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Oceanside Museum Highlights Tattoo Art

Sam Phillips of American Tattoo in Bonsall.
Ron Najor
Sam Phillips of American Tattoo in Bonsall.

'Inspired By Ink' Opened Over The Weekend

Oceanside Museum Highlights Tattoo Art
Over the weekend the Oceanside Museum of Art opened "Inspired by Ink," its fourth exhibition of tattoo art. Returning as guest curator is tattoo artist Chris Winn.

Over the weekend the Oceanside Museum of Art opened "Inspired by Ink," its fourth exhibition of tattoo art. Returning as guest curator is tattoo artist Chris Winn.

Winn says OMA approached him in 2009 for their first tattoo exhibit: "They actually came to me through a colleague of my wife at USD, and they wanted to do some sort of tattoo show. We just developed it together the first time. The first one was an overall tattoo show, a lot more emphasis on tattoo art and the artistry around tattooing as a whole, and it was just a runway show. The second one we did was a multi-artist show and we had 7 artists. The third one we did was mostly Asian-inspired art work, and now this fourth one is mostly traditional tattoo art that's been around since 1900s."

One of the artists featured is Sam Phillips, owner of American Tattoo in Bonsall. Phillips says that what he enjoys most about tattooing is "freedom. The freedom to express myself at work every day. Not having to wear a tie. Not having to sit in a cubicle. Just be able to come with a group of people that I truly love and respect and just have a good time at work. I sit us all in this big room so we can all talk and enjoy each other's company."

Chris Winn curated the "Inspired by Ink" exhibit at the Oceanside Museum of Art that's running through September 25th.
Ron Najor
Chris Winn curated the "Inspired by Ink" exhibit at the Oceanside Museum of Art that's running through September 25th.

Of this year's show Winn says, "Basically what we're trying to do is get the patron or visitor to get a good feel of exactly how and where tattooing goes down. Most people haven't been into a tattoo shop so they have really no kind of idea of the feel because there's a real feel and a smell and a vibe that that goes on there, it's unlike anywhere else in the world."

The exhibit runs through September 25th with a runway event on September 24th.

"The runway show is basically to show our clients and show their work," Winn says, "They are basically our canvases, that walk around everyday, living breathing canvases and their artwork is always evolving. Unlike a painting that you hang on the wall and put into a frame, these people are constantly art in motion. The whole body is a canvas. Not only collecting a piece of art for your canvas but you're also going through the experience of collecting that piece of art and its something different that most people will never get the gist of."

Check out the San Diego Week video.



Chris Winn, tattoo artist and OMA guest curator for "Inspired by Art."

Sam Phillips, tattoo artist and owner of American Tattoo.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Tattoos were once scandalous. Something for drunken sailors and prisoners. Certainly not for respectable people and certainly nothing you'd see in an art museum. Well, there's been a huge turn-around in the status of tattoos. A whole generation of young Americans are using permanent body art to adorn themselves and to create new identities. And oaf the could with, the orbed museum of art opened its fourth exhibition of tattoo art. I'd like to Zeus my guests, Chris Winn is a tattoo artist and curator of the Oceanside exhibit called inspired by ink. Welcome to the show.

WINN: Thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: And Sam Phillips is here. He's owner of American tattoo in Bonsall. Hi. Thanks for coming in.

PHILLIPS: Thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: This is the fourth year you're working with the Oceanside museum of art on a tattoo exhibit. What did you and the museum want to achieve?

WINN: I think more so than anything, what we really wanted to achieve was awareness really to the art of tattooing, how it's come full circle. How tattoo artists have families, have, you know, the whole -- we're just like everybody else. You know, we get up and put our shoes on the same side of the bed, we take our kids to school, do all that stuff. And to kind of show as well the fact that we're artists in a right. That we take the time to take the art seriously and prepare for it and do all these things that comes out to the final process, which is a tattoo that somebody can walk around with for the rest of their life.

CAVANAUGHl: What is a tattoo exhibition like? Are there pictures of tattoos on people? Are there the original illustrations that you use to work the tattoo?

