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Museum Exhibit: ‘Inspired by Ink’

Highlight on Tattoo Artists

Tattoo artist Sarah Spinks of American Tattoo.

Credit: Ron Najor

Above: Tattoo artist Sarah Spinks of American Tattoo.


KPBS reporter Beth Accomando speaks with the artists of the Oceanside Museum of Art's Inspired by Ink.


For the fourth time, the Oceanside Museum of Art will host an exhibition of tattoo art. This year the focus will be on traditional Americana-style tattoo art. Listen to my feature on the exhibit or watch a video of the artists talking about their work. And check out my tattoo-themed film recommendations.

When the Oceanside Museum of Art decided to highlight tattoos a few years ago, they staged a runway event to showcase the living canvases of tattoo artists. Guest curator Chris Winn says that unlike a painting that you can put in a frame and hang on a wall, a tattoo artist uses the whole body as a canvas. It's a very different kind of art and it creates a unique partnership between the artist and the art collector.

CHRIS WINN: It's really a kind of work for hire thing. They want a piece of art that they want to wear forever. We have to pick the idea out of their brain draw it on a piece of paper and then actually draw an opaque piece of canvas. They are basically our canvases, that walk around everyday, living breathing canvases.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Ron Najor

The hands of tattoo artist Chris Winn, curator of "Inspired by Ink."

Winn, who is a tattoo artist, admits he was worried about how visitors at the first exhibit would react.

CHRIS WINN: We kind of feel ourselves as the rag tag on the go artist. So when it really came down to it. I was extremely worried on how the patrons were going to react. Completely to my surprise, they were amazing, and they were so thankful and so appreciative of us bringing this medium to light that they were ecstatic to come back year after year and see how the show has progressed.

This year the show includes a week-long exhibition of traditional Americana-style tattoo art and tattoo-inspired fine art culminating with another runway event next Saturday.

CHRIS WINN: Basically what we're trying to do is get the visitor to get a good feel of exactly how and where tattooing goes down. Most people haven't been into a tattoo shop. Because there's a real feel and a smell and a vibe that that goes on there, that's unlike anywhere else in the world.

Sam Phillips knows that environment. He's one of the artists highlighted in this year's show. He keeps old tattoo traditions alive in his shop American Tattoo in Bonsall.

SAM PHILLIPS: People are turning it more into a fine art, people are making livings off it, you know they are shooting TV shows, and stuff like that so maybe we deserve a little more recognition for what we do. We're hard working people. We actually create and sell art every day and not very many artists do that.

That sense of being an artist for hire is very strong says Sarah Spinks.

SARAH SPINKS: I am an artist and I have artistic inclinations but first and foremost I think of myself more of like a technician so like everybody that comes here I have to do like my best work technically applying a tattoo so it will last, that the design will read well. It is an art form though.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Ron Najor

Opie Gibran Ortiz is one of the tattoo artists showcased in "Inspired by Art."

But it takes a unique type of artist says Phillips.

SAM PHILLIPS: Some people are great artists but couldn't design a tattoo because of the way you have certain contrasts and certain things to keep it permanent so it lasts forever so you have to work with someone else's idea, and you have to deal with that person telling you what's inside their head and then you are trying to express yourself with their idea and still try to make it cool in your opinion and their opinion. So it's kind of a balancing act.

This year's show highlights actual paintings from tattoo artists. Sarah Spinks turned her idea for a full body tattoo into a painting that will be part of the show.

SARAH SPINKS: The back piece is a heart with three swords going through it and it represents like your past being very difficult, rough, and stormy, and then your new beginning. So the arms of the body suit is like a lightening storm, and then there's roses that go down the buttocks and thighs, which are kind of like love because I like that angle.

Spinks will share wall space and the runway with 9 other artists. Curator Chris Winn says this is the biggest show yet. In addition to the paintings and body art there will be a historical look at tattooing. The show also provides validation from the artistic community to artists who have often been relegated to the fringes.

"Inspired by Ink" runs through September 25th and the runway event is on September 24th.

Here's a video of the San Diego Week feature. Thanks to Ron Najor for shooting the video and Angela Carone for the photos from last year's runway event.

Oceanside Museum of Art Presents "Inspired by Ink"

Companion viewing: "The Illustrated Man," "Memento," "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"

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