Craigy Lee: Amsterdam or Bust - Amsterdam Tattoo Convention 2012

Published: 17 September, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 216, September, 2012

A lot of artists I have met in Europe get very excited when they talk about the Amsterdam tattoo convention, really hyping it up. So it has been one of the shows I’ve been looking forward to the most this year, combined with the fact I have never visited Amsterdam before and I’ll get the chance to visit the tattoo museum here as well.

On the way to Amsterdam, I made a quick stop in Rotterdam to visit Schorem Barbers – or ‘scumbags’ as it translates to English. The guys cut my hair at the Rotterdam tattoo convention and told me all about their old time barber shop in the city, so I thought it worth a stop for a look and a cut. The shop did not disappoint! Walking in feels like stepping back in time to a slower pace of life; blues, jazz and rockabilly music flows from the stereo speakers and the walls are decorated with taxidermy animal heads, old photos, paintings and art prints from various tattoo artists. The barbers themselves dress in waistcoats and ties with neck tattoos and sleeves poking out from their collars and cuffs. I sit down, get handed a cold beer and feel as if I am in a gentlemen’s club – women are not allowed in the shop, like, not at all… there is even a sign! Regular customers have their own cabinets which are filled with cigars, whiskey and other tipples, and it certainly gets me in the mood for the start of the weekend. I leave rather dapper, but cant help feeling I need a smoking jacket for my next visit.

We arrive in Amsterdam on Friday and set up. As I walk around, I see there are some great artists working the show, Jondix and Deno are sharing a double booth and I am wedged in between Patrick Huttlinger, who is working on some amazing dot work designs, and Kel Violet, whom I worked with many years ago in West London. Friday rolls along and while there are plenty of great artists in attendance, sadly the general public are rather thin on the ground.

All the artists were given a wooden clog to paint on arrival, which will go into the competition on Sunday before being auctioned off for charity. It also keeps many artists busy while they are not tattooing. After the convention we wander into town to experience Amsterdam by night. I’m not a smoker so the cafe’s did not really interest me, but I am also not a prude, so we visit the red light district to see it in all its neon glory. The place is extremely busy, full of tourists and drunk blokes on stag nights transforming the cute buildings and canals we saw by day into a ‘Euro Trash’ theme park for adults at night.

Saturday and Sunday roll along and sadly the show doesn’t get much busier; friends of mine from Germany are quite baffled as they do the show every year and reminisce about busier shows in the past. It was nice sunny weather, so maybe everyone headed away for the weekend, or maybe everyone was just too stoned to take interest in an exhibition hall full of tattoo artists. Sadly hype and expectations can be a dangerous thing and I leave slightly disappointed. Maybe my hopes were too high or maybe I have worked too many shows this year, but at least I have the Amsterdam Tattoo Museum to look forward to.

The museum houses Henk ‘Hanky Panky’ Schiffmacher’s personal collections and has recently been re-opened in a new, larger building split over three floors. The main building has an art gallery that’s currently exhibiting Alex Binnie’s woodblock portraits; it’s quite a feast for the eyes, portraying many artists from Freddy Corbin and Fillip Leu to George Bone and Australia’s Ali Manners. Alex is an extremely talented artist and for well over 20 years has produced amazing art as well as tattoos. The fact that he has managed to stay at the forefront of the art and be such an important figure in the UK tattoo industry for so long says a lot about the man. If you get the chance check out the exhibition then buy the book… you won’t be disappointed.

As you enter the museum itself, many of tattoo’s greatest greet you in the hall of fame, looking down from their traditionally painted Holland porcelain plates. It’s truly brilliant. The first floor focuses on tattooing tribal history; there is an array of traditional hand tattoo equipment, photographs, mummified remains and other artifacts from the likes of New Zealand, Samoa, and all over the world. The second floor concentrates on Western tattooing; cases full of old tattoo machines, tattoo trunks, ancient-looking power packs, pigments and other equipment, as well as hand-painted signs, pictures and collectables from the likes of Les Skuse, Cindy Ray and countless other artists who have made their mark over the last 100 years or so. You can even sit and wait at the replica bar of the Bristol Tattoo Club before you get some work from a visiting guest artist working in a booth in the museum.

Finally, on the top floor is ‘The Tatican’ – a working tattoo studio with guest artists from all over the world, and a room exclusively for hand tattoos with a raised platform, which is beautiful. If you are in Amsterdam, it’s well worth a visit. The cases and displays are put together with a lot of care, and the display cards are informative but not boring – it certainly taught me more about my art form, and so I will leave you with this fact… ‘Britain: first documented by the Romans, who described a headhunting people tattooed in blue. The word ‘Britain’ is said to have derived from the Celtic and means ‘the land of the painted people’.’

Even today you can say that in Great Britain the tattoo rules the waves!


Text & Photography: Craigy Lee