PostedAug 24, 2015
What comes to mind when you think of tattoos? For me, it’s a sub-street-level tattoo parlor; neon lights buzzing and a feeling of comfortable uncleanliness. Dust, grime and cluttered collectibles adorn artists work spaces that remain simultaneously sterile… almost doctoral, with the kind of pristine attention to detail that adjoins a decision of permanent ink.
But in the age of Instagram, the tattoo industry is undergoing a revolution. No longer fringe fashion, #tattoos have become the plaything of celebrities, and body art influencers alike. The art from that was once confined to the backroom of a brick and mortar has become a trending topic some 25 million posts strong.
Many current tattoo artists grew up during a time when alternative forms of media, albeit relatively underground, first began to explore and propagate body artwork. “Being someone who grew up making art in an era of riot grrrl zines, it makes sense to engage in a medium that reaches further than the walls of the gallery or local tattoo studio,” says Emily North, a Brooklyn tattoo artist, curator, and social activist with over 10.5k Instagram followers.
Arguably, Instagram has become the modern day digital “zine.” With its simple platform, broad reach, and focus on relevant news, culture, and art, the simple photo app has surpassed its origin as a form of photographic braggadocio. For tattoo artists, this means that their work isn’t confined to the walls of their parlor, the skin of their customers, or the affectionate attention of a local community. Instead, tattoo artists (and their parlors) have parlayed their preexisting relationships with the art community into social media followings that grow as Instagram users become more acclimated and interested in the body art industry. From the US to the UK, Brazil to the Pacific Islands, tattoo artists and their unique works of art are celebrated and shared across time zones and cultural boundaries
“Instagram has become the primary platform to promote myself and spread awareness of my work and a window into my lifestyle," says Luke Wessman, world famous tattoo artist, designer, and influencer. "For artists, Instagram currently is the most visible way to promote work both locally and globally and, in my opinion, has unmatched reach." And as a result of its reach, the platform "has helped more people in remote places become tattoo fans, encouraged young people to seek out apprenticeships, and has built trends in the style of tattoo work that is popular," says North.
But alongside the growing popularity of tattoos on social platforms, there's a growing sentiment that the art is losing some of its unique, underground and edgy ethos. "More purist tattoo artists aren’t happy that body art has blown up," North explains, "but I think it’s a great thing. Because tattooing is being shared outside the shop, it’s becoming accessible and familiar to a larger clientele.”
The propagation of body art by social media profiles hasn’t only increased awareness and interest, but also demonstrated the diversity of styles and abilities within the realm. Body art and tattoo artists and models not only can promote themselves and their own work, but also witness and learn from others' profiles.
At the same time, the exposure and accessibility of body art work on a global scale presents unique challenges to both up and coming artists as well as those already established."There are people pushing the envelope," says Wessman, "the right tattoo posted at the right time by the right person could totally go viral…" He continues, “Having exposure to so many artists and art forms it’s hard not to be influenced; but in a way, with so much diversity at our fingertips, it’s becoming more and more difficult to have an original point of view and pressure as an artist is higher now then ever."
But for artists whose work catches the eye of high-profile celebrities and models, that pressure can lead to professional relationships that helps them grow their personal brand. Wessman, who has worked with numerous celebrities including Jhene Aiko, Dave Navarro, Matt Dillon, and Stalley agrees. “
Working with a celebrity always impacts exposure. Our generation is so fame driven and hungry, when people see you work on or hang with "famous people”, it excites, for sure." He continues, "I’ve known unknown and unskilled artists out there that after tattooing one celebrity, they become overnight sensations. Though, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that my relationships with some influential people have helped me incrementally grow my brand.”
For Carlos Costa, a UK based model whose stylized beard and tattoo look has attracted over 130k followers on Instagram, social media has not only helped inform his own personal body art choices, but also allowed him to share his favorite artists and tattoo shops with his followers.“I know artists will gain a lot of followers when I share pictures of their work, and it works both ways. It’s normal isn’t it, you go to someone who’s a good artist, you like to get their art and there’s a mutual idea of “Yeah lets share the word.”
Costa not only refers his followers to specific artists depending on their taste, but he's used Instagram to inspire his own tattoos. "I found the guys Volko and Simone from Buena Vista Club in Germany through social media. They do trash polka and realistic trash polka, which is what I’ve got on my right arm," he said.
Costa isn't the only one who is being inspired. Young people across the world are being exposed to body art with every swipe, making a once niche form of expressionist art mainstream. Perhaps its newfound popularity will take away from the occultist ethos of the body art industry. But one thing is clear: Digital innovation has spurred a changing tide, a tide where freedom of expression and the deconstruction of body-image expectations are the rule rather than the exception.
PostedAug 24, 2015