THE TIES BETWEEN GRAFFITI AND TATTOOS
The UFO collective from Santiago, Chile painted this celebration of Hip Hop and graffiti culture in the center of Wynwood. Photo credit The Museum of Graffiti.
Although graffiti and tattoos have long had a reputation for rebellion, it’s no secret they have managed to make their way into the mainstream art world. They each have their own subculture and the rebellious nature of each has become something to be admired.
“What I found is that people who co-exist in both is a special group, a group that has been growing for the past 40 years as graffiti artists have discovered that their rebelliousness or anti-conformist attitude works pretty well in the tattoo world,” says Alan Ket, author of the Wide World of Graffiti and co-founder of Wynwood’s Museum of Graffiti. “You can make money and the cops are not out for you.”
Graffiti and tattoo art have intersected through the multifaceted multi-hyphen artists, graffiti-tattoo-muralists that have a foot in each world.
“As a result of the people crossing over, more so from the graffiti world into the tattoo world than the other way around, because of that, you have had the influence of graffiti style in the tattoo world,” says Ket. “(Like) when you see people that are covered in tattoos that are of graffiti designed letters with colors of what we call burners that you would normally see in an elaborate graffiti piece on a wall all of a sudden is on skin.”
Unlike graffiti though, tattoos are really the only kind of art you literally take with you anywhere you go. They can be statements, adornments or souvenirs and like any kind of art, they express a personal journey.
The embracement of tattoos by high profile musicians and athletes helped cross over this art form into the mainstream.
Tattooing has become so mainstream that kits are being sold on amazon for around $40 and there are DIY videos to guide tattoo enthusiasts on social media platforms.
“You got people charging $5,000-$10,000 for tattoo education and certification and (now) you can literally follow a Tik Tok,” says Asaad Morales, a Miami tattoo artist for more than 20 years. “As someone who has been in the industry, I have been able to see (an artist’s) artwork and pick up technique (without) me having to fly out and see the artist, it is very revolutionary.”
Morales points out that while it is doable, it isn’t the safest option.
“Tattooing is almost like a secret society and I think it should be a little more democratic, but (going to a professional is safer) for the same reason I can’t go to the pharmacy and buy a scalpel and operate on myself, you can really mess yourself up if you are not trained properly.”
The bond between artist and client is unique to tattooing. Morales was diagnosed with Essential tremor, a genetic nervous system disorder that causes rhythmic shaking, most prominently in the hands. He is on medication and now does what he calls slow tattooing.
“Even now, after tattooing with a disability, I am at the point where I am like this is not only the best I can do, this may be the only thing I can do going further…but when I got to this level, that’s when I really fell in love with it (because) I had people who came to me and said, ‘you tattooed me when I was 18 and now I have kids and (they) are old enough to get tattooed and they would want me to do the tattoo, even when I wasn’t at my best,” says Morales. “I would say ‘hey I am not at my best to put out the best work,’ and they would say it isn’t about the work, it’s about you, the experience, that bond.”
Like artists from any genre, tattoo artists and graffiti artists are known to use pseudonym names, especially the latter.
Graffiti artists, or taggers, needed to hide their identity from authorities because they were painting on street walls illegally. According to Ket (real name Alain Maridueña) it is a very clandestine movement in order to protect each other from incarceration.
“Some of the standouts in the tattoo world have a graffiti background (and) those same names or words that you see in your neighborhood (on the walls) might be done by a tattoo artist (and) where you might look at the tag in a negative way, you might look at tattoo art as a trade and as a legitimate career,” says Ket.
While these kinds of art might still be a personal statement of rebellion within more conservative family units, societally, they are no longer that symbol of rebellion. “It has definitely veered to the art side and now instead of wondering is this person a criminal, I am wondering, what is that on their arm, what does it represent (so it’s) more curiosity than anything,” says Ket.
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