A Permanent Work of Art

  • photo by Michele Pucci.

  • photo by Michele Pucci.

It’s a typical afternoon at TattooMania: a tattoo gun is buzzing away at the back of the room, a couple is flipping through binders of designs for inspiration and Valerie Emond is talking about the final details of this weekend’s tattoo convention.

“I always have this dream a few days before the convention, I go inside the room and it’s empty,” she said laughing.

It’s been twelve years since the city’s first Art Tattoo Show, but it’s the first year Emond and her husband are working on it without an event promoter.

“We know what to do, how it goes,” she said. “But still it’s a lot of different things as far as technical things go.”

The convention is open to all-ages and usually receives 8,000 to 10,000 viewers, including staff and entourage and a couple of hundred artists. The event, like most international tattoo conventions, is as much about tattoo customers and connoisseurs as it is about artists hanging out with overseas peers.

“It’s a community that actually visits each other at conventions,” Emond said.

Tattoo artists will attend the event to buy supplies and make connections, but you can often spot people who are avid collectors.

“You’ll see a lot of people that have one, two, even three appointments during the weekend to get tattooed by different artists.”

And it’s definitely the best time to do it. The point of an international tattoo convention is to bring international tattooists to town, some from as far as Korea or Greece.

“Why would I go there, pay $20 and get tattooed by someone I can get tattooed by any day?” said Emond.

No appointment? No problem.

The convention is back at the beautiful and brightly lit Windsor hall, a historic architectural gem and reminder of Montreal’s rich history—but sound-wise the space is not the best for music. So you won’t be hearing any metal there this coming weekend.

“Ça ne serait pas supportable,” Emond said, switching to French.

But there will be music, with four local bands performing, a charity art expo and silent auction, a burlesque performance and a seminar by tattoo legend Chuck W. Eldridge.

“Not everyone will get tattooed, you want it to be worth your $20,” said Emond.

Burlesque performer Lavender May is set to perform with Speakeasy Burlesque at the convention Friday.

“She’s really big in the burlesque movement, she’s classy, she knows a lot of good dancers, and she’s a customer of ours,” said Emond about May.

Eldridge, one of the most well known tattoo historians in the industry, visits the convention every two years. His Montreal-native wife, the Book Mistress collects books on every aspect of the tattoo world.

“He’s trusting the Montreal show as a legitimate quality event, because he doesn’t do a lot of talks and conventions,” said Emond about Eldridge’s appearance.

“Anyone that’s trying to promote tattooing in a positive light should be supported,” said Eldridge about the event.

Eldridge’s Tattoo Archive in North Carolina is a tattoo shop, a bookstore and a museum. This weekend he’ll be giving a free seminar on tattoo shop fronts.

“We can’t move forward if we don’t understand what was done in the past,” he said. “I think that’s certainly true of tattooing.”

While many of the artists at the convention have been there from the beginning, Emond says they’re making an effort to invite new artists.Quebec Tattoo Shop, a sort of Yellow Pages for tattoo shops and artists, is curating the convention’s art exhibit, inviting more than 40 artists from shops across Quebec.

“It was way of giving artists that are not part of the convention the opportunity to showcase their art,” Emond said.

For those who don’t make it into the convention, the 23rd installment of Beaux Dégâts is taking place this Saturday outside the Windsor station, so it’s accessible to everyone. Beaux Dégâts is the spontaneous graffiti battle where teams are given 30 minutes to brainstorm two themes and have two hours to turn those themes into an 8×8 mural. Spectators vote for teams with their beer cans.

“This event is about discussing the ephemeral aspect of street art graffiti, once it’s on the street you control of the thing, anything can happen to it,” said Adrien Fumex, one of Fresh Paint’s founders.

The event is born from Fresh Paint Gallery, which was founded by the annual graffiti convention Under Pressure. Previous Beaux Dégâts events have taken place at Foufounes Électriques.

“Everyone wants to see the event evolve, it’s a way to have fun in a different environment and to present the concept to a different crowd,” said Fumex.

Events like Beaux Dégâts and Under Pressure appeal to the city’s urban and hip-hop community, which doesn’t always include a lot of tattoo enthusiasts, Under Pressure and Art Tattoo have a 10-year-strong history of working together.

“There’s a lot of people from graffiti that turn into tattoo artists, and a lot of people that do tattoos and also paint a lot,” said Emond.

One of the teams for this edition will be made up of tattoo artists from the convention. Emond hopes to appeal to a different crowd, the urban art and urban youth, who are often tattoo customers, but may be unaware of the international event.

The convention is continuously growing, which makes sense considering a rising interest in tattoo culture. Some visitors are intrigued by a culture they might have seen on TV and know Chris Núñez from Miami Ink or Ink Master.

“The hype is there,” and as Emond says this, the phone rings about four times.

The mainstreaming of tattoo also makes conventions like these all the more important for showing quality work. Ideally people considering getting one will learn to notice the difference between good artists and bad ones. Becoming a tattooist has never been easier, and amateurs have many willing canvases as tattoos become more common.

“Nowadays artists with a little drawing skill—or not even—can go online, buy supplies and start tattooing,” she said. “If you go back 15 years, it was much harder to get into the craft and buy supplies.

“Anyone with two hands can tattoo, it’s that easy.”

Doing it well is not easy, and having a bad artist combined with lack of judgment can result in a whole lot of regret.

“I call them artists but they aren’t, they have someone else’s life, in a way, in their hand,” she said. “They don’t have to live with a shitty tattoo.”

The convention aims to give people a glimpse of what a good tattoo is and encourage people to do their research. Emond hopes to deter young people from getting neck and hand tattoos they’ll regret in a few years.

“We’re going to have a lot of cover-ups soon, the more and more it continues.”

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