skin & Ink,” a look at the evolution of tattoos in Los Angeles over the last 60 years.
The show not only includes tattoo drawings but also delves into the influence of tattoos on other forms of art, such as painting. One piece invites viewers to sit on a reclining chair and watch as projected images of tattoos move across their skin. Though visitors might have already had tattoos, temporary ink displaying the show’s name was available courtesy of museum workers prepared with sponges on the show’s opening night.
“LA Skin & Ink’s” opening night event created a welcoming, fun atmosphere on its own, but the actual artwork will attract visitors any day of the week. Each section of the exhibit exists under its own theme — Tribal, Zulu, etc. — in order to present viewers with small snippets of a style, person or era instrumental in the development of tattoos in the city. As a whole, the show offers much to see, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed; yet the success of “LA Skin & Ink” lies in its ability to separate each theme while still managing to create a coherent show. Viewers can easily gain a lot of knowledge from one small section, even if they aren’t particularly attached to all the sections of the show.
Portrait photographs of tattoo artist Bert Grimm’s clients prove especially compelling. The pieces show the finesses of the artist on the skin of his clients but also communicate some of the personality of the subjects, who seem emotionally open as they honestly pose in front of the camera.
In the same way, a portrait in the section of Mr. Cartoon — a prolific graffiti and tattoo artist — shows Danny Trejo bare-chested and with a fierce look in his eyes. Trejo appeared in a video with Mr. Cartoon directed by photographer and director Estevan Oriol whose work also appeared at the show. Slowly, through viewing certain sections, the interconnectedness of the tattoo scene also comes through.
If some visitors came to the show only because their tattoo-loving significant others brought them, the section dedicated to fine art adds a twist that provides an alternative to the traditional tattoo imagery to the show. The works here come from tattoo artists who also make traditional art or, conversely, from fine artists with some involvement in the tattoo community.
Sergio Sanchez’s “No Pain, No Gain” uses oil on linen to depict a comical moment in which a woman screams as she gets inked on her back. The painting depicts her lying down with a cigarette in her hand and a can of Modelo nearby, white roller skates still on her shoes. The scene doesn’t totally make sense, but that only adds to the humor of the painting and plays off the serious expression of the tattoo artist at work.
Other figures such as Nikko Hurtado and Kevin Llewellyn bring tattooed figures to life in ornate frames.
From the electric pen invented by Thomas Edison to the walking examples of tattoo art mingling among each other at the show, it’s obvious the art of tattooing only continues to develop. At “LA Skin & Ink,” you can trace that history yourself and maybe find inspiration for your next ink fixation.
LA Skin & Ink runs until Jan. 6. CAFAM is located on 5814 Wilshire Blvd. Regular admission is $7 for adults and $5 for students.