A Very Fine Art
Showcasing the female perspective within the tattoo industry.
WORDS BY AUGUSTA MONET | TORONTO | LIGHTHOUSE IMMERSIVE
NOV 18, 2022 | ISSUE 7
Artwork by Kate Doucette
Artwork by Madeline Audsley
Like many traditional artists, tattoo artists begin their process with a pen and paper, or some modern version of that. Despite the artistic abilities and talent of these artists, they still struggle to be recognized in the same stature as more conventional visual artists. In this series, I present a selection of female tattoo artists to learn and listen to their truth about where the industry exists in the art world, and their experiences being women in the industry.
Speaking from my experience, being a female-identifying person with many tattoos, I have been the target of discrimination because of my body art. I have been turned down for jobs, frowned at, cat-called, told I would be
much prettier without them, and that I would never be successful because of them. Some people prefer their art on walls, and some prefer it on their bodies; either way, it is still art, and it does not make you any less.
But first, let’s ask: what makes something art? Modern artists would argue it’s all about intention. If you create something with the intent for it to be art, then it’s art. Whether it’s a tattoo or an oil painting, if the objective was art, then that’s what it is. Another point to consider is that paintings are collected, and so are tattoos. Tattoo collectors have even gone as far as acquiring human skin, preserved, framed, and then mounted for all to celebrate. In 2016, the Royal Ontario Museum did an entire exhibit focused on tattoos and tattoo culture, called Tattoos: Ritual. Identity. Obsession. Art, which showcased the history and traditions of the art form.
The discussion circling the idea of whether or not tattoos should be considered a fine art should, hopefully, be discarded within this decade. These women (and many others) possess an aptitude that is unmistakably that of a professional visual artist. They are experts in their craft and deserve to be celebrated as such. Tattoo collectors have even gone as far as acquiring human skin, preserved, framed, and then mounted for all to celebrate.
Artist: Kate Doucette
IG: @kate_somebody, @torontotattoohaus
sM | In what ways do female artists still struggle for recognition of self-expression in the industry?
KD — I, like many female tattooers, was brought up in a man's world. I wasn’t taken seriously early on in my career. I was laughed at, dominated, rejected and exposed to way too much sexual assault. It was not the same for my male counterparts—it became paramount that I needed to create a space for female tattooers to flourish in this industry. A space where we can focus on our craft and feel safe and respected—where our clients can feel safe and respected.
I think that as more incredible female tattooers are emerging and staking their claim, they will continue to demand change and respect. There’s no denying the immense talent that women have brought to the industry, but with that being said, it really depends on our environment. Fortunately, mine has changed significantly in the last six years because I have forced that change by creating a space that we can feel confident and thrive in. A space to focus solely on our craft.
Tattooing will thicken your skin and because of that it has shaped me into the strong, self-assured person that I am today, which allows me and others to stand out in a once male-dominated industry. My experience as a female tattooer hasn't always been easy, but I'm grateful to have been brought up the way I have so that I can make a positive difference in the lives of other emerging female artists.
Artwork by Audrey App
Artist: Madeline Audsley
sM | How do you conceive of tattoo art as a visual art like all others?
MA — One of the most special parts of tattooing is that the art can outlive the maker but very rarely is preserved beyond the life of the canvas. Which makes it basically impossible to reproduce, commodify, outsource, auction-off, or display in galleries. All of the commercialized aspects of the fine art industry aren’t applicable in this space.
Art that lives on a body is subject to the same repressions that the body is subjected to. Tattooing is an ancient ritual practice of Black and Indigenous peoples from around the world. In a culture that values purity and whiteness so highly, classist and racist structures bar us from looking at tattooing as something dignified. Western cultures signify the body as a form of power, using ability, age, gender presentation, colour, and size as metrics of value. Marginalized and rebellious communities such as sailors and sex workers have used tattooing as an expression of both bodily acceptance and revolt.
The body is a political site, which makes any form of art that embraces it, like tattooing or piercing, a highly contested and repressed form. The duality of the nature of tattooing as Black and Indigenous expression, and its inability to be commodified, makes it dangerous to a Western capitalist system that relies upon the commodification of nonwhite cultures and labour.