New Zealand Tattoo & Art Festival 2012

Published: 29 January, 2013 - Featured in Skin Deep 221, February, 2013

A two-year wait proved more than worth it for the second The Mill New Zealand Tattoo & Art festival, as over 250 of the world’s best tattoo artists converged on the small seaside town of New Plymouth on November 24-25.


With the sun shining all weekend and Mt Taranaki as a perfect backdrop, the NZ Tattoo & Art Festival once again proved why it’s the premiere tattoo event down under.

There were over 100 more tattoo artists than the previous festival, with over 170 of the 250 artists coming in from around the globe; public attendance was also up on the 2010 event with tattoo collectors from around New Zealand and Australia ensuring the artists were kept busy all weekend. The queue extended around the building before opening and it wasn’t long until the familiar buzz of tattoo machines could be heard throughout the TSB Stadium, located near the centre of New Plymouth.

The Friday before the festival was an opportunity for artists to learn and network with a full day of seminars by American legend, Paul Booth, and a Horimasa tebori seminar and Japanese mythological creatures seminar by Crystal from Gomineko books in Japan. All seminars were well attended and are something the organisers, Oni Events, would like to continue developing in the future, creating more of an artist day on the Friday and turning the event into a three- to four-day celebration of everything that is great about tattooing.

That evening the combined artist-only opening and Western Magnetic’s 2nd birthday parties were held at local bar, Our Place – Western Magnetic is a tattoo supply company owned by Marv Lerning and Seth Ciferri. The night is a great way to break the ice, treating artists and VIPs to complimentary drinks that got everyone in the party spirit and set the tone for an entire weekend of fun and networking.

A powhiri, a traditional Maori welcome, took place on Saturday morning, officially welcoming everyone to the festival and giving the international artists a further insight into Maori culture and the history that makes New Zealand such a special and unique place to visit.

The 2012 artists list was impressive: Paul Booth making his first trip to New Zealand; Dan Smith from LA Ink; Nikole Lowe from Good Times Tattoo in London coming home for her first ever convention; Boog, Adam Dorsett, and Steve Shippey from America; Sabado and Hori Benny led a large Japanese contingent; Davee, Adrian Edek (Kult Tattoo), and Ania Jalosinska from Poland; black tattoo specialist, Patrick Huetlinger; and tebori masters Horimasa and Horitsuna, along with two other tebori artists, pleased crowds of interested onlookers all weekend with their hand-poked tattoos.

Other artists to get plenty of attention were Horitatsu from Japan, Dust Wu from Hong Kong, Bobby James from Malaysia, and Apro Lee from Korea. Most of Australia’s top talent crossed the Tasman with the likes of Mick Squires, Byron Dreschler, Heath Nock, William Yoneyama, Teniele Sadd, and Anna Day, to name just a few, all producing some amazing tattoos for some extremely satisfied clients. Meanwhile, young Australians Benjamin Laukis, Keegan Hawkins, Laura Marshall, and Matty D Mooney made a big impression over the two days and will be names to lookout for in the future, highlighting just what makes these events so great with more and more amazingly talented artists being exposed to the tattoo community.

Add to this New Zealand’s very best, headed by Dean Sacred, Dan Anderson, and Erin Chance from Sacred Tattoo, Pepa from Bohemian Tattoo Arts, Adam Craft, Andy Swarbrick, and Matt Jordan (who once again took Best Artist of Show award, and walked away with four trophies in the tattoo competition). Young New Zealand artists who stood out were Capili, also from Auckland Tattoo Shop, Sacred Tattoo with his own take on traditional tattoos, and Aaron from the Tattooed Heart in Auckland’s slick oriental style.

New Zealand’s best Ta Moko (Maori tattoo) exponents, including Rangi Kipa, Hohua Mohi, and Thomas Clark, were in attendance in New Plymouth. And the countries close links with the pacific also meant the best Polynesian artists were in attendance; Steve Ma Ching, who is well-known for his tattoo work on All Black, Sonny Bill Williams, took the Best Maori/Pacific in the tattoo competition, while Steve and Pat Morrow did some nice Samoan tattoos all weekend.

The tattoo competition was held on Sunday afternoon and the quality of work on display was a step up from that seen in 2010, making the judges Kent Smith and Fabz jobs extra hard. Guys and girls entered large pieces of an extremely high standard in all ten categories, especially the tattoo removals Best of Show award (judged from all of the winning tattoos) which was, after much deliberation, finally taken by Erin Chance with an impressive fox hunt back piece on a client from Australia.

