Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Scratchers and ink slingers.

I don't know how I neglected to tell this story here, as I've told it to basically everyone who encountered me moments after I witnessed the following event.

A few weeks ago, I had pizza and beer at Gio's in IV with Leah. As we're sitting on the patio, enjoying our pitcher of Hefe. Slowly the table next to us begins to fill with leering men of some indeterminately Central American origin. They loudly sing Spanish shanties over our conversation. Leah glares at them. I notice the scrawny, dirty white man who has joined them is taking out of a paper bag what looks to be pots of either ink or black salsa from Baja Fresh (in little take out plastic containers). As Leah and I continue our conversation, I glance over periodically to see what's going on. One of the men is sketching in ballpoint on another's arm. Before the scrawny white man evenproduces his battery-operated electric tattoo machine, I say to Leah. "Dude, you are totally going to witness a scratcher give a tattoo tonight."

All Leah can say is, "That's not . . . sanitary."

But what does a scratcher care?

Sure enough, we sat there through half of the tattooing, the little handheld electric machine whirring away through Spanish shanties and our conversation.

Suprisingly, no one else seemed to notice this.

As a tattoo enthusiast, I can't say I wasn't entirely fascinated by this act, this public tattooing. But this kind of act is the most negative part of tattooing, the part thats associated with being on the fringe, with inappropriateness, with illegality. Not that parts that adhere to standards of art, to delicate sterilization, to some level of cultural awareness. Tattoos deserve to be given by artists, or by those who respect the art enough to understand that a studio, a shop is where the lighting, the equipment, the ink, the sterilization process and everything else are done properly. Not by scratchers who will ink anyone anywhere and not care if their work gets infected or disrupted or the ink falls out.

And if you own an electric machine, which is expensive in its own right, don't you probably have at least an apartment or a garage in which you have a better space to tattoo?

But then I thought: is the fact that art can be created in public spaces somehow comprimised by the fact that tattooing is always done in shops? Is tattooing then fringe and not art by that nature? I can't call this pizza parlor tattoo, however public, anything even close to art. Tattooing, I think, exists in some semantic space between a medical procedure and art. Anyone who deals with modifying or repairing the body is an artist in their own right, be they surgeons who reattach muscle and bone or plastic surgeons who scrape it away and bind and shape the skin. Surgery is an art of the body, and I think that tattooing navigates that space, as well.

You wouldn't want to compromise your body with lipo in the back of a nail salon, or Botox at the cafe. Why would you compromise your body with a tattoo from a scratcher on the patio at Gio's?

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