The Great British Tattoo Show 2012

Published: 28 May, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 212, May, 2012

Somewhere around here, the streets are paved with gold. At least that’s what I used to believe all those years ago when I first moved here from Smallville, but such is the story of everybody that comes here trying to escape from themselves. Kensington has a reputation to uphold – one that is currently kept alive solely by the petrol station across the road from our hotel charging £1.94 for a litre of petrol! Somewhere up north, it’s still less than £1.30. Amazing how a bit of geography can be a licence to print money.

Day one of the Great British Tattoo Show however, and nobody is escaping from anything. Saturday morning kicks off with the rumblings of an ever-increasing crowd gathering around the purpose-built stage to hold the tattoo inspired fashion shows; fire breathers, Cyanide Girls, and whatever else came to be thrown at it, as well as the very dapper and increasingly sardonic Mr Paul Sweeney, who we are always pleased to have compere our shows. We’ve never had a stage around which everything else revolved before, but it works. The beauty of it is that no matter where you wander off to, it will call you back. It’s a good meeting place and proved very popular. Yeah, we could say that it was popular for various reasons adorning the pages of this feature, but it’s a very cool centrepiece that I have no doubt you’ll be seeing time and again now.

This Kensington Olympia lark is quite something. The glass ceiling was well liked by the tattoo artists positioned directly beneath it. Thankfully, the previously threatened thunderstorm stayed away, otherwise I suspect it may have gone rather dark. Logistically, some of the booths weren’t quite so lucky as to have the full force of the sun’s rays beaming down on them, but that’s something we’ll look at for next year. You can’t beat natural light to work in and that’s not something you get everywhere these days. Who are we to turn it away when it makes an appearance?

To the uninitiated, of which there appear to be many of here today, the tattoo still holds all of the mystery it does before you went and got yourself covered. It’s nice to see – better still, it’s great to have an opportunity to talk to them – particularly this guy I ran into called Greg who was loitering with intent between Mark Bailey’s Golden Dragon and Paul Humphries from Evolution who both had their heads down for the foreseeable future.

“I work in I.T. and that’s all I do, but whenever I do get some spare time, I spend it in art galleries. I came here today to see what was on offer and I’m amazed at what these artists are putting on skin.” Greg shrugs like he will never really understand how it’s done. He is, in truth, one of the most enthusiastic geeks I have ever met. “It’s nothing at all like how I thought it would be. What’s happening here is real art – some of it is as good, if not better technically speaking, than the work you find in the National Gallery.”   

Typically, Greg would love to stay and chat as much as I would love to stay and listen, but that Sweeney bloke is announcing with no small amount of gusto (and a microphone) the imminent arrival of the Cyanide Girls. Like he said, Greg has never been to anything like this before. He asks me what a Cyanide Girl is and what one of them might do. Pointing to the power tools littering the stage, I begin my explanation with a reasonably accurate description of what happens when you put metal studs through your bra and pants before setting about them with an angle-grinder. Swiftly, Greg finds a seat not three feet from the stage and whips out one of those crazy tablet sized phones with camera things that might turn into a lifeboat at the weekend. I reckon wherever it is he works in I.T., will have its eyes opened a little more than usual when he gets back. Gotta love those data crunchers.  

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the Olympia, the real work is beginning to take shape. I find Sweet Laraine drawing up an octopus – the second I have seen in as many hours – both totally unique. Making a mental note to check it out later, I also find Emil Edge working up a scorpion made up out of old Singer sewing machine parts and determined to get it inked up sometime over the weekend – which it was and it looked just as great as you’d expect from the Edge. Not so far around the corner, Chantale Coady from Electric Vintage is adding some more work to the Pan’s Labyrinth piece she won an award for back at Tattoo Freeze – this time in the shape of Bowie’s Labyrinth character, which later wins the Best Portrait on the Saturday; it’s only now that I write that down that I see a labyrinth theme appearing. Where to next? Talking of portraits, Rakhee at Xotica pumped out a couple of haymakers over the weekend. The first Dorothy L’Amour and the second, a killer James Dean (also an award winner on the Saturday).  

The fun didn’t end there. No Sir. My good friends Henrik Gallon and Craigy Lee made it to the show – and I made some new friends too which is always a bonus. The crew at Hammmersmith Tattoo proved themselves to be quite a handful both on and off the stage, but you can’t fault their work or drinking ethics. It was also a treat to see that some of the guys from Club Tattoo made it over.

I’m never going to make it through the entire artist list to say thanks (that’s why the gods invented websites), but it would be remiss of me not to mention the guys from ABH (even if you can’t get to their Ink For Heroes show this year (just send cash in a bag)), Mat and Andy at Creative Vandals who made it as far as a massive double-page spread in the Independent (mums will be pleased with that one), the mighty Zoltan from Doctor Singer (we must catch up real soon), and of course, the brilliant Lionel Fahy whose work simply gets better and better in the weirdest way you can ever imagine. I’m pretty sure most people still think he’s joking, but tend to walk past silently afraid to announce the fact that they ‘don’t get it’.

A final word on the show itself – fantastic competition entries. Simply being in London certainly adds a whole new dimension to the judging process, so aside from the work done at the show itself, the photo booth got hit with some really great ink, adding some great new styles an nuances that I hadn’t seen before.

Towards the end of the weekend, who should I run into again but everybody’s favourite data manager, Greg. He was a different man than he was on Saturday morning. Is that a little smear of soot I see on his face from getting a little too close to the Engineers of Desire’s final set? Did the nasty tattooed cenobites get a little too close for comfort? It sure looks that way. Not only is his face marked up with the fire of his desire (I like that… I may use it again later), but there’s something different about his entire demeanour. He shows me extreme close-ups on the tablet-phone-portable cinema screen thing of Millie Dollar and Beatrix Von Bourbon and proclaims them both equal parts hotter than hell. What he actually said with a smile that split his face ear to ear was, “wait until the guys at the office get a load of this!” And was that some taped up cling-wrap I saw sticking out of his T-shirt sleeve? I believe it very well might have been. Thus, I must announce the death and rebirth of Greg. Yesterday, nothing but a humble data specialist; today Greg is broken beyond repair.
How excellent.

The Winners


Best Small Black & Grey: Maris Paulo, Hammersmith Tattoo
Person With Tattoo: Chris Ozo

Best Small Colour: Chantale Coady, Electric Vintage
Person With Tattoo: Daniel Sinnott

Best Large Colour: Cris Gherman, Cris Gherman Tattoo
Person With Tattoo: Chaz Farrell

Best Tattoo Completed Saturday: Rakhee Shah, Xotica Tattoo

Person With Tattoo: Duncan Burbridge


Best Tribal/Celtic: Tony Unwin, Kirituhi Tattoo
Person With Tattoo: Josh Loach

Best Oriental: Derek Campbell, Ultimate Tattoos
Person With Tattoos: Scott Guildford

Best Portrait: Evo, Wicked Needles
Person With Tattoo: Daiga

Best Chest Piece: Cris Gherman, Cris Gherman Tattoo
Person With Tattoo: Chaz Farrell

Best Large Black & Grey: Patric Huttlinger, Sakrosankt
Person With Tattoo: Rafal Mordeja

Best Tattoo Completed On Sunday: Johny Domus Mesquita, Domus Tattoo Art
Person With Tattoo: Kurt Wilson

Best Of Convention: Johny Domus Mesquita, Domus Tattoo Art
Person With Tattoo: Kurt Wilson


Text: Sion Smith: Photography: Mina Bihi & Wicked & Sexy Photography