Tattoo Arts Convention makes its mark

“It’s hard to tell how a scar is go­ing to heal. We try to con­trol that heal­ing pro­cess,” Johnross says, cut­ting an X shape lay­er of flesh.

John Mor­ton, 26, was al­ways in­ter­ested in tat­toos, grow­ing up in the North­east. He’s known ta­too­ist Johnross, now of Ben­s­alem, since the pair were in sixth grade. Both have been in­ter­ested in tat­toos for about nearly as long.

“The first tat­too he did was my son’s name on my fore­arm,” Jay said. De­tailed in a fine script across reads JEREMY.

“Everything’s prac­ticed.” Johnross says, sli­cing a more per­pen­dic­u­lar angle in­to Jay’s shin.

That was one of the scenes at the Phil­adelphia Tat­too Arts Con­ven­tion, last Fri­day through Sunday at the Pennsylvania Con­ven­tion Cen­ter.

When Can­dace walks down the street, there are people who would only no­tice her con­toured per­man­ent makeup. She’s won an award for the Lady Gaga por­trait­ure on her left shoulder. The right bi­ceps shows a por­trait of Mar­ilyn Man­son with pray­ing hands. She’s a de­votee of these Vil­lain­ous Tat­too con­ven­tions. A ser­i­ous per­cent­age of the 770 onsite-tat­too­ing fa­cil­it­ies travel with the con­ven­tion cross coun­try.

“Tat­toos aren’t for every­body,” says Can­dace, 25, who is cel­eb­rat­ing her 10-year wed­ding an­niversary in March with her hus­band and ta­too­ist Cody, who has done most of the work on her body. “My par­ents don’t really think about my tat­toos since they’re [tat­toos] such an in­teg­ral part of my life.”

The couple drove overnight from Michigan, their second stop this year.

“The weath­er wasn’t even that bad, I didn’t know what every­body was talk­ing about,” Can­dace said.

Vil­lain Arts al­lows li­censed ta­too­ists to per­form their art un­der the wide open-dome of the con­ven­tion cen­ter. There’s a sound like a swarm of wasps from per­di­tion every­where. This is a place where the be­lief in the lit­er­al in­ter­pret­a­tion of scar­i­fic­a­tion has by­passed the coun­try that had once been frightened of teased hair and loud mu­sic, and dis­plays for whom all life’s prom­ise comes to pick­ing the right tat­too. Caitlin, 29, is re­ceiv­ing her eighth. This one of an Avengers design on her in­ner thigh. Each has been from An­gel, her long-term tat­too­ists.

“Every tat­too de­creases my mor­tal­ity,” he said.

Caitlin’s ex­pres­sion ap­pears any­thing but re­laxed.

“The first I got was a Celt­ic knot,” she said. “Tat­toos, I al­ways thought, are just kinda hot.”

There are nu­mer­ous signs in­dic­at­ing that tat­toos by law must be 18-plus, or have the con­sent of their par­ent or guard­i­an, though most first tat­toos are re­ceived well be­fore the sug­ges­ted age.

“My first tat­too was at 15 or 16. And my last tat­too this spider,” said Dari­us Cap­pelli, from New Haven, Con­necti­c­ut, bow­ing his head.

A tarantula, sure enough.

“An­oth­er mo­tif to put in an­oth­er place, that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

Age re­quire­ments are of no con­cern to Clay, 60, from As­bury Park, New Jer­sey.

“Got my first ‘un here last year. Now this,” Clay said, dis­play­ing a freshly inked koi on his lower fore­arm.

Dale, the tat­too­ist from Le­ban­on County, nods af­firm­at­ively.

“My spir­itu­al jour­ney isn’t over” Clay con­tin­ued. “They [koi] struggle up stream. That’s where the dragon comes in­to play.”

He got the dragon, his first, at last year’s con­ven­tion.

Mor­gon, 25, who has 60 per­cent of her head shaved, the rest dreads, said, “I’m here dread­ing hair. And just to hang out. Hey, you have really nice hair. Can I dread it?”

