I spent most of my life never wanting a tattoo. I found it unlikely that I would love a design so much that I would want it on my body forever. But I was wrong and I did find I design that I fell in love with. The tattoo itself is simple but its story is beautifully intricate.
2007 was terribly unkind to me. I struggled to make it through that year only to have my last remaining grandparent pass away just a few days shy of Christmas. Ray, my grandfather, would have been 92 in just a matter of weeks.
I never got to know my grandmothers since both had died young, and so my grandfathers became very important to me. It was heartbreaking to lose my last grandparent when I myself was so young.
On New Years Day I raised two proud middle fingers as the ball dropped in New York.
"2007 - I will see you in hell."
I welcomed 2008 with open arms, ready to put the mess behind me. Turns out I got a lucky break when I began working with DRIP. Something that just started out as an internship transformed into a wonderful opportunity. I had been making art all of my life but being involved with DRIP made me feel like I was part of an artistic community for the first time. I wanted to get a tattoo to commemorate how I felt and how far I had come.
It was a pretty radical thought since I had gone 25 years without ever having the slightest desire to get inked. I remembered a conversation my sister Jenny and I had a few months ago. She made a joke about wanting to get a cave painting tattoo across her butt. After laughing I stopped and thought for a moment. I loved art history and cave painting was at the very root. Maybe my sister was on to something.
I let the idea simmer over the next few months. I got "The Complete Idiot's Guide To Getting a Tattoo" and read it cover to cover. I learned lots of great information about getting a tattoo, however, what interested me most was the art of ancient tattooing.
Tattooing is far older than most people realize and nothing made that more clear than the discovery of Otzi. Otzi, was a man recovered in the Swiss Alps. Originally, the people who found him thought he was a lost hiker they needed to identify. However, it rapidly became clear they had someone much older on their hands. As it turns out, Otzi lived around 3,300 B.C. and is one of the oldest human remains ever to be found. Scientists were amazed that he had been so well preserved, so much so that his tattoos were still visible. It appeared the art of tattooing has a longer history than anyone imagined.
In most ancient cultures tattoos were treated as a rite of passage. You only received one after achieving a milestone. Even sitting through the process of getting a tattoo was a testament to your character. In some cultures, if you cried or complained the person giving you the tattoo would stop. You would forever wear the unfinished tattoo as a mark of shame.
I also found out that where you placed the tattoo on your body carried a significance. Some cultures believe that you should avoid placing tattoos anywhere on the center line of you body front or back. Most cultures, with the exception of the Maori, avoid facial tattoos.
So after a years of never wanting a tattoo and a few brief months of research I had my heart set.
I felt confident that surviving the previous year only to reaffirm my love of art was my heartfelt and most sincere rite of passage.
I walked into the tattoo parlor well feed, calm and sober. Mentally, physically and spiritually ready for the next phase of my life.
I wanted the hand prints of the ancient cave painters on my right shoulder. I love art history and cave paintings are such an important part. To me, the art work of the cave painters says more about our humanity than anything else. What thought went through the mind of the first person to create something that was as functional as it was beautiful? Our minds and our creative drive set the course for our culture. The hand prints they left behind are deeply personal. Not only did they leave us with their hand print, but the dye they used was created by mixing in their saliva. Their language may be gone and their history may be sparse, but I can still connect with their art.
I wanted six hands - one for each member of my family. I wanted to wear my family tree. I wanted to acknowledge all of the amazing history behind me while realizing that I was creating my place at the present moment.
I went to get my tattoo at Granted Ink. Todd Grant came highly recommended to me by friends who had gotten tattoos.
All I brought Todd was National Geographic magazine. He was nervous knowing that I was an artist.
"Are you sure you don't want to design the tattoo?" he asked politely
"I just want six hands. You can arrange them any way you like. I didn't come up with the design, I just want you to recreate it. Besides, you're a great artist, I trust you."
He seemed surprised by my faith in his abilities without ever having a tattoo. But he was a professional and quickly set to work. My tattoo took about fifteen minutes to complete.
I loved it.
It was art, it was family, it was beautiful.
It wasn't until I had gone home to visit my family several weeks later that I realized that I had gotten my tattoo exactly one year to the day my grandfather had passed away. December 19th, 2008. A coincidence that reminds me that I have angels on my shoulders.
I came a long way to find my purpose. My rite of passage made me a much stronger person. I am grateful for everything I went through because my own personal evolution has helped me grow into the artist I am today.
Granted Ink: https://www.facebook.com/GrantedInk