Picnic at Hanging Rock #12 - Craigy Lee

Published: 14 November, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 205, November, 2011

The less time you have, the more it seems you have to get done, I’m sure this is something everyone can agree with no matter what you do in life. And as our time in Australia comes to a close I think of all the things I want to cram into my last article and all the things I couldn’t cover on my trip for one reason or another. I am after all just one man!

First off is a short stop in Canberra, a city purpose-built to serve the country as its capital. Canberra is a rather odd kind of place, it’s got a very cold grey feeling with industrial concrete slab buildings and apartment blocks that look like they could have been dropped in from old communist Europe. It does however boast a large amount of art galleries and museums with good collections of international and national art, and it is, of course, home to the Australian government and parliament house, which is open to the public.

Here I will be working at Chris Cashmore’s shop for a week. Chris is well known in the Australian tattoo industry – he has been at almost every convention I have attended throughout the year and invited us down to visit Canberra. In recent months, Chris has been forced to spend less of his time on tattooing and more on the runaway success of the Inkjecta tattoo machine he created with Byron Dreschler. The success of the machine has left the guys working every spare hour to keep up with demand, and it’s nice to see their product doing so well on the international market, putting Australian tattooing on the map.

When I turn up to work, I walk in and find Mick Squires sitting grinning at me, “I’m here doing tribal dragons” he tells me. I am of course laughing, thinking he is taking the piss, but as it turns out he is working a guest spot as well, doing everyday walk-ins, which is great if not a little intimidating. Guest artists are a regular occurrence at the shop and along with Chris there are also four full-time artists: Max Feconda, Adam, ‘Cactus’, Lynda and Dave. Man, the first day hit me full on like a train. The shop is incredibly busy; with a 12-year reputation it is well known in the city and the rest of the week doesn’t slow down. This is the kind of place where a tattoo artist can certainly earn their stripes, you have to be a good all rounder and keep up with the workload… there is no rest!

As we leave Canberra behind, we head back down to spend our last few weeks in Melbourne and attend the first Melbourne tattoo expo, things seem to have come full circle. I worked my first Australian convention in Melbourne at the Rites of Passage Tattoo Art Festival last January and I will be working my final one here in the same city. This new expo is organised by the same team that run the hugely successful Sydney show and is held right in the City centre, in the Melbourne convention centre opposite the crown casino.

As I walk in to set up, I walk past at least ten people who say hello to me before I even reach my booth, it is so easy to make friends here in Australia no matter what shop you are from, and it will be a gloomy occasion when I leave. Being in its first year, the convention is a lot smaller than Sydney, but is still a decent size. There are a lot less international artists but a lot of the Australian heavyweights have shown up; Teneile Napoli, Sam Clarke, Luke Muller and Jasmin Austin are all in attendance as well as Dr. Rev the blood painter who is attempting another world first at the show (he will be painting live with tubes attached directly into his veins using fresh blood). As you can imagine the spectacle draws a huge crowd with cameras and iPhones up in the air taking snaps to document the occasion and witness history. The very lovely Bev ‘Cindy Ray’ Robinson also made an appearance and did a tattoo on Jimmy Witlock from the Lucky’s Tattoo Supply stand which also drew a big crowd of spectators, eager to see the infamous painted lady of Australia tattooing.

The popular skate deck charity auction was again being held over the weekend with impressive decks from many artists working the show. A huge blank canvas which artists were encouraged to draw and paint on during the weekend was also auctioned off for charity on the final day. Onstage along with the tattoo competition, a zombie beauty pageant drew a lot of curious onlookers – the whole convention had a great buzz and something for everyone.

There is certainly a different kind of vibe with the crowds at shows in Melbourne; they seem to be younger, eager and hungry to take it all in. Maybe because it’s considered the ‘artsy city’ or maybe because the biker gangs have less control over shops here, but it’s far more fun working tattoo conventions in this city. One noticeable difference while walking around was the amount of tattoo artists who had their own booths rather than working under studios. They are all working hard to promote themselves as individuals, not only portfolios on each table, but sketch books and prints are there for the buying. And although Australia only had its first big international convention three years ago, the artists here are certainly holding their own.


Text & Photography: Craigy Lee