AMY J. BARRY, Special to the Day
People's reactions to tattoos run the gamut: they may be fascinated, repulsed or obsessed with the act of making a permanent statement - or multiple statements - in ink on one's body.
Chris Rose, director of The Gallery at Lighthouse, acknowledges this and believes no matter what one thinks of the culture of tattoos and body adornment, "The artistry and commitment by the tattoo artist and the person receiving the tattoo requires our attention and respect."
And so, to expand the public's appreciation of both the visual and pedagogical arts, the gallery - which exhibits emerging and established artists in support of special education programs at the Light House Voc-Ed Center - is exhibiting work by tattoo artists from Steve Tefft's 12 Tattoos & Body Piercing studio in Groton.
The show will include photographs of tattoos, pencil drawings and paintings - some of which are designs that have been reproduced on skin. Others are freestanding pieces of art.
Tefft recently was named Ink Master on the Spike TV reality show by the same name. He received national recognition and was awarded the top prize of $100,000. He used his winnings to create a brand new 4,000 square-foot facility at 771 Long Hill Rd., a half-mile down the road from his previous location.
"Some people don't understand that our tattoo artists are artists first, and we do tattoos. Lots of stores just do tattoos and they're not looking to further the art. We're all about the art. When you come to us, you're really getting an artist that's going to touch your skin."
Tattoo images tend to be dark, and Tefft attributes that to the predominance of male tattoo artists.
"I enjoy doing darker, creepy images. I just think it's the old skull, flame thing. For guys, darker images tend to emote more than a picture of flowers. People tend to be their most creative when they go through a bad break up or a death. These things evoke emotion. It's all emotion."
Still, several women are represented in the show, including Danielle Medrano, who Tefft says loves swirly, colorful, feminine images.
Artists like Mason Giordani represent a return to more traditional, bold, simplistic lines, Tefft notes.
"You look at his work and you know what it is - something like your grandfather might have. And yet he's only 27. There's a movement to go back to the old school (styles)," Tefft adds.
Tefft attributes this to pendulum swings in the culture - not so different from the return to vinyl records by music lovers.
"The evolution of the tattoo is that it started very basic and then artists got involved doing all these crazy color portraits on the skin - up to a body suit. You can only push the envelope so far. Another movement is to go back to the simple, basic tattoo."
Tefft believes tattoo art is polarizing because of preconceived notions and ideas about it.
"My parents weren't thrilled back in the day, 20-plus years ago, when I told them I was going to be a tattoo artist," he recalls. "In those days only military people or people in jail, bikers and drunks had tattoos. It didn't represent the upper echelon of society. Now people are producing beautiful, colorful works of art. It's like buying a fine piece of jewelry now, except it doesn't fall off."
That said, Tefft stresses that the decision to get tattooed shouldn't be taken lightly.
"This is something you're going to wear for the rest of your life. Nothing is permanent but this. And pain is a variable. There's no way around it. You're putting needles in your skin up to 5-6 hours at a session. We tell people it's going to hurt. How is it not going to hurt? They should be making an informed decision."
And there's the expense - it can cost thousands of dollars, depending on the size and detail of the design.
Tefft says he likes the idea of doing an art show in the community, not only to educate people about the art of the tattoo but also to help people avoid bad experiences.
"I had a guy come in the other day," Tefft says. "He was going through a divorce. He came in with a design, but he wasn't quite sure. I told him to go home, live with this, look at it, and make sure you love this. He was trying to turn a negative into a positive."