Tattooing — from trend to art form

Sunday, 5 February 2012 - 11:30am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Tattooing has come a long way: from being the ultimate taboo, to a tame sort of rebellion, and now, a form of artistic self-expression, writes Apoorva Dutt.
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Five years ago, a tattoo was the ultimate sign of rebellion. For guys, it was a talisman declaring that they were everything your mother had warned you about, and for a girl, it was a signal that she didn’t really care what her mother warned her about. Chinese symbols and butterflies flowered over the ankles and shoulder blades of the young people of India’s metros. But then something truly tragic happened: tattoos went the way of every other rebellion. Everyone had one.

“A few years ago, tattoos were a middle-class pretension to rebellion,” declares Ayan Chopra, 25, himself the proud possessor of four strategically arranged tattoos, the most visible one being the one on his forearm: two scribbles of his parents’ signatures. “People who weren’t brave enough to rebel in a concrete way against the stereotypes of the older generation would get tattoos. I got my first one, honestly, because I thought it was cool. But when I had it, and I met other people who had tattoos, I realised that the true potential of a tattoo can be to signify some of the most important things about your life.”

Moving past the fashion
Sunil Pai, also known as San, is the proprietor of San’s Tattoo Parlour in Bandra, Mumbai. San testifies to the changing tastes of Indians, saying that they have moved past tattooing as a mere “fashion statement”. “Chinese characters and skulls have gone out of fashion now,” muses the artist, whose clients include the cricketer Chris Gayle and “people” from Red Chillies Entertainment. “What are increasingly popular are flowers, angels and symbols of ethnic spirituality like gods and gurus. Tattooing is slowly coming into its own now.”

San says that even when it comes to the dated practice of writing a special someone’s name on your body, creativity is asserting itself. “People don’t want just a name; they want a presentation that can stand alone as a good design. The key difference is that the knowledge of tattooing as an art is there now; people know that a lot more can be done with it.”

According to Ritopriyo Saha, 26, the owner and artist resident at Bangalore’s Trippink studio, tattooing has moved past the ‘trend’ stage — but only marginally. “Now a lot of celebrities have tattoos. It’s become a fashion of sorts. The general trends are getting a boyfriend or girlfriend’s name or a tribal design.” Saha says that not all tattoo artists are ‘artists’. “I prefer doing custom designs, and there is more and more of a market for these.”

But on the other hand, displaying a bit too much of your identity on a customised tattoo can lead to regrets. Ankita Daftuar, 28, was 18 when in an impulsive moment she got a personalised tattoo that snaked from her wrist to her elbow. The tattoo, a colourful burst of clocks and blooming roses, is beautiful, but Daftuar wishes she hadn’t gotten it. “In a conservative country like India, people at the workplace see the tattoo and make assumptions about me before they even know me. It’s hard to make a presentation when the client’s eyes keep straying to my tattoo.”

Indians not as ‘fussy’
San says that the colours “red, black, green and blue” are the best suited for Indian skin. “It’s partly because of the weather — the heat and humidity in India aren’t kind to colours, which fade faster and might become discoloured.” He also notes that foreigners, many of whom frequent his studio in Goa, are more concerned about “hardcore perfection”. “Indians are not as fussy for the most part, they just need a tattoo; their demand is very simple.”

Saha, on the other hand, notes that Indians tend to go for smaller tattoos, and mostly in black or grey. “It’s partly due to skin tone, and most of the kids who want tattoos are college-going, and usually don’t have the money to get a colour tattoo which will be much more expensive. Bright colours look better on larger tattoos, where they can ‘pop’.”

The shining future of tattooing
What about new techniques in tattooing? Abroad, techniques such as the ‘wet’ look, creating 3-D tattoos, and building special magnum needles, are now gaining popularity as the art form refines itself. San says that some of these techniques have found their way to India as well, though the basic, painful needle procedure remains the same. “One technique which I enjoy is the shading technique. It creates a subtle image, done by using a shortened needle.”

Jayesh Narang, 24, an apprentice tattoo artist in Chennai, says that he enjoys employing a technique known as ‘luminosity’. “The effect basically creates a shine or sparkle look to the tattoo. It can be done by adding a bit of white colour to the centre of a rounded surface, thus giving the impression of both a curve and of a light source. In other cases, you may want an object to appear to be glowing, and this can be accomplished by working with ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ space, that is, colouring differently over the tattoo.”

Narang is optimistic about tattooing and its future, and disagrees vehemently with the idea that the art of tattooing has been lost to clichés. “Like any other art form, 80% of it is bulls**t. But tattooing has a long way to go, and India is a fertile ground for its growth.”

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