WINN: Well, at this one that we're doing this weekend at the Oceanside museum of art has a little bit of everything. We're trying to actually pull in the elements of tattooing so that a person who can come and has never been into a tattoo shop can kind of get the full experience. We do have a gallery showing, which is -- has everything from art that has been done by the tattooists that are preparing in the show. And we also have some old flash -- it flashes the art we hang on the walls in the tattoo studio, old flash from '50s, 60, '70s, from various tattoo shops around the country. So we're just trying to get everything involved so they request see where the process comes from, where the process goes, and to the final, the runway show itself where they will actually see, you know, live clients of ours walking with their tattoos and see them actually on the final canvas.

CAVANAUGH: And that's September†24th. You've had these runway shows at the Oceanside museum of art. They must be really popular.

WINN: You know, they are. When we first came up with the idea, we were really kind of leery about how the whole thing was going to go down. And it really has been quite popular. And we have had enough fun to where we've done it four times. And it is a blast to see the different people, the cultures, you know what I mean? Kind of mixing. And it's great because a lot of people shy away from people that are as tattooed as us or that -- tattooers as a whole. And it's really nice to be able to get to talk to them so they can see what we're all about and where we're going with this whole thing. You know?

CAVANAUGH: Right. Sam, I want to bring you into the conversation. You're the owner of American tattoo. And you're one of the featured artists at this exhibit. How do you feel about being included in this show?

PHILLIPS: I'm really honored. I'm pretty excited to be feature indeed a real museum. And I'm actually going to be tattooing there as well, doing a live tattooing demonstration. It should be a really good time. I'm glad to be featured in a museum as opposed to a war or a restaurant. I do feel like we are bridging that gap a little bit. And people will get to see how much art we make, and we do actually create and sell art every single day, and that is a big part of our job.

CAVANAUGH: On people, right?

PHILLIPS: On people, we sell paintings, we do business designs for companies, business cards. Any time people want something done by hand or a tattoo.

CAVANAUGH: What are some of the misperceptions you still think people have about getting tattooed or being tattooed or the idea of tattoos?

PHILLIPS: I still think a lot of people think that it is a big part of the criminal aspect or it's a lower part of society, or something like that. When it's -- very everyone. It's for rich people, it's for poor people, it's for all kinds of people. And I think people are starting to get their head around that. And I don't think we'll get everybody though.

CAVANAUGH: Chris, if someone were to ask you, who's getting tattoos these days? How would you answer that?

WINN: Well, I'll tell you. Really -- to touch a bit on what Sam said, there are a lot of people that are getting tattooed. I tattoo football players, I tattoo doctors, I tattoo lawyers, nurses, industrial workers, the car mechanic. It's such a broad spectrum of people now that get tattooed. You literally cannot tell by talking up to somebody on the street whether or not they're really into it, unless you can see visible tattoos. But we've done clients, and I know Sam will attest to this, we've done clients that you can't see anything on them, but as soon as they're in a bathing suit or, you know, or some regular shorts, you can see the except of their work. And they pay thousands and this happened and thousands of dollars to get this artwork adorned on them.

CAVANAUGH: That's amazing. Now, the focus, this year, you already told us, is on American style tattoos. From the '50s and so forth. What's different about those tattoos from the tattoos we're seeing now?

WINN: Well, the wane we went with the -- we like to call traditional tattooing, traditional tattooing is very bold line, bold color, bold designs. A lot like some of the Asian inspired art, but extremely Americana. You'll see sailing ships, and anchors, and swallows.



LEF3: Exactly. Very red white and blue. And the reason we've done this is because of the fact that not a lot of emphasis has been done on this. The last couple we've done one that was of a multifaceted -- we had all styles. We did one that was strictly Asian inspired art. We did a feature one where we had 5 or 6 featured artists that all do different styles from tribal to Japanese style to American traditional at the same time. So we just really wanted to focus on the American tradition and really let them see the artwork as it stands on a whole.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah. Now, Sam, since you're going to be doing some tattooing at this exhibit, how has the actual implements of tattoos and the actual -- the way you actually put tattoos on, how has that changed maybe since the '50s and 60s where these traditional American styles were in vogue?

