L.A. Skin & Ink

Review

of an Exhibition

by Holly Gillette

Published on December 21, 2012

  • Description:

    I have always been interested in the art of the tattoo. As a young child I constantly drew on my arms and hands, especially those times when my mother wasn’t looking. During my teen years I fantasized about the design of my first tattoo, often spending hours watching television shows such as Miami Ink and researching potential designs on the web.

    Now, as an adult with an original work of art tattooed on my own body and currently in search of an L.A. artist for my next ink, I was happy to stumble upon L.A. Skin & Ink at the Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) in Los Angeles, California.

    On the third floor of the quaint museum, you first encounter the exhibition title printed on a deep blood red wall. As you turn the corner and enter the gallery, the introductory wall text appears on an ink black wall explaining the purpose of the exhibition: to showcase the art of tattoo from the 1950s to present day Los Angeles.

    The first gallery displays an installation of a classic old-school tattoo shop with an artist’s table and sketches of “flash” tattoos adorning a large wall. As you pass through the galleries you walk through tattoo history, even taking a gander at the first tattoo machines. Photographs of tattoos as well as preparatory sketches and paintings share valuable space in this exhibition. Along the way you encounter didactics that explain various tattooing techniques with their artistic and cultural influences.

    At the center of the exhibition lives an interactive space where visitors are given the opportunity to envision themselves with a tattoo. At first glance, the shop chair appears to be a relic but after reading the sign “Take a seat and see how you would look with tattoos,” I couldn’t resist. Once seated, a random projected image appears on your right arm and a few seconds later it transforms into a new tattoo design. Brilliant!

    The show concludes with a section devoted to L.A. contemporary artists and their works on canvas. Many of the paintings are detailed, realist oil paintings that showcase exceptional craftsmanship and talent.

    What I enjoyed most about the exhibition was that it integrated the art, history, and technique of tattooing. Juxtaposing various media like sketches, paintings, and photographs with vignettes of the tattoo studio and equipment places the entire process of tattoo design into perspective. The small exhibition effectively engages the avid tattoo lover as well as the casual viewer and advocates for tattoo art as Art–with a capital A.

    The only criticism I have of the exhibition is that it was too small. As a visitor, I wanted to see more examples from each technique. A few of the walls displayed only paintings without their tattoo counterparts, which in my mind left a conceptual disconnect. It is worth noting that CAFAM is small, with limited space that doesn’t allow for much more than what was on view, yet it is an inviting place with an intriguing point of view.

    If you are in the Los Angeles area, don’t forget to stop by this hidden gem. CAFAM’s L.A. Skin & Ink runs through January 6, 2013.

Latest Comments (2)

good review

by Kathleen Mclean - December 22, 2012

Thanks Holly. I’d like to see this show. And I think it has a great exhibition title too.

random tattoo

by Elena Guarinello - January 10, 2013

I love the concept of a random tattoo showing up on visitors’ arms when they sit in a chair. There are so many museum pieces where we encourage visitors to make a choice or generate their own content (certainly valid and enjoyable in the right context) – but it is nice to hear about a simple piece that allows visitors to personally connect but doesn’t require anything additional from them but to sit and enjoy.

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