Toting a coffin, I leave the building. Others remain with bandages covering fresh wounds while even more are still under the gun.
Just another day at the Art-n-Ink Tattoo Festival.
Beginning on Friday, the festival at the South Point brought people from Vegas and beyond gathered to ink and be inked. Vendors displayed wares ranging from Bettie Page clothing, body jewelry and artwork on canvas to the aforementioned coffins.
But while I expected a more festive mood a la the Rockabilly weekender with sexy women and cool guys proudly comparing their permanent artwork, the tone was more serious and the crowd less dense. But that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Aside from a few folks playing beer pong, the majority were here to scout potential artists or get extensive tattoo work done. No getting tattoos for the hell of it or picking kanji or fairies off pre-drawn flash here.
The unexpectedly tattooed
Jason Belland sits calmly as Swarm from Studio 21 continues to shade the lotus on his right forearm. “[Swarm’s] been working on just the flower for two hours,” says Belland. A regular client of Studio 21 and Swarm, Belland’s newest tattoo continues the Buddhist theme from the full sleeve on his left arm. As the Executive Director of the American Heart Association, Belland probably doesn’t fit the stereotype of a guy who’s got two full sleeves of tattoos. “When I have meetings, I keep them covered,” he says. But when people find out? “They’re surprised 100 percent of the time.”
The unexpectedly un-tattooed
You’d might expect Dave and Mahoney of X 107.5’s DAM Morning Show to sport at least a few tats, but they probably have the most virginal skin at the festival. There wasn’t a single tattoo between the rock jocks.
“I support the local tattoo and piercing community; it’s one of the best in the world,” says Mahoney. But he still doesn’t want to get inked like some of the other on-air talent at Xtreme Radio. “There’s nothing I want on my body.” He adds, “Maybe ‘Mom.’”
“I think it’s cool that a bunch of different competing tattoo shops get together for the sake of people that are all tatted up in Vegas,” says Dave. “I’m totally lame—for me to be at this doesn’t make sense… but I do appreciate good artwork.”
For those wanting to go under the gun, Art-n-Ink is the place to do so. Working on covering his entire body in traditional Japanese dragons and Buddhas, Ceferia Oliva lies on a table while Andrew of Voodoo Tattoo shades the black and grey image on his back. “I started with another person, but I’m deciding to do my whole body with [Andrew],” says Oliva who found Andrew via a recommendation from a friend. “It’s a process. It’s going to take two to five years at least.”
Old skool ink
Going the traditional route was the first lady of the ancient art form of traditional hand-tap tattooing, San Diego tattoo artist Sulu’ape Angela. Angela learned her art from Su'a Sulu'ape Petelo, know as one of the leading traditional hand-tap tattoo artists in the world.
“When I was a kid, I had a National Geographic,” she says. In the magazine was an article about the traditional hand-tap tattooing and years later at a convention she met the man from the article that so intrigued her.
Originally a promoter for other artists and an assistant, Sulu’ape Angela moved to Samoa for a year to learn the art, ceremonies and customs. As part of the ritual, all who are on the stage area where she is tattooing must remove their shoes and wrap themselves in a lava-lava, a Polynesian cloth worn as a skirt. “It’s part of the tradition… and shows respect for the artist,” she explains.
With help from Mary Beth and Kimi, Sulu’ape Angela works on Matt, who is town from Kingman, Ariz. for the tattoo convention and the races. “To be honest, I just wanted to say I got it done,” laughs Matt, who is receiving his third hand-tap tattoo of the day. And the pain factor? “It’s different. This is how they first did [tattoos]… it’s less painful,” says Matt, who has other tattoos done with a gun.
And the art
For those looking to decorate their homes in addition to their bodies, there’s artwork aplenty at the festival—but with an edge. There’s a plethora of tattoo artwork paintings, and there are the coffins. Wes Mandel builds custom hand-crafted coffins and themed furniture that appeals to the more alternative crowd visiting the festival. The stained wood boxes are then hand-pained by Zorac with the same precision and care he takes when custom painting motorcycles.
But what does one use said coffins for? “All kinds of things. Jewelry, bottles of booze, illicit stuff, cigars,” he laughs. The coffins can be set upright and used as shelves or decorations. “It’s just a cool shape that’s not a square,” he says. (I think I’ll be using mine to A, freak out people in the office and B, stash collected business cards and pens).
For those that didn’t make it to the South Point on Friday and Saturday, Ink-n-Art runs Sunday from 12 to 8 p.m. But if you get a new tat this weekend, heed the advice of my tattoo artist, Aaron Neiman from Pussycat Tattoo: The sun is your worst enemy. No lakes, no rivers, no pools, no oceans… or something like that.