It’s all about the ink

By By Clayton Norlen and By Clayton Norlen

By Clayton Norlen

As the undisputed conservative bastion of the nation, this is the last place you would expect to find an international tattoo convention. However, now in its fourth year, the Salt Lake City International Tattoo Convention is a continuing hit. Along with Rocky Anderson, it is the only reason Utah ever looks hip in an international scene.

Last Friday, I stopped by the Salt Palace to check out the convention, expecting to see some bikers, 30-odd beatniks and the entire punk scene showing off tattoos and drinking beer. Instead, I saw a thriving subculture packed with people from every group Utah has to offer. It was only after walking in that I realized such an event could actually thrive here.

The theme of the convention was Western-fitting for Utah and the rebellious nature in which the West was set. There was a mechanical bull for participants to ride and cowboy hats in the crowd. It was a family-oriented event; there was even a children’s area with temporary tattoos and drawing contests to entertain the li’l ones while parents decorated themselves.

Brady Eldard, a volunteer at the convention, summed the event up to me in eight words, saying, “It’s an art show, just on your skin.”

With more than 70 artists attending from Utah, surrounding states, the East Coast, Hawaii, Japan and Germany, the convention featured a broader spectrum of art than can be seen at a gallery stroll or the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. The art on display was as unique as the people it was presented on. With tattoos, the artist’s work isn’t confined to a stuffy museum or gallery where it sits waiting for viewers. Tattoo art is on a body that travels and lives. This art has the potential to be exposed wherever the wearer takes it.

Speaking of what people can gain from the convention, organizer Chris Longo said, “This is better than a bowling tournament. You don’t get some dorky-ass trophy.”

Instead, participants walk away with a permanent reminder of the convention and whatever their tattoos represent for them. A bowling trophy, on the other hand, sits on a mantel collecting dust.

Of course, tattoos aren’t for everyone. I don’t have one and wonder if I will ever have enough commitment to get one. But I disagree with the argument that you’ll regret tattoos when you’re older. If you get a tattoo for the right reasons, then you should always appreciate it. Of course tattoos don’t look great when you’re 60-neither will you. You age together. That’s a beautiful idea.

Culturally, tattoos are gaining popularity across scenes in the United States. It is no longer the degenerates and deadbeats sporting ink, but business executives, doctors and professors. In a graphic- and media-oriented environment, it is acceptable to wear your beliefs on your sleeve-and, in many instances, encouraged.

Keone Nunes of Maui, Hawaii-a tattoo artist who was at the convention for his fourth year-uses the Polynesian tapping technique to apply traditional Polynesian tattoos. “What I do is a reflection of the culture I belong to,” he said. “It’s the continuation of a tradition.”

In Polynesian culture, tattoos carry more meaning than our conventional understatements of tattoos (i.e., “Mom” in a heart). For Polynesian cultures, tattoos symbolize protection, memories and tradition. If the tattoos on people walking on the street dictated these messages, maybe people in this state wouldn’t think tattoos desecrate a temple, but rather decorate it.

If that’s a little too deep for you, there is always the justification that tattoos get you laid. That’s all some people need.

I’d like to say thanks to the convention’s organizers for keeping Utah from looking too square. Maybe next year I’ll get a tattoo myself.