Inkstains: The Permanent Generation
The haves and the have-nots. Admittedly it’s simplistic definition of tattoo culture, but because tattoos are visible and because they appear to be some sort of statement, it’s hard not to literally see things this way. Who wears what, who has more? And who cares? Aidan McKenzie is a New Zealand born artist who is making waves in Street, Graffiti and Tattoo Art in Sydney. With such a broad understanding of art in general I figure he’s be able to shed light on how tattoo culture is best defined and why there seems to be a recent explosion of heavily tattooed young people.
Once upon a time people criticized those who are tattooed as thugs, and those equipped with spray cans, as delinquents. Audiences have expanded and become increasingly diverse and those who work in these mediums now have an accepted presence in an international art scene. Even if more ‘edgy’ forms of art are still frowned upon by avid traditionalists, there is the following of a generation that provides a platform from which to contend.
Artists who work in this periphery will be familiar with the ways that their work, and the cultures from which these works stem, are pigeonholed. “It’s a generational thing,” McKenzie notes. In our parents’ generation being tattooed came with the knowledge that job prospects may be limited. Some of our jobs on the other hand are ones that our parents don’t understand and that didn’t exist a decade ago. In schools our teachers are preparing their students for jobs that don’t exist yet and as a result there is a concentration of young workers dominating entrepreneurial creative fields like social media for example (try explaining that to our parents). If our generation is responsible for defining work spaces and creating new professional avenues, then what does it matter to be tattooed? It seems that there is less risk in being tattooed, because we are modifying traditional professional landscapes and creating new ones of our own. Gone is the age where we need to appeal to the conservative hierarchy with bare arms and a briefcase, well maybe not gone, but certainly changing.
The tattoo scene has blown apart as a more open-minded generation takes to the stage. With the attention that tattoos are getting it is natural that some people want to do more than just be a canvas. Home jobs seem to be a trend, because of the ease at which the internet has made purchasing tattoo guns. Anyone with an interest in Tattoo Art can become a tattooist, for anyone game, or stupid enough. It’s a practice frowned upon by legitimate studios. Hygiene practices seem to be the main concern, with shoddy artwork coming in a close second. Back yard tattoos, or ‘yardies’ work in the same way rubbish cover-bands do; the integrity of the original product is jeopardized for the sake of something that makes someone feel credible. It seems to be a selfish and risky endeavor.
The pursuit of an authentic career in the tattoo industry in Australia is not easy though and is made doubly difficult because of the grip that Aussie bikey gangs have on tattoo studios. This is a topic that is irresponsible for tattooists to discuss. In research, independent to my conversation with McKenzie, I learned that it can be hard to find work in a studio that is not gang affiliated. There are naturally massive risks involved in working in this kind of environment. There are the illegal implications, but in addition, things like leaving a studio, for whatever reason, come quite literally at a cost. It’s not uncommon to have to ‘pay out’ your employer to ensure you are leaving with a clean slate and reputation. There is the other cost of your equipment, which usually has to be left, if you want out. McKenzie said little about this aspect of the trade, however did mention that unfortunately this type of government can work in negatively stigmatizing tattoo art in Australia.
Aidan McKenzie’s portfolio is one of rich influence and experience and makes him exempt from any stereotype, from our generation anyway. He’s landed in a studio with a clean rep and exceptional artists. Spending an afternoon on their couch I learned to appreciate that the reasons for anyone getting tattooed will remain diverse and personal and because of this, tattoo culture as a whole transcends definition.
There is a new wave of fashionable, tattooed young people. They have replaced pierced, dreadlocked grungers in the 90s, perms in the 80s and caftan, long-haired hippies in the 70s. Just like our professional prospects seem to be emerging with the advance of technology and creative enterprise, so too are the social movements and personal freedoms that come with that. This recent wave is just one that bares a little more permanence.
Aidan McKenzie on Instagram: @Sprinkles_
- Tattoos come to life as festivalgoers act out creatures inked on their bodies (photoblog.nbcnews.com)
- Using Lasers To Remove Unwanted Tattoos Or Hair (greathairremovalzine.wordpress.com)
- Birdman Now Has GTV and TRUKFIT Tattoos on His Face (complex.com)