Say “sayonara!” to Sailor Jerry, the modern tattoo parlour doesn’t rely on crudely drawn catalogues of nicotine-stained flash art to earn its bread and butter. Pushing the dimensions of this age-old form of body modification into new realms, today’s tattoo artist deals in transcribing their client’s dreams into ink-under-skin reality. Having come further in the past hundred years than it has in the entirety of its 6,000 year history, the art of pushing pigment into the epidermis still has its share of perilous pitfalls. As far as the reputation of the barb-wired and be-anchored goes, society’s attitudes have been slow to evolve. As it stands, even the most accomplished and talented of ink-jockeys must defend their honour against ill-reputed tattoo schools, who churn out graduates on a bi-monthly basis, not to mention racks of soft-coeur industry zines that read like a high school drop-out’s yearbook of regrettable fascinations.
“We like to think of tattooing as the second oldest profession,” muses Calgary Tattoo and Arts Festival coordinator Steve Peace. “Festivals like ours give people a chance to seek out a tattoo artist that’s really compatible to their own personal style, someone they can see themselves being comfortable working with for eighteen or twenty hours at a time. Price should be your last consideration and never pick your design off a wall. If your favourite artist is booked solid, you should definitely wait. Some people don’t want to wait for an appointment. If they did, there would be a lot less cover-up work going on. It’s a pain in the ass, so wait.
“Now, if you’ve got a piece you are particularly proud of, our tattoo competition is open to anyone. We have awards for ‘tattoo of the day,’ as well as a unique ‘tattoo challenge,’ where six artists will go head-to-head for a $1,000 purse.”
Peace and his fellow organizers, under the Alberta Bound banner, endeavour to provide a showcase of top quality artists combined with some of the best tattoo supplies available in the business. Competition is stiff, but a double-blind audition process and an apolitical stance to providing vendor and artist access assure fairness and objectivity in the process. This measured approach has earned Calgary’s colourful skin show a golden reputation amongst artists and enthusiasts alike, and not just because of the seasonally appropriate autumnal theme.
“Our desire to put on the best run, most organized festival possible to our exhibitors comes from our own personal experiences going to other shows around the world,” Peace explains. “I’ve taken a $49 dollar cab ride to get paper towels. That’s why we make sure to provide all of our artists with any supplies they may require, right down to gloves and sterile water. Our show is cleaner than your average tattoo shop and our booths are five feet larger than the booths you’ll find at similar shows. As far as our invitees themselves, we try to set the talent bar high. We can’t promote people who aren’t ready. There’s no politics to it. It’s up to the artist to work harder and get better.”
No stranger to putting the needle to the groove, Peace advises would-be grinders to develop their skills by diversifying their portfolios. Galleries across Europe and North America are opening their doors and their arms to tattoo artists who have made the leap from living flesh to linen canvas. As in previous years, the autumnal theme of 2012’s showcase will encompass a display of oil paintings and other non-human artwork generated by portrait, script, colour and grayscale experts who are usually known for their corporeal creations.
“A lot of artists are switching over to oil painting,” he confirms. “You can learn so much more about colour and composition by branching out and, in turn, you will bring that depth of knowledge over into your artwork as a tattoo artist. The results can be quite mind blowing.
“Lots of people who are attracted to paintings aren’t interested in getting a tattoo. Artists who can develop their own style and transition between the two are better able to support themselves in their professional careers. As an artist working in the field, I expect to tattoo just about every day, and then I go home and spend hours drawing designs for the next day,” Peace elaborates. “All of the work I do is custom. The top artists will always be spending as much time drawing as they do tattooing.”
Of course, it’s not all work and no play for the ink-slingers and their admirers. Peace believes that variety is the key to keeping the festival fresh and entertaining. And adding an adult aspect to the proceedings seemed like the perfect way to compliment this year’s contingent of international artists and bod-mod celebrities.
“This is our ninth year and the entire time I’ve done everything on the premise that we have to keep changing things up. One year it’s dodgeball, the next it’s classic cars, or roller derby, or Kat Von D. This is the first time we’ve attempted an Adults Night. It’s a special, eighteen-and-over evening where people can walk around with their drinks and enjoy entertainment that’s a little more adult in nature. That will run from four to midnight and then Megan Massacre of New York Ink will be hosting the after-party for our Adults Only Friday Night at the Palomino Smoke House. She’ll be performing a DJ set up stairs with her boyfriend, spinning records for the crowd. Meanwhile, downstairs we’re super excited to be presenting our special musical guests, Fucked Up, who will be featured at the Palomino Friday and Saturday night!”
Providing added value is just one of the ways Steve Peace and the festival presenters at Alberta Bound demonstrate their desire to give back to the community. The organization is currently undergoing a significant realignment that will see future proceeds distributed to those charities close to Peace’s heart.
“We’ve been lucky enough to attract an average of 10,000 people a year to our festival. Now that we’ve settled into our new October dates, we hope to be able continue as a viable annual event. I’m already working on our line-up for our tenth anniversary festival,” he surmises. “We’re still going through the registration process, but, by this time next year, Alberta Bound will be a different company. We’ll be opening our doors as a non-profit enterprise and, this way, people will know the festival operates under that official status. We’re planning to work closely with foundations which provide art supplies and tuition to children in [developing countries]. I’ve travelled to countries like Cambodia, where the kids beg for Bic pens so they can draw. I’m really looking forward to being on-side with charities that are making life better for those kids and providing them with the necessities of life.”
The Alberta Bound Tattoo & Arts Festival runs from October 12 to 14 at the BMO Centre. After-parties will be hosted at the Palomino on Friday, October 12 and Saturday, October 13 and feature Megan Massacre of New York Ink on Friday night (upstairs) and Fucked Up on Friday and Saturday (downstairs).
By Christine Leonard
Cover Photo: Andras Schram