Book Reviews -- the New Tattoo by Victoria Lautman

Article excerpt

Victoria Lautman. The New Tattoo. New York: Abbeville, 1994. 120 pp.; 100 color ills. $40.00

Tattoo might be considered the ultimate form of "clothing" as art. Trendsetters today are adorned with tattoos on all parts of the body. Highly respected tattoo artists are operating out of shops or private studios, and images by the most famous practitioners are collected on people's bodies like paintings in a gallery.

Historically, tattoos signify the class of the individual wearing the tattoo, whether ruler or slave. The earliest known tattoo was discovered in 1991: a 5,300-year-old corpse of a man found trapped in a glacier in the Italian Alps had simple, linear tattoos on its back and behind a knee. There are many examples of tattoo-adorned people from pre-Christian times, and the Book of Leviticus in the Old Testament refers to tattooing. The Picts, an aboriginal tribe that occupied the whole of Great Britain until about the ninth century A.D., took their name from the Latin word pingere, to paint. They covered their faces and bodies with fierce tattoos intended to frighten away invaders. In the East tattooing is known from prehistoric times, especially in Japan, where by the nineteenth century people were adorned with full-body images derived from the woodcuts of such artists as Hokusai and Kuniyoshi.

It wasn't until the eighteenth-century voyages of Captain James Cook that the practice of tattooing became established in the West. Cook brought tattooed South Sea Islanders to England, where they were displayed as curiosities, foreshadowing the present-day practice of exhibiting tattooed people in carnival sideshows. Seamen on Cook's voyages were among the first Westerners to adorn their bodies with tattoos, using liberal doses of whiskey as anesthetic, hence the tradition of the drunken sailor covered with tattoos.

Tattoo began to emerge as a full-blown art form in the U.S. by the 1960s and 1970s. The Museum of American Folk Art in New York had an exhibition of tattoo art in 1971. Young people trained in art schools began to enter the trade of tattooist, basing their work on the Japanese concept of suitlike images covering the entire body, molded to the contours of the individual. Seminal practitioners of the art of tattoo--Norman Keith "Sailor Jerry" Collins, Phil Sparrow, Cliff Raven, and Don Ed Hardy--created sophisticated, original designs that influenced younger artists from New York to Honolulu. It is the art of the contemporary tattoo artist in America that is the subject of The New Tattoo. The most celebrated tattoo artists practicing today are represented by numerous examples of their work. Among them are Guy Aitchison, Alex Binnie, Fred Corbin, Eddy Deutsche, Kandi Everett, Suzanne Fauser, Daniel Higgs, Jill Jordan, Vyvyn Lazonga, Bob Roberts, Bill Salmon, and Leo Zulueta, to name just some of them. Author Victoria Lautman divides tattoos into five categories: tribal; paintings, prints, and portraits; imagination and fantasy; neotraditional; and "all the rest."

Tribal images are derived from the design traditions of the Pacific Islanders, especially the Maoris of New Zealand, and Native Americans, such as the Hopis and the Haidas. …