Despite the fact that I don't want to see one on my daughter, I appreciate the fact that tattoos are a genuine art form, and photographs of them yet another. Hence, the Arkansas Arts Center's "Tattoo Witness: Photographs by Mark Perrott," 25 large-scale portraits of men and women and their tattoos, is likely to be a show even the anti-tat crowd will want to see when it opens Friday, June 22.
Perrott has been making portraits since 1979, first at Nick's Island Avenue Tattoo parlor in Pittsburgh and later in tattoo parlors and conventions across the country. His career coincided with the rise in popularity among people across society — not just sailors — of the tattoo and serves to document its renaissance. The exhibition, from the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, Penn., features 44-inch-by-44-inch black and white portraits the photographer made between 1995 and 2004 at the studios of 10 mid-career tattoo masters.
On the eve of the exhibit, June 21, Dr. Michael Atkinson, a sociology professor at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, and author of "Tattooed: The Sociogenesis of Body Art," will give a lecture at the Arts Center on the change in tattoo culture in the past decade. Reception is at 5:30 p.m. and the lecture is at 6 p.m.; admission is $5 (free to Arts Center members).
The Arts Center has fielded some calls from people concerned that the exhibit might be seen as an inducement to get a tattoo. You won't be able to get a tattoo at the Arts Center — or at least, not a real one. You will be able to get a fake tattoo. The Arts Center does not endorse the practice; the exhibit is about the art of photography as much as the art of the tattoo. Perrott's photographs are black and white, putting the emphasis on line, portraiture and photographic technique. Adding color to the show are Arkansas tattoo artists Robert Berry, Richard Moore, Caleb Pritchett, Chris Thomas, Brooke and Ryan Cook, Nancy Miller and Scott Diffee (photographs online at arktimes.com/tattoos), who were commissioned to paint murals — but that's not really a tattoo, either. To see true body art, ink on skin, artists will also give live demonstrations at the Arts Center from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. June 24 (Golden Lotus Tattoo Studio), July 15 (Lucky Bella), Aug. 5 (7th Street Tattoo) and Aug. 26 (Electric Heart Tattoo). Docents will lead free tours of the exhibit at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Sundays until the show goes down Sept. 9.
The Arts Center hopes also to present skin flicks — that is, videos created by Arkansans telling the stories behind their tattoos — in the Arkansas Tattoo Witness Corner. Videos will be accepted throughout the run of the show; they should be limited to 3 minutes. You can upload the videos at the Arts Center website, www.arkarts.com.
I liked it a lot. People in the theater were laughing out loud.