PHILLIPS: Well, it actually hasn't changed very much we're still using the same style machines, still using needles. We've just up great the a little bit. Everyone's using a new needle every single time. We have nicer inks. Stuff like that. But the machines are the same, and people still take the old machines and rebilled them like you would a car, and still use it today. And have a vintage machine. A lot of the craft has stayed the same. Not much of it has changed in the last first years or so.

WINN: Some of the things that have changed, there's been a huge moving forward in this thing with sterilization, and single-use disposable stuff. I tattooed a doctor not too long ago that says, my God, you take more precautions than we do in a doctor's office. So I think that other than that which is the health and safety aspects, not only for us, but for our clients, I think Sam's totally correct. Not a whole lot has changed.

CAVANAUGH: I want to ask both of you, starting with you, Chris. How did you get into tattoos?

WINN: I've been asked that question so many times. I just kind of really stumbled into it. I've always been an artist. I've always been attracted to art. I drew since I was a kid. I wanted to be an architectural design major and ended up having to go to work instead of continuing with my college degree. So that kind of was out. And it was one of those things where I just fell into it. A couple of my friends did it. And they said, hey, you have a real talent. And when you have a talent for something that is artistic, whether it be music or art or illustrations, it just kind of sucks you in, it draws you into it.

CAVANAUGH: And Sam, when did you get into tattooing?

PHILLIPS: In two this happened. I was a plumber when I got out of high school, and a friend of a friend was opening a tattoo parlor, and I told him I'd do all the plumbing work if he taught me how to tattoo. I was already an artist at the time, and he held good on his deal.

CAVANAUGH: What is it like since I know both of you consider yourselves artists, what is it like to have -- to work so hard a piece of art and then have it walk out of the store and maybe never see it again?

PHILLIPS: It's something good, sometimes it's bad. Sometimes you get to start a piece that you love, and it never comes back. And you never saw it again. And you drew for two days to get it the way you liked it, and you got the whole back piece on someone and they moved away or disappeared. It's Ia bummer every once in a while, but it's part of the job. And sometimes you taking somebody else's idea that they maybe absolutely loved and you didn't, you're just doing the work, and you're happy to see it leave.

WINN: It's really art for hire. We create so much art on a daily basis, whether it's doing three tattoos then go home and paint at night. Then we sell the painting, but we've already done those three pieces of art. So there's always something coming and going. Even if you are a little bum body that piece that took off, that you didn't get to finish, or that you got a really nice picture of or whatever, there's always another one just waiting to come back through the door. So it's kind of a resolver door, which makes it a little bit more acceptable and a little bit cooler.

CAVANAUGH: What was the strangest tattoo you ever put on someone?

WINN: Oh, God. The strangest tattoo I ever put on someone, you know I -- early in my career, there was some guys that wanted some really racial stuff. And it was just very -- it was not even cool, you know what I mean? And those are some of the things that I probably wish I wouldn't have done in my early career that you kind of see the full circle. After being in this almost 20†years, you can see some of the repercussions. So we try every time that somebody comes in, if it's a crazy, crazy tattoo that we're thinking that some 18-year-old comes in, and they're like I want to this, and I'm -- like, you know what? When you're 40 you're not going to be so stoked on that piece, you know? So it's really -- we've kind of -- we have to guide people in that direction. You know what I mean? To get the right tattoo for what they're trying to say. And at times we just turn people away. That's just a little bit too crazy. We don't want to do that anymore.

CAVANAUGH: That's fascinating. Do you find yourself, Sam, sort of like guiding people and taking them through this? I know that you want this now or you're madly in love with this particular person right this second, but do you sort of bring them down a list of questions or something?

PHILLIPS: Most definitely, yeah. It's -- it's also our names that are on the piece. And we want to make sure people are going to be happy. The thing about a tattoo is it's permanent. And that is part of our job. While we're thinking about these tattoos, how it's going to look in the future, how you're going to like it now. So if young kids come in, and they want their hands tooted, we will most definitely try to talk them out of it or turn them away.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I'm out of time. I have to say I've been speaking with Chris win, guest curator of the Oceanside museum exhibit called inspired by ink. Sam Phillips taking part in that exhibit which is on now at the Oceanside museum. And Chris and Sam, I want to thank you both everywhere for speaking with us.

WINN: Thanks for having us.

PHILLIPS: Thank you.