We have a book in the SOURCE office called The Rock Star Tattoo Encyclopedia. Nothing particularly novel about that, you might think – all rock stars have tattoos. It’s mandatory; we even saw that Dougie out of McFly rocking a colourful sleeve on I’m A Celebrity. But this particular book is from the olden days of the early 80s, when the idea of an inked artiste was not quite so ubiquitous as to make very many of those included even vaguely household names.
But aside from wondering who most of these hairy goons were, we were first struck by how tiny the majority of their tattoos were, and secondly how shitty they all looked, in both application and design. The idea of original custom pieces back then certainly looks unlikely – like, if it ain’t up there on the wall, it sure ain’t going on your arm…
It’s not just a relaxation of public attitude towards those who go under the needle that’s seen such a spread of the craft; tattooing has got bigger and better both in terms of the individual pieces and the scene that surrounds them. A tattoo is certainly a bolder statement in the 21st century – as grinning ink pushers are wont to tease, “go big or go home.”
Now in its fifth year and set to be the biggest yet, Brighton Tattoo Convention once again brings together over 175 artists from all over the world to the city’s sporting summit at the racecourse. As well as artists working onsite, there’s the usual array of merch and tatt-friendly accoutrements, competitions across various categories of design and live music at the Concorde 2 after party. But for many it’s a one-off opportunity to get some amazing work done by international artists without digging out a passport. Here’s a few you might want to stalk and butter up in advance – these guys are gonna be busy.
Every style has its renowned practitioners, and if anything vaguely Eastern, religious or esoteric is your bag, then Jondix is your go-to artist. To sum him up as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas sells the work drastically short; this is a lifelong obsession with ritualistic imagery and symbolism, interwoven ohms and magic sqaures designed with a sophisticated symmetry that veers from the intricately detailed to starkly simple. One of Spain’s true greats on a rare UK visit.
Back again after wowing all and sundry here last year, Jose Lopez returns with a folio full of what surely amounts to definitive black and grey portraiture. Inspired by the Californian prison tattoos where single, fine lines and finely dotted shading were necessitated through only having a single needle, he’s brought the style of the street (and the exercise yard) to the studio at his famed LA shop, Lowrider.
HORIKEN / HORIMASA / HORISHIN
With Japanese-style tattooing amongst the most popular styles to get under your skin, it makes sense to trust the needlework to Nippon. Apart from anything else, you stand a way better chance of that symbol actually meaning ‘beauty’ rather than ‘bell-end’. This trio are Gomineko legends whose work breathes their cultural heritage like a high street copyist will never manage.
With black and grey designs so popular, it’s worth noting an artist who’s never afraid to splash some simply stunning colour through his pieces as well. PriZeMaN operates out of Eternal Art in Chelmsford and while his photo-realism rivals anyone else here, it’s in his horror work and, paradoxically, his exquisite floral depictions that he truly stands out.
WORDS BY NICK COQUET
PHOTO BY TOM CHAMBERS