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Kat Von D's High Voltage Tattoo (plugged in to the culture of ink)

The incomparable Kat Von D will be at B&N on Westheimer, signing her new book, High Voltage Tattoo. From the flap: "High Voltage Tattoo is a graphic perspective on today's global tattoo culture by Kat Von D, star of The Learning Channel's L.A. Ink and one of the most talented and popular artists working today. Designed in a style that is reminiscent of a handmade Gothic journal with its red padded cover, ornate typography, and parchmentlike pages, it throws the door wide open to tattooing culture in the way only an insider like Kat can. High Voltage Tattoo traces Kat's career as an artist, from early childhood influences to recent work, along with examples of what inspires her, information about the show and her shop, her sketches, and personal tattoos. The book goes deep into tattoo process and culture: readers can see up close the pigments, the tools, and the making of complex, even collaborative, tattoos."

My daughter Jerusha's been a huge admirer of Kat's art and the free spirit in which she conducts business. I'm more intrigued by the culture that surrounds tattoo art -- and the psychology of personal and cultural response to it. In the two years since Jerusha chose to emblazon the upper half of her back with her personal manifesto ("To thine own self be true") along with a custom illustration of a mechanical bird, she's gotten a variety of reactions to it. Her dad was just kind of jaw-dropped. Her friends think it's the coolest thing ever, of course. Guys who might have hit on her at a concert think twice about a woman with that sort of pain threshold. And a cop we used to see at Starbucks sometimes said, "If that was my daughter, I'd burn it off her." (Which makes him a really scary cop, and I don't mean scary in cool Patrick Swayze in "Road House" kinda way, I mean scary in a too redneck to tell the difference between a gang member and an artsy dean's list debate diva kinda way.)

I'll let you know what Kat has to say about it. Jerusha and I will be heading downtown tonight to hear her talk about the art form that literally gets under your skin.

In honor of the occasion, I'm rerunning a post from September of 2007:

Men and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (or "Why I Love This Bird")

Shortly after I posted about risk-takery on Wed morning, my son Malachi walked into Starbucks with his girlfriend, a voluptuous psych major who actually seems to get his sense of humor (a testament to the towering abilities of the psych professors of Central Florida.) Gary and I were doing a fast latte and email check on our way out of town.

I said, “Hey, Spike. How are you today?” He responded, “I am astonishingly well.” And he was. Gary had trucked him and his wounded motorbike around Orlando in search of repairs the previous day, the VPM had driven over from Tampa for a pleasant meet the parents over Mexican food, and Malachi was preparing to meet his fate as a UPS box hefter, a job that might be less than edifying on an artistic level, but will fund his travels to Asia and Europe this year.

Sitting across from him at Starbucks, I observed a happy man. He had wheels. He had a woman. He had work. His life, for this brief and shining moment at least, was working on a mechanical level. When we parted in the parking lot a little while later, I was weeping about this, and thinking I was crying because I wanted him to remain my baby, he put his arms around me and said quietly, “I love you, Mom. I’m still your kid in a lot of ways.”

Meanwhile, holding down the fort here at home, our daughter Jerusha was apparently feeling the need to spread her wings, as it were. For three years, she’s been talking about getting a tattoo of a mechanical bird on her back. The idea presented itself to her in a dream when she was fifteen, and she fixated on it, but I said, “Absolutely not. A tattoo is an adult decision. If you end up regretting it, I’ll be responsible because I gave permission.”

Now she’s eighteen. My permission is no longer required. (Neither is my blessing, so I appreciated that she was up front enough to keep me in the information loop.) With the droning folks conveniently out of town, she drove down to Sacred Heart Studio (“best tats in Houston”, according to her exhaustive research) and talked with a guy named Grimm ((gulp!)) about the design. In an effort to assuage my fears, she sent me a link to his page on the Sacred Heart website:
…I am an artist first and foremost, and then a tattooist, so my style isn't what most consider traditional tattooing. I like rendering things in unusual combinations of color and like my tattoos to look like paintings rather than tattoos…I believe a tattoo should be a reflection of an individuals spirit and perspective on life not mine. Therefore I gather lots of information as well as references from a client when I'm working on a piece.

Decepticons Rule!

Now, I don’t know what “decepticons” are, and I try not to render hasty judgments about the maturity level of people who state that things “rule”, except in cases where this person is jamming a permanently disfiguring ink-loaded needle into the baby soft flesh that was knit in the foundry of my womb. I was not greatly comforted by Grimm’s artistic manifesto. I did look at photos of his other work, however, and he is an amazing artist. He spoke at length with Jerusha about her vision and looked over some Victorian art samples she’d collected, then spent the following day free-handing a design.

As Gary and I drove across the Florida panhandle, I received a text message from Jerusha’s friend Jess: “Tattoo is underway and she’s taking it like a trooper.” A few grainy photos made their way through our leaky cell phone signal. We got the general idea. It was not small. It was not pale. Or fragile. Or temporary. I sent Colleen and the other midwives an email from a Starbucks somewhere in Alabama: “It’s a whole lotta tattoo.” Ever the pragmatist, Colleen urged perspective: “It’s not a swastika, or a 666, or anything that will show under an interview suit.” (Lord, I can’t wait till her kid turns eighteen…)

Grimm’s opus was still swathed in gauze when Gary and I got home last night. Jerusha brought the after care instructions up to my bathroom, where I peeled away the bandage and gently washed away the dried blood, spare ink, and surgical tape stickum. The bird emerged in stunning detail. Spring-loaded wings, hinges, gears, tiny cogs and rivets, even a little mechanical heart. It’s good art. Astonishingly good. Gorgeously rendered, minutely nuanced, placed with enormous sensitivity to the pepper of freckles I kissed the day my daughter -- the child of an artist and an airplane mechanic -- was born.

This tattoo, which I thought was about rebellion, is in fact about resilience and maturity, the beauty of strength and the strength of beauty. It’s about life and art and love all working on a mechanical level.


Suzan Harden said…
I'm so jealous! I have to work and can't go to Kat's booksigning. We're fans of both Miami Ink and L.A. Ink. To me, art is art, regardless of the medium.

But I sure don't have anywhere near your daughter's pain threshold.
Have a great time at the signing! I imagine that just the people-watching at that event will be worth the trip.

Tattoos are definitely moving more into the mainstream. Though I imagine the cop's seen so much prison and gang-related ink, he's lost his ability to see it as a valid form of self-expression.

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