The term “Tattoo Industry” is not a popular one; many people would rather not taint the art with business terms, preferring to think of it as a craft or a profession.
Nonetheless it’s hard to deny the ‘industry’ that has sprung up around tattoos, this for example: Trade suppliers that produce and sell necessary equipment, websites and magazines that document tattoos and tattoo artists for the community and spin off products such as paintings, t-shirts, books etc, some of which originate from tattoo artists, some made by outsiders, sampling the imagery for their own products. For some, this borrowed imagery feels like a step too far, others consider it a mainstream celebration of their favourite sub cultural art.
At the City of Steel convention, the relationship between tattoos and industry seemed impossible to ignore. The hosting venue is an old steel mill and the locality is steeped in the history of workers. Unusually, this convention sits inside a science and industry museum. The Magna Science Adventure Centre is a family friendly, educational, visitor attraction near Rotherham and once the premises of Steel Peech & Tozer, a company that was historically a great force in the production of steel in Britain. This cavernous building once housed plants for the manufacture of metal springs and railway axles, featuring enormous open furnaces and cogging mills. The metal plant, at its peak, reportedly employed 10,000 people.
The proportions of Magna convey its industrial origin and the impressive and at times, intimidating building constantly demonstrates its past. It’s a powerful monument to hard work and reinvention and it some ways a very fitting location for an event that displays hard work and endurance in a very pure form.
This was a popular show, attracting fairly impressive numbers considering this was a debut event, taking place close to the tail end of year. The convention room was full of activity and a busy outdoor smoking spot providing a perfect place for people watching. Convention attendees shared the cafeteria with museum goers and it was a refreshing change to be given the opportunity to co-exist peacefully and not to be contained inside a tattooed-person ghetto. Having a cup of tea whilst enjoying a good view of some museum exhibits was a welcome experience. Sadly, the staff must have been unprepared for hoards of hungry tattoo enthusiasts with many items selling out very and customers having a long wait at not-yet-cleared tables.
One-day tattoo shows can find it difficult to attract far-away artists, as it’s not possible to recoup travel costs with only a day’s worth of working hours. This was evident at the City Of Steel show. Nonetheless, the opportunity for artists to meet new people and learn new techniques and for customers to discover new artists and socialise is just as beneficial on a local scale as it is
on an international one.
The majority of the 40 artists working at this event hailed from surrounding towns and cities and this emphasis on the local gave the opportunity to view both established artists (Mick Tomo, Nigel Kurt) and newer artists (Kerry-Anne of Cock-a-Snook, the team from King Arthur Tattoo). Up and coming artists can be missed in a larger environment and this smaller, more laid-back show was able to showcase those that may usually be unnoticed.
As is traditional with tattoo conventions, a variety of competitive categories were judged, including a best of day section and the competitions offered a chance to view work that is usually covered in the colder months but sadly, there was no big screen footage to relay these tattoos to the expectant audience.
This would not be a representative account of the City Of Steel show without some reference to the controversy that surrounds the competition judging. Usually, judges are selected from tattoo artists, tattoo journalists, tattoo photographers or people that are representative of tattoo related websites. This show chose to invite a television celebrity to attend in order to fill the role of adjudicator; a celebrity that is currently partaking in a high profile apprenticeship and this appointment attracted some negative comments (that would be Jodie Marsh for those of you not paying attention – Ed). Happily, the rest of the panel was made up of a more popular selection of judges and the results seemed fair. Winner of Best Oriental, Matt Hart was a stand out example of a well-deserved trophy collector and Mick Tomo’s victory was unarguable in the Large Colour category.
Another controversial subject associated with the competition was the charge for entry: £3 per tattoo, per category. Only one other UK convention asks for remuneration from contestants, a practice that has attracted criticism in the past, and a practice that is considered indicative of business, rather than community. It would be sad if this brand new convention were to buckle under these criticisms.
Small-scale conventions remain a vibrant and intrinsically vital part of the tattoo calendar, local shows fulfil community needs both socially and artistically and while it is undeniable that there is more to see and do at a larger event, many people are happy to stick with what they know. It’s important to recognise this and reflect it in the types of conventions taking place throughout the year.
Tattoos may well have spawned an industry, but the community must remain the focus, after all, tattoos are art on people, so the people are very important. Conventions, magazines and unrelated businesses that borrow tattoo imagery will do well to keep in mind that tattoos are a passion that is rooted in the personal, the industry must always be second to the art. If the City of Steel convention organisers can remember this next year, the event will be much improved.
And The Winners Are...
Tom by Stuart Rollison of King Arthur’s Tattoo, Scarborough
Mick by Mick Tomo of Ruby Arts, York
Small Black & Grey:
Dez by Kelvin Slack of Army of ink, Doncaster
Large Black & Grey:
Jason by Ronnie Goddard of Blood, Sweat and Pain
Josh by Chris Moss of K2, Richmond
Rachel by Matt Hart of Inspirations, Leeds
Best of Day:
Dave by Andy Walker of Creative Vandals