Tattooists whose artistic vision transcends their trade often need a larger canvas to flesh out the details. "Tattoo AZ," opening this weekend at downtown's Alwun House, spotlights the works that result when tattooists forsake skin for nonorganic media. A party on Saturday, May 10, kicks off the second biennial exhibition of fine art by tattoo artists, the only show of its kind in Arizona.
Kim Moody, director of the nonprofit arts center and gallery, says the show encourages tattooists to explore expression outside of their day-to-day drawing, which caters to client demand -- and is, well, only skin-deep.
"These are busy, working artists," Moody explains. "They don't get a chance to produce, say, the painting that's in the back of their mind.... This show gives them a chance to do what they want to do. They're saying, Hey, we do more than just paint skin.'"
Much of the work in "Tattoo AZ" is colorful and illustrative -- or, as Moody puts it, "drawing from tattoo iconography." An untitled watercolor by Ron Koupal, for instance, is darkly cartoonish; its glassy-eyed penguin wears a diaper and holds an empty martini glass, as blood pours from a slit in his neck and red lighting zigzags in the background. One for the Bunny, Valley artist Melanie Corradi's oil-on-board work, also reveals an animal flaunting human behaviors: A rabbit wearing a Superman tee shirt and lampshade-like hat slumps on a barstool, an arrow jutting from his chest.
But there's more to "Tattoo AZ" than surreal character studies, and Moody is quick to point out the exhibition's diversity. "There's work beyond tattoo iconography," he explains, mentioning cabinets, sculpture, lithographs and photographs, as well as functional works created to hold, say, tattooing equipment.
More than 40 tattooists, two-thirds of them from Arizona, submitted the show's works, which number around 150. Artists from across the U.S. contacted the gallery, eager to make their mark on the exhibition; Moody credits a "nationwide tattoo network" for building the buzz. "It is just amazing how the word has gotten out... ," he says. "This show has just clicked."
Many of the artists will be on hand at Saturday night's reception, where refreshments, a no-host bar and bands will fill the house and backyard; the live music lineup includes Valley punks The Impossibles and The Half Empties, plus L.A. bluegrass band Skeeter Truck. Guests will be encouraged to show some skin and have their tattoos photographed, but there will be no needling -- tattooing requires sterile conditions, Moody warns, so the party will remain pain-free. The evening's proceeds benefit Alwun House youth programs, which engage at-risk young people in the arts and crime-prevention activities.