Surf 'n' Ink (2010)

Published: 27 August, 2010 - Featured in Skin Deep 184, April, 2010

When Surf ’n’ Ink opened its doors on Friday, January 15th, it was a historic moment. For the first time ever an international tattoo convention was going to be held on Australian soil. And the starting field was nothing less than impressive. 

The venue was pretty empty when I arrived at the Gold Coast Exhibition Hall but outside the sun is scorching and the streets are filled with sparsely clad women and men who seem to enjoy showing off their bodies. Sunglasses are a must, Billabong shorts and blond streaks and a windswept hairdo are also recommended.  

Inside the exhibition hall also features people with an urge to show off their skin art, but it’s not the same goods on display. Well, not entirely anyway. In this case it’s body art, and as always the visitors draw almost as much attention as the artists and their portfolios. The convention features about a hundred artists and the man
behind it all, Marco Ventura, is happy with the outcome. 

“It all comes back to the fact that I am a tattoo artist myself. I know a lot of these guys and they know I’ve got an independent vision. So I’ve had a lot of help from magazines and support from other artists abroad”. 

Besides being the head organizer and tattooing at Satisfaction Art he also manages Custom Magazine. He’s originally from Lima, Peru and the idea of organizing a convention came to Marco while tattooing at a convention in Amsterdam, three or four years ago. 

“I had been attending conventions for about five years so I asked myself why we didn’t have one in Australia? The only thing we had was small, local shows run by different clubs. So I started planning
this one”. 

A brief look through the program shows that Marco has managed to pull together quite a few artists from overseas. Alex from Rites of Passage in Denmark, Nick Morte from Norway, Gilles Lovisa from Tahiti, Xio Dong from Mummy Tattoo in China and Bob Tyrrell, Mike DeVries and whole lot more from the States are just a few who came to work. 

And there’s no mistaking who the biggest star is. People constantly surround his booth during the two days he’s actually tattooing and visitors as well as the organizers and other tattoo artists are talking about the two portraits he does at the convention. And they both make it into the top four in the Best in Show-competition. One of them takes home the title while the other has to be content with winning first prize in Best colour portrait. Nikko Hurtado from Black Anchor Collective in USA even gets to sign autographs. 

“It’s a bit strange. I mean, I’m just a tattoo artist”, he says and shrugs his shoulders.

It’s his first visit to Australia and he’s more than happy so far. Even though he, like every other international artist, had to take Queensland’s special two-hour health and sanitation course the day before the convention started.

“It’s the only thing with Australia, their rules, and I honestly didn’t think I’d pass.

I have problems with focusing when it comes to reading and so on, but it went ok. Otherwise it’s been awesome. I’ve always wanted to go to Australia and when I talked to the organizer he seemed cool. They’ve treated me well and it’s been really busy. I even talked to some older tattooists, who have been doing this for 30 years, and they were cool. Normally they’re a bit harder than the younger generation”. 

On Saturday there’s a lot more people.  In the afternoon there’s a long line just to get in. A couple of winners were crowned already on Friday, some more today and Sunday features the big, most prestigious contests. 

The quality of the tattoos made at the convention is generally very high, and it’s predominantly portraits and realistic styles that the Australians seem to enjoy at
the moment. 

“It’s been a trend the last four years or so”, Marco Ventura says. There are a lot of painters and airbrush artists who have become tattooists and they have different influences to the classic tattoo artist. Also they’ve started to check out more international artists for inspiration. 

“There’s not a lot of black and grey around”, Nick Morte says, “but a lot of fantastic colour tattoos”. 

“It’s like the old school never made it here”, Nikko Hurtado says. I talked to some Australian artists and they told me that the whole 50’s style never caught on here, not just the tattoos. 

And if you look around you quickly notice that the rockabilly guys you normally see at European conventions are almost never to be found. Among the girls it’s a bit more common though, and Marco and his crew seem set on bringing it back to life. In the convention you can buy clothes and get your hair done 50’s style, and two of the days there’s a pin up parade. 

Sunday also attracts s fair deal of people. The big competitions are held as the first international convention in Australia is coming to an end, and Marco has already started planning next year’s event. His general goal is to spread the tattoo culture in Australia and get as many international artists as possible to come over, but he also has plans to widen the spectra of the convention. 

“Next year it will be more of a tattoo and art convention. I have some ideas and I’ve had people calling me already about wanting to participate”.  We’ll see what happens.


Text and photography: Simon Lundh