Chris Stuart from America took the Best of Day Saturday with an owl and skull tattoo, which was a nice change from the realistic tattoos that seem to dominate the competitions these days; Keegan Hawkins won the Professionals Real Estate Best of Day Sunday with a skull hand tattoo. All artists received a tiki trophy designed by Dan Smith, a tattoo machine from Western Magnetic, and Alla Prima ink sets amongst other prizes.

Aside from world class tattooing there was also entertainment in the form of Venus Starr, who was a highlight of the weekend program with her blindfolded aerial silk routines to Rob Zombie, hanging ten metres in the air on two bits of silk dangling from a crane above the outdoor burlesque stage – it was standing room only for her performances. Venus also demonstrated her hoola hoop skills in a gold bikini which kept everyone thoroughly entertained. Bonita Danger Doll also pleased the crowds all weekend long with her seductive fan routines on the burlesque stage. And both girls were kept busy signing prints and taking photos with fans in between performances.

The ALC Ramp Jam was a mini ramp skate comp, with skaters from around the country battling head-to-head in a knockout format with the winner walking away with a $2,000 cash prize; the two-hour competition kept crowds entertained while punk rock cranked in the background. 11 bands played over the two-day festival in the outdoor entertainment marquee – Saturday was headlined by punk band, Bleeders, who were playing a reunion show, along with Kitsch, and metal band, Beastwars, managed to fill the marquee effortlessly and provided those not getting tattooed with a great afternoon out. Sunday had a more laid back feel with loop artist Mihirangi, and ska band, The Skitz, hitting the stage.

Along with making the festival a fun event for those in attendance, the organisers also have a community development focus by raising money for the Taranaki Base Hospital’s children’s and neo natal wards. During the weekend, The Joes Garage Charity Art Auction was held with over 40 artworks on canvas painted by tattoo artists, and sold by silent auction; proceeds from this auction plus the entry fee for the tattoo competition and the sale of graffiti art walls was donated to the hospital.

The New Zealand Tattoo & Art Festival has a unique party atmosphere that sets it apart from the other tattoo events in this part of the world; everyone comes together to do or receive nice tattoos, and network or party with like-minded individuals.

At the close of day on Sunday, everyone headed back to local bar, Our Place, for the artist-only after party that went into the wee hours of the morning… and for some wound up with a bonfire on the beach till the sun came up.

With the success and enthusiasm surrounding the first two NZ Tattoo & Art Festivals, the organisers, Oni Events, have decided that it will now be an annual event. The next festival will be held on November 23-24, 2013, once again at the TSB Stadium in New Plymouth. Organiser, Brent Taylor, already has plans underway to top this year’s festival and attract the world’s best tattoo artists down under once again.

New Zealand

Aotearoa (often translated as ‘land of the long white cloud’) is the current Māori name for New Zealand, and is also used in New Zealand English. It is unknown whether the Māori had a name for the whole country before the arrival of Europeans, with Aotearoa originally referring to just the North Island. Abel Tasman sighted New Zealand in 1642 and called it Staten Landt, supposing it was connected to a landmass of the same name at the southern tip of South America. In 1645 Dutch cartographers renamed the land Nova Zeelandia after the Dutch province of Zeeland. British explorer, James Cook, subsequently anglicised the name to New Zealand.

Māori had several traditional names for the two main islands, including Te Ika-a-Māui (the fish of Māui) for the North Island, and Te Wai Pounamu (the waters of greenstone) or Te Waka o Aoraki (the canoe of Aoraki) for the South Island. Early European maps labelled the islands North (North Island), Middle (South Island) and South (Stewart Island/Rakiura). In 1830 maps began to use North and South to distinguish the two largest islands and by 1907 this was the accepted norm. The New Zealand Geographic Board discovered in 2009 that the names of the North Island and South Island had never been formalised, but there are now plans to do so. The board is also considering suitable Māori names, with Te Ika-a-Māui and Te Wai Pounamu the most likely choices according to the chairman of the Māori Language Commission.

The largely rural life in early New Zealand led to the image of New Zealanders being rugged, industrious problem solvers. Modesty was expected and enforced through the ‘tall poppy syndrome’, where high achievers received harsh criticism. At the time New Zealand was not known as an intellectual country. From the early 20th century until the late 1960s Māori culture was suppressed by the attempted assimilation of Māori into British New Zealanders. In the 1960s, as higher education became more available and cities expanded, urban culture began to dominate. Even though the majority of the population now lives in cities, much of New Zealand’s art, literature, film, and humour has rural themes.

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