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A Very Fine Art

Showcasing the female perspective within the tattoo industry, while exploring the categorization and validation of tattoo artists and their work.

By Dani Williams 

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Kristy Gordon

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Lynn H. Leeson

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Robert Lepage


Art on theMART


The Joffrey Ballet


Dennis Watkins


Route 66


National Arts Centre


Immersive Klimt

Website_ Camille Thomas - Illustration b

Camille Thomas

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Constantine Orbelian


Hyde Park Center


Chicago Symphony


Josh Grossman


Pia Kleber, UofT


FFDN Festival

Artist: Kate Doucette 
IG: @kate_somebody, @torontotattoohaus

Kate Doucette


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. 

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Art by Kate Doucette

Artist: Madeline Audsley
IG: @tattoovalentin

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Madeline Audsley

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.

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Art by Madeline Audsley

Artist:  Audrey App
IG: @audtats

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Audrey App

What has been your experience of the negative stigma associated with tattoo art and how has this changed since you started as a tattoo artist?

AA - I'm a 21-year-old self-taught tattoo artist who began roughly two years ago. I used to be a bit of a skeptic of the tattoo industry since all I saw was dark and grunge styles, which isn't my personal taste. I was also anxious about how the industry viewed female tattoo artists and how I would possibly be put under certain pressures. However, after I dived headfirst into this world, I quickly discovered a wide range of styles and people who genuinely cared about the art they created and the people they gave it to!  Even though I still see this negative stigma—unfortunately, even in my own life—I believe the stigma linked with tattoo art has begun to relax in recent years. Tattooing is still sometimes considered as a “dark” and “evil” thing because it is a form of body alteration. I've lost friends and have had to deal with the fact that not everyone will agree with what I do.

Even though it's been a little less than two years, I've watched tattooing evolve in a beautiful way. As I create what I love, I’m finding a breathable freedom that allows me to really connect with my clients and myself. I truly believe us humans are pieces of art, and because of that, we create beautiful art.

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Art by Audrey App

Artist: Emma Anderson
IG: @sun.doesnt.set

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Emma Anderson

How do you conceive of the current state of tattoo art as a visual art? 

EA - I think tattooing is in the late phases of a rebirth, which started with the democratization of education via social media. Although the future of tattooing is uncertain, I see it blossoming into something it never was. We’re in a golden era of tattooing where tropes and traditions are bent and sometimes broken. I’m inspired by the tattooists that push the boundaries of what tattooing can be while still making tattoos that last for the life of the wearer.

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Art by Emma Anderson

Artist: Haley Adams
IG: haleyadamstattoo @castrotattoosf 

Haley Adams

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What has been your experience of the negative stigma associated with tattoo art and how has this changed since you started as a tattoo artist?

HA - I’ve been tattooing all over the United States for 16 years, and I think that tattoo stigmas have settled down since tattoo shows became popular, which was a good thing for some, and bad for others. I find it amusing to let others think I’m a ''bad boy” just because I have some scribbles on my body. On the other side of that, it can easily affect people's perception of you in relation to substance abuse. When I was 19 years old, I broke my spine. I was lying in the hospital in immense pain, and the medical professionals said to me, “I think we are going to only give you small amounts of painkillers because you look like a drug addict, you know, because you have a lot of tattoos.” Things are different everywhere, but I think it’s narrow-minded to complain about the “discrimination” you get from having tattoos because we knew the deal when we got them.

How do you conceive of tattoo art as a visual art like all others? 

HA - Tattooing is different from a lot of visual art since it’s on a living,  breathing body that has freewill to go where it pleases. We have to make sure our art looks good on all these weird 3D shapes. Is tattooing struggling to be appreciated? I think tattooers and serious collectors live in a counter-culture where we absolutely appreciate art and will fly all over to collect pieces. It doesn’t have to be mainstream to feel appreciated. I feel appreciated; I feel like my work is appreciated. Certain people definitely do fine art on the skin; there’s all kinds of styles and all kinds of appreciation. Art doesn’t have to be in a gallery to be loved and respected.

Artist: Ryane Urie 
IG: @ryantouchedme, @thewolfdencustomtattoo

Ryane Urie

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How do you conceive of tattoo art as a visual art like all others?

RU - I have already started to see the shift in the medium of tattooing and the industry moving towards having a whole new sub-category of fine art and being recognized as that. Just like the Sailor Jerry tattoo collectors in the world exist, so do the clients that desire to wear a painting style for their statement piece, and the more artists that enter the industry of tattooing, the less “tattooers” that replicate existing art will remain, and more originality and creativity will elevate the entire community as a whole. This has already given the industry a more reputable track record, and it’s seen almost as a high fashion to wear collections by such and such artists. That can be positive while also toeing the line of creating for everyone and that everyone deserves a chance to have their story worn.

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Art by Ryane Urie

Find this and more in Issue No.8 of smART Magazine

Issue No.7 features in-depth interview with artists and arts organizations across 10 cities. 

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