New York: The Epicenter of Tattoo Artistry for Three Centuries

To Begin,

New York is a special place.  Home to a crux of immigration vectors, people from almost every single culture on the planet have hit this city. For three centuries, New York City has been a pivotal hub for the evolution of tattoo artistry.

The journey of this form of body art begins with Native American tribal tattoos and transitions into the adoption of tattooing by sailors in the colonial era. The Five Boroughs with their entrenched gang lines and the hustlin', bustlin' ports created a boiling pot of culture, where tattoos served as both functional and expressive. 

The emergence of a unique New York tattoo style, the tattoo prohibition that lasted from 1961 until 1991, and the resulting clandestine tattoo culture form vital chapters of this engrossing narrative.

Key Takeaways

- New York has been a pivotal hub for the evolution of tattoo artistry for three centuries.

- The exhibition "Tattooed New York" at the New York Historical Society explores the rich history of tattoos from the Bowery's 1920s and 1930s scene to today's modern styles.

- Tattoos are increasingly perceived as a form of fine art, with their creators and recipients viewing them as individual pieces of a personal collection.

- The creation of a tattoo parallels the creation of a traditional work of art, requiring thoughtful consideration of placement, aesthetics, and style.

- Tattoo artists often emerge from the underground, honing their skills in shops and fostering a unique language and culture.

Tattooed New York, An Exhibit

The dynamic history of tattooing in the Big Apple is meticulously depicted in the vibrant exhibition, "Tattooed New York," which weaves together history and popular culture to unravel the intricate tale of this intriguing art form in America's cultural heartland.

The exhibition showcases over 250 individual pieces, including prints from 1710.  Also on display is a 1706 Western account of a pictograph created by a Seneca warrior, one of the earliest known records of a personal tattoo and signature.

Other standout features of the exhibit include Thomas Edison’s innovative electric pen, early 20th-century tattoo machines, a spectacular collection of sideshow banners and cabinet cards, a plethora of designs from Bowery's trailblazers of modern tattooing - Sam O'Reilly, Lew Alberts, Bob Wicks, Ed Smith, and Bill Jones.

This exhibition is organized by the New York Historical Society and the panel for the exhibit includes Lars Krutak, Michael McCabe and Margot Mifflin, tattoo industry generalist/specialists.

Parting Thoughts

Tattooing as one of the most authentic art forms, free from the constraints of modern art conventions and financial influence. It is a potent visual language, free from secondary markets or collectors. Tattoo art is unique in that it accompanies an individual throughout their lifetime, visible for all to see.

As societal views shift and the prejudice against tattoos gradually diminishes and as artists continue to explore this medium, tattoo enthusiasts are starting to view their body ink as an extension of fine art. They gather tattoos from a multitude of artists they admire, in a similar fashion to art collectors amassing canvases and sculptures from favored artists. Surprisingly, there are even some collectors who extend their acquisition to human skin or are beginning to "NFT" their work.

The intriguing narrative of tattoo artistry in New York has generations' memories in the captivating exhibition, "Tattooed New York."

The exhibition is a call for more tattoo artists to showcase their art in the city, contributing to the vibrant and diverse cultural tapestry that is New York.

New York, the quintessential melting pot of cultures, has been shaping and influencing countless artistic forms for hundreds of years. Tattoo artistry is no exception. The city, with its diverse and dynamic population, provides a fertile ground for creativity and innovation, making it the perfect platform for tattoo artists to practice and exhibit their art.

Take part in the city's rich tradition, let your creative spirit flourish, and leave your mark on the city that's been at the forefront of the tattoo artistry scene for centuries.

 

We Make Ink Do More

Paul Park, The Xtreme Team

For the most recent tattoo art made with Xtreme Inks by tattoo artists who are pushing the boundaries of self-expression, check out our Instagram.

For more information on our sets, please take a look at our piece on Xtreme Inks: Artist Collections.

 

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