By: Sveta Soloveva
Tattoo artists usually have many paintings in their portfolio, but hardly anyone seems to see them unless they’re checking their Instagram accounts, said Emily May Rose, a Toronto-based illustrator and curator of a new exhibition in the city’s west end .
She approached her 12 favourite tattoo artists in the city and displayed at the Northern Contemporary Gallery, which she runs.
“I just want to showcase the variety of different styles that we have in the city in terms of tattooing,” she said. “The artists in the show are insanely talented and not the type of artists that you’d find on gallery walls.”
The exhibition opening last Friday attracted tattoo and graffiti artists, illustrators, hip hop musicians, barbers and their clients. Beer, donuts and hip hop beats turned the event into a party.
The artists shared thoughts about tattooing and their inspiration.
“I go to sleep and wake up thinking about tattooing. I dream about tattoo,” said artist Jonny Cakes, who also curated the event.
Cakes came to Toronto from Switzerland in 2000 with a background in graffiti and started tattooing just three years ago. He calls himself “a baby in the tattoo world” but he is well recognized for his black and gray tattoos. As a graffiti artist, he also has some colourful works in his portfolio. His painting of a purple rose was one of the featured exhibits.
Alanna Mule, who owns Bellwoods Tattoo studio on Ossington Avenue, displayed the three paintings of mandalas on the wood panels. The complex abstract designs go in perfect circles repeating each other.
Mule’s tattoos flip-flop between black and grey illustrative and black and gray realism. Some look like soft ash and others feature many sharp lines and details.
“It comes from art books and other artists’ styles around the world until you make your own,” she said.
Artists and guests at the opening also shared stories about their own tattoos.
“I got it matching with three of my friends,” Rose showed a tattoo of the bird on her arm done by Spencer Harrington. “A woodpecker flew and died in front of us. We took a picture of the bird and showed it to Spencer.”
Martin Ferreira, a barber from Scarborough, has a 24-karat gold bar on his stomach.
“It’s like your soul,” he said. “If you know what you have, don’t let anybody tell that it is different.”
“I have a little bit of colour on my leg. Everything else is black and gray. One leg is dedicated to skulls. The other leg is all girls,” said Cakes unfolding his trouser legs and sleeves.
Mule said she gets tattoos from different parts of the world only for aesthetic reasons.
“It’s like collecting art for the art itself,” she said. “Sometimes I don’t know what I’m getting. I just seat there and then I get what they wanna do.”
Jams Blackmore and Russell Pulkys, the owners of Waves Apparel shop at 7 Labbat Ave., featured their T-shirts, hats and postcards on the event. The high-quality items contain printed images by Toronto graffiti artists and homeless youth whom Waves Apparel encourages to develop their creative skills.
Cakes said he likes to see street artists getting more recognition in the city. There is a lot of graffiti on public buildings and clothing, he said, but tattoo art has even more power.