Hilton Brighton Metropole
15th – 16th February 2014
Brighton’s seventh annual Tattoo Convention hit the seafront on the Valentine’s Weekend, hosted for the second year running by the Hilton Brighton Metropole hotel. Feeling quite the fraud I edged my ‘virgin skin’ into reception, joining the gathering swarm of tattoo enthusiasts in the lobby. I brought along a generously inked friend in an attempt to claw back some credibility, but next to the platoons of torso, head, face and full body tattoos knocking about the Hilton, she suddenly seemed to be showing quite a lot of skin. The convention made for some a-grade people watching, a dazzling exhibition of the walking canvas.
The seminar room put on a taxidermy course, a laser removal workshop, a machine workshop and a watercolour class. For the professional, there was a supplier’s sale peddling such unintelligible delights as the Chrome Buzzer and the Cutback liner. For the rest of us, there was everything else. The main attraction was the huge open plan, two tier live working space featuring hundreds of top international artists. If you wanted work done by the likes of Dan Smith, Tim Hendricks, Bill DeCola or any of their cosmopolitan counterparts, this was the place to be.
The air was ripe with the stinging aroma of antiseptic and ripped with the purr of a hundred needles. Everywhere people were sprawled out having artwork drilled into large expanses of skin. I’m convinced that not one ounce of pain was shown for the entire weekend. Certainly as I made my way round, the subjects looked resolutely, grimly unflustered. The notoriously agonising bamboo tattoo was being inflicted on some poor soul who spent his weekend lain flat out on a sack, while two artists pinned him down, sat on him and hammered bamboo rods into his flesh for two days straight. He was getting his whole upper torso done but at no point did he lose his Zen like composure. I did a hasty 360 on my naive plans to get my first tattoo done at the convention. I suddenly didn’t feel too hot about sobbing my way through my first ever, teeny-weeny, girly-wirly pink love heart, whilst the man to my left caught a cheeky snooze while the bleeding heart of Satan was etched across his face.
Brighton’s tattoo studios were out in force; Gilded Cage, Nine, Into you, Magnum Opus and Blue Dragon were representing. I chatted to James Robinson, owner of the gorgeous tattoo boutique Gilded Cage, a newish and beautifully designed studio with an arty vibe that includes a boutique shop on the ground floor. Turns out the shop’s artistic edge reflects James’ background. I asked him about getting into the industry:
“You know the careers interviews when you’re a kid at school? Well I wanted to be a tattoo artist from then, from when I was little. I ended up getting in through art – doing a foundation degree and then a degree in illustration. I’ve worked in various tattoo studios around Brighton before opening Gilded Cage in 2012. I was naughty and my first tattoo was when I was 16. I got it in Weymouth. It’s a gecko but it’s crawled half way up my hip now.”
The rest of the convention was a jumble of food, live music, manicurists, a motorbike display and stalls selling bespoke jewellery, clothing, bags, one off art work, show merchandise- you name it. There was even a barbershop. A highlight was the legendary Brighton EatonNot boutique, that specialises in `road-kill-couture` and the immortalising of your dead pet as a carved skull or a ‘mounted skeleton’. At the convention, EatonNot touted a surreal melange of animal skulls, skeletons, jewellery and headdresses along with some gorgeous little satiny bags and some ‘edible insects’ that just tasted of crunchy dirt as far as I could see.
I also got to try some amazing cocktails courtesy of the Sailor Jerry’s team who were there with their own tiki style bar and merchandise stand.
I spoke to some of the tattooed convention-goers in circulation. Brightonian Ellie said:
“The first piece I had done was when I was 14. It was a star about the size of my hand on the back of my leg done in Brighton by Shaky Steve, so called because his hands would shake while he was working. Funnily enough, he’s now been shut down for underage work. I don’t regret any of them although I did wake up with my friends names tattooed on my arse! There’s a good tattoo scene in Brighton and I think it’s all a lot more positive now-a-days and everyone’s a lot more accepting. In fact these days tattoos are worn like a medal, especially in Brighton.”
Tattoos were once the hallmark of the misfit, the rebel, the one who chose to live in the fringes. But as with so many things, the art form has been drastically subsumed into the conventional, to the point where some have called it a mark of conformity. Everyone and their mum has a little something tucked away somewhere, with the fastest growing demographic being middle aged, middle class women. Samantha Cameron and her flirty ankle-dolphin are not the only unlikely suspects. Helen Mirren, David Dimbleby, the Princess of Monacoe, Caroline Kennedy, Winston Churchill, and Emma Parker Bowles’ bottom are all inked up. A far cry from all that came before them, the culture has relocated from signifier of working class masculinity to plaything of the bourgeois.
Jinx from the Precious Slut tattoo studio in Isla Vista commented:
“The industry that once catered almost exclusively to bikers, sailors and topless dancers is now applying ornate art works to the skin of lawyers, accountants and homemakers”. The whole business has plainly gone mainstream, which
is a good thing in my view. It’s evolved and opened out into an outlet for the creative stylings of just about anyone, and why not.