Thursday, November 25, 2010

Living Canvases

Today I met with a new client, a young chap who wore a loose fitting, sloppy-style T shirt that hung off his chest revealing tattooed writing.  From where I was I could not make out the words.  Being something of an aficionado of the old skin art myself, I asked what the writing said.  This is how the conversation went:

Client:  It's about life being a journey, a road that we have to travel.

Myself:  Fair eneough.  What am I seeing you about today?

Client:  Driving whilst disqualified.

Now I realise that tattoos are not to everyone's liking.  Nonetheless, take a moment to appreciate the art that is involved.  I once facetiously said to Greg, a man who has done a lot of ink on me, "You're pretty good at this, you ought to try some real art."  His reply to me was "Pro Hart gets thousands for distorting everything.  I can't be the slightest bit out.  And Pro Hart doesn't have to work with a person's nose a couple of inches from the end of his brush."

One of the best tatts that I have seen is the one on the leg of my #1 son.  Ordinarily a tattoo is black or colour on a white skin background.  His is dark grey on a black background and it is striking and powerful.  This is it at the time that it was done:
 (Click on photo to enlarge).

It is interesting that it was Captain Cook who came across tattooing in Polynesia and New Zealand and who introduced the word and the art to England.  Cook wrote about tattooing in his journal in 1769 and some of his crew received tattoos, thereby beginning the tradition of sailors’ tattoos. The word in Polynesian is "tatau", meaning twice marked, with colour, "ta" meaning mark and "u" meaning colour. Cook used an English derivative of the Polynesian word.

One of the first of the crew of the Endeavour to be tattooed was Robert Stainsby, aged 27, an able seaman originally from Darlington in the North East of England:
"Mr Stainsby, myself, and some others of our company, underwent the operation, and had our arms marked.”

(Sydney Parkinson’s Journal , 13th July 1769)
Cook described the tattoos of the older men of New Zealand in his journal:
“Many of the old and some of the middle aged men have their faces mark’d or tattow’d with black and some few we have seen who have had their buttocks thighs and other parts of their bodies mark’d but this is less common. The figures they mostly use are spirals drawn and connected together with great nicety and judgement; they are so exact in the application of these figures that no difference can be found between the one side of the face and the other if the whole is mark’d, for some have only one side and some a little on both sides, hardly any but the old men have the whole tattowd. From this I conclude that it takes up some time perhaps years to finish the operation which all who have begun may not have perseverance enough to go through, as the manner in which it must be done must certainly cause intolerable pain…”

 (Cook, Journals I, pp.278-9, March 1770)
Three drawings, each showing a head of a Maori with tattoos; one drawing of a tattoo design, entitled Black stains on the skin called Tattoo.  From A Collection of Drawings made in the Countries visited by Captain Cook in his First Voyage. 1768-1771. Drawn 1769 in pencil by Herman Sporing, in the collection of the British Library

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