There are vendors with fright­en­ing toys. Per­man­ent makeup. Ten dol­lars and sit in the Back To The Fu­ture De­lorean. The Mys­tery Ma­chine. Erot­ic Ac­cessor­ies, “help­ing people come to­geth­er.” T-shirts that say, “Witch Please,” “Evil Keeps Me Pretty” and “TAT­TOO YOUR FACE,” worn by a gen­tle­man with a tat­tooed face. The Hu­man Knot: Alakazam, Aus­trali­an con­tor­tion­ist, does a ma­chete-jug­gling routine, on point.

“Don’t try this un­til you get home,” he warned.

Au­gust “Cap” Cole­man, Bert Grimm, Paul Rodgers and Nor­man Keith Collins aka “Sail­or Jerry” are just a few fam­ous tat­too­ists whose sketches are pre­served in one booth as mu­seum ar­ti­facts.  

To An­drew Stepa­lovitch, 30, from Kens­ing­ton, at his third con­ven­tion, the oc­ca­sion to be inked is a form of re­mem­brance.

“My broth­er died in a car crash ten years ago. The last song we heard was Linkin Park’s In the End. Be­fore a drunk driver killed him.”

Lyr­ics in a curs­ive font will ink his fore­arm.

“It’s wear­able art […],” says Alan, his tat­too­ist, who bears a strik­ing re­semb­lance to Lil Wayne.

When An­drew is asked about the Bat­man logo on the oth­er arm, he replied, “What’s not to love about Bat­man?”

“My girl is all re­li­gious now, so I’m not get­ting any more, ya feel?” Al­len Brack­nell, of Cam­bridge, Mas­sachu­setts, said. “It’s not hap­pen­ing now. Be­ing a fath­er and all. No more.”

Here is for every­body far flung from the old ways of re­bel­lion, tak­ing body-mod to the next level. Self-ex­pres­sion has be­came a whole lot more per­man­ent. Com­plic­at­ing things is the fact that, in ever-in­creas­ing ways, tech­no­logy is evolving.

“The in­dustry’s changed so much. Just from the in­ter­net,” Hon­est, 29, from Mil­wau­kee, Wis­con­sin, said.

He used to at­tend his par­ents’ tat­too parties as a kid. He said he’s wanted to be a tat­too­ist since age 8.

“Info that used to be kept closed as trade secrets now can be re­searched and found out. Stigma drops, the in­dustry opens up.”

Neither of which, for the re­cord, are much in abund­ance at the con­ven­tion. The re­la­tion­ship with cli­ents isn’t philo­soph­ic­al, Hon­est stressed.

“There was a craft in mix­ing the ink, load­ing the gun. Now there’s mer­chand­ise.”

Tat­toos have long been on the fringes of so­ci­ety.

“Forty-thou­sand people at­ten­ded last year’s con­ven­tion,” Neil, 33, of South Philly, said. “My ex-wife said, ‘No more tat­toos.’ After we di­vorced, the last one was this.”

He mo­tions to the word “Misery” scrawled above his left eye­brow.

“Now I get paid to do what I love,” Neil said. “When I’m not get­ting inked my­self.”

Every last tat­too­ee real­izes the per­man­ence of their de­cision through the pro­cess of how and what they de­cided to get inked. How unique designs are be­lieved to be, and the reas­ons be­hind what makes them so.

Ink on skin serves as a re­mind­er that the past was real. But to ab­sorb new ideas, one has to keep lips closed, and ears open.

The art we need is the art of with­stand­ing the un­bear­able. Be­liev­ing we can con­quer mor­tal­ity. We are defined by what we choose to con­sume.

“The fu­ture isn’t note­worthy to many [with tat­toos] be­cause all every­body re­mem­bers is the past,” Go Tat­too Re­mov­al from Al­lentown rep­res­ent­at­ive Mat­thew said. “That’s what we’re here for. To as­sist in for­get­ting.” ••

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