A long-observed rite of passage in many cultures around the globe, coming-of-age tattoos are something to which many young people look forward. Receiving one’s first line of ink is an indelible way of marking the passage of time and the endlessly transformative nature of our physical existence. What better way to commemorate something, or someone, of importance than to express one’s inner being and reflect a new level of self-actualization? And, what better way to piss off the parents? Ideally, a person’s first visit to the tattoo parlour will be a positive adventure that yields a deeply personal and well-rendered example of the art form, not to mention a good drinking story. On the other bicep, we’ve all heard the horror stories about the guy with the ballpoint pen and the rusty pin. So, do your research, ask around, consult your astrologer and scour the chasms of your soul until your ultimate tattoo presents itself.
Some time ago a co-worker approached me with an interesting dilemma. Her teenage son was bound and determined to get a tattoo. Not an uncommon affliction, but naturally his mother was concerned. What will his future in-laws think? What if he wants to get a job at a bank one day? Suffice it to say that, the demonic designs he had been twisting in his mind weren’t exactly pretty. My question to her, “What’s your ethnic background?” Having just recently attended the Calgary Tattoo & Arts Festival, I was able to pass along the business card and website of Copenhagen-based tattoo artist Erik Reime, who just happens to specialize in bestowing legendary Viking imagery.
“Jonas (Ascanius) wanted a tattoo from the time he was twelve,” Terry Rahbek-Nielsen, his mom, relates. “He would spend hours drawing his tattoo – usually a monstrous face with fangs and horns. And he wanted it to cover his entire chest. We tried for years to talk him out of it using all the arguments parents use – it’s permanent, you will be sorry when you’re 50 — and of course he ignored us and planned his tattoo. He pointed out more than once that when he was eighteen there would be nothing we could do to stop him.
“We heard about Erik Reime (from the author), how his work was done freehand, and that he used themes from Danish Viking mythology. We looked at Erik’s website and liked what we saw. Erik’s work is original, and his dragons are gorgeous. Nobody else in Calgary was likely to have a tattoo like the ones he makes.”
The summer Jonas turned eighteen, the family planned a trip to Copenhagen. Reime was in residence there at the time, so it seemed fated that the tattoo would be done there. Relaxing the mood by making a graduation gift out of the experience, the Ascanius family contacted Reime via email, booked an appointment and, soon, Jonas and his sister, Amalie, found themselves at Rådhusstræde 15 at the artist’s shop, Kunsten pa Kroppen Tattoo Studio.
“He was going to get a tattoo whether we liked it or not. It just seemed fitting that he get a unique tattoo from a really wonderful artist and that it could be something relevant to his life and heritage… that we did it while visiting Denmark was a great bonus! Erik’s studio is in downtown Copenhagen, up several flights of stairs in one of those skinny old buildings,” she relates. “Erik drew the outline on his arm and the thing (dragon) looked HUGE to me. I was trying to convince Jonas to go for something small and discrete… Once Erik started actually doing the real tattoo, the sight of this (very sweet) man drawing blood from my son was just a little creepy. Jonas was fascinated; I was, according to him, distracting and not in a good way. So, they sent me away. When I came back an hour later, Jonas’ tattoo was all done and Amalie had one as well – a sharpie version.”
Born in Norway and educated in Denmark, Reime is highly-praised for his brave Viking patterns and world-binding dragon motifs. The first tattooer ever accepted into the BKF — the Artists’ Union in Denmark — he avoids stencils. Instead, he uses his skill as an artist to draw elegant yet austere black and white designs directly onto the client’s body by hand. In some case, Reime uses a technique he developed, based on Japanese and Polynesian traditions, where needle bundles on the head of a stick are used to tap (or tatt, tatt, tatt) ink into the skin. The results are stunning. Mute touchstones, ancient symbols, prehistoric totems from our foggy past are given new meaning, and strength, thanks to the artist’s eye and the temporal fragility of the living flesh.
“For me, the challenging issue is that these are permanent markings someone puts on their body that have a certain significance at a certain time in their lives,” Jonas’ mom concludes. “People change and grow and what was significant when a person is young may not be so when they are older. And then there is the issue of our bodies changing over time; that perky little butterfly on someone’s 20-year-old behind may be a little less perky when their behind is in their 50s! (The forearm was a good choice, though. It’s not too likely to sag!) I love the originality and significance of Jonas’ tattoo. As a piece of art, it is wonderful and unique… I am still very glad he didn’t get some gross-looking nightmarish creature embedded on his chest!”
By Christine Leonard