BLACK and white and Inked all over
Tatting it up at the annual Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention
by Lucy McGuigan
Last weekend, the Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention took over two floors of the Sheraton Hotel in Center City, cramming over 400 artists from around the world into a 20,000 square foot ballroom. The aisles, lined with booths representing tattoo studios from Tucson to Tokyo, were jam-packed with folks flipping through portfolios or trying to sneak a peek of artists at work. Abuzz with the excited chatter of attendees — forced to compete with the whirring of electric tattoo machines and the punk rock blaring from the speakers — the convention is a veritable chaos of body art enthusiasm. Many visitors are scantily clad, showing off the already-covered sections of their corporal canvas, inviting the awestruck stares of passersby. Your mother may have told you never to stare, but in this case, reverential gazes are entirely welcome. Even for those who are themselves walking works of art, much of the convention’s pleasure lies in people watching. Shouts of, “Hey can I check out that piece?” echo throughout the ballroom.
For most, however, the ultimate goal of the pilgrimage is not merely to feast the eyes, but to get some fresh ink. Tattoo enthusiast would find it incredibly difficult to resist the temptation to drop some cash on a new piece, especially for an original design by a far-away artist that they may never get the chance to meet again. All sorts of styles were to be found among the endless rows of tattoo booths, including the intricate viscera and circuitry of Gifford Kasen’s biomechanical pieces, and the primary-colored line drawings of Delaware’s Northside Tattoo. Particularly intriguing were the eye-popping geometric designs of Art Delirium’s Lara Slater, who works out of nearby Brooklawn, NJ. One of the most popular artists of the weekend was Kristel Oreto, who was booked for the entirety of the convention, inking her signature pastel candies and cutesy characters on dozens of visiting patrons.
Contrary to what you might expect, the Tattoo Arts Convention is not solely dedicated to illustrations of the needle, but to all facets of body modification subcultures. Many booths offered incredible discounts on jewelry-inclusive piercings ($30 as compared to the typical $50), as well as workshops on the newest techniques of sub-dermal implantation. On the mezzanine, a few dozen vendors sold accessories, clothing, and original artwork, like Amber Carr’s painted spanking paddles. Even the more conventional types would have been charmed by the precious jewelry from Philadelphia’s own Smak Parlor, including guitar pick earrings and necklaces with retrolite swallow pendants. One of the biggest treats of the weekend was a booth manned by comic artist Michael S. Bracco, whose series Novo follows an adorable creature on his lonely journey through the universe.
The Convention also annually presents a host of live entertainment. This year’s line up included suspension shows by CRASH. However, if seeing people hang from flesh-imbedded hooks is not your bag, you could’ve checked out the event’s wide variety of sideshow performers, from the human jigsaw puzzle Enigma and his chainsaw-wielding Show Devils to the armless midget, Penguin Boy. The biggest crowd-pleasers were undoubtedly the burlesque shows, featuring the unbelievably sexy Hellcat Girls. Those searching for tattooed hotties need look no further than the halls of the Convention, where Burning Angels, Dangerous Dolls, and other unaffiliated models and porn stars roam around in scandalous lingerie. All in all, the Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention is an experience not to be missed. Check the Villain Arts website for information on next year’s festivities.