Holes in the Ground - Craigy Lee in New Zealand

Published: 26 March, 2013 - Featured in Skin Deep 223, April, 2013

Another month another country, and I’m sure as you get to my article each issue that’s what you all expect. Indeed it has become the norm for me the past couple of years. But some things do change and as we venture into 2013, most of this year I will be flying as opposed to driving, jumping between Australia and New Zealand for different conventions and guest spots.

As we say goodbye to Australia and head off from Melbourne I am looking forward to returning to New Zealand and enjoying the country during its summer! My last visit here was more of an epic holiday spent campervaning, however with a working visa printed out and packed into my passport this year, I am planning to spend a bit more time here and hopefully learn a lot more about the art of tattooing in this modest little country.

We land in Auckland and spend a couple of days relaxing and catching up with some friends. Hobbit fever is gripping the country so we decide to head down to Matamata to visit the Hobbiton set where they filmed the exterior shots for The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit films. Matamata is a few hours drive south of Auckland and most of this area is rural agricultural land; thanks to Peter Jackson’s blockbuster movies this small town has now become one of the top tourist destinations in the country. The landscape here is truly beautiful and we drive through areas that look barely touched by humanity. We are blessed with blazing sunshine and booming blue skies, it’s a beautiful day to look at holes in the ground and I’m sure fans of the film will love walking in the footsteps of their favourite characters. There are plenty of great photo opportunities and after a couple of days in small town New Zealand, we head to our next port of call.

New Plymouth is a sleepy town on the North Island of New Zealand, named after Plymouth in Devon, England. It is nearly halfway between Auckland and Wellington making it a perfect central location on the Island. It has beautiful coastlines and the whole town is overlooked by Mount Taranaki, a towering snow-topped dormant volcano – it is weird looking up at the snow-covered peak, whilst down on sea level we are sweltering in 29-degree sun. The pace of life is slow, and everyone from the petrol station cashiers to bartenders are super friendly, not much happens here except for every two years when the tattoo community comes to town, for the biggest tattoo show in the southern hemisphere, the New Zealand Tattoo and Art Festival; and the place is awash with painted skin and parties.

Organiser, Brent Taylor, is an extreme tattoo lover and collector. I met him at the Sydney convention a couple of years ago; as with everyone else in New Plymouth, he was extremely friendly and talkative, revealing how he wanted to make his show the biggest and best in all of Australasia, and not just for the public, but for the artists as well. Many conventions in Australia are extremely expensive for artists to work and you get very little for your money (a couple of tables and chairs), but Brent’s aim was to create an event that was about the quality of the art on show. He has created a convention where you have to apply so the organisers can view your work beforehand, unlike other shows where anyone can just buy a booth and turn up; it’s not about money and the booths are more than affordable (less than a fifth of the price of shows in Australia). Brent also wanted it to be a huge social event where international travelling artists were made very welcome, a convention where it is just as much fun for the artists as it is for the public attending.

So with talk like that, expectations were extremely high, and as the event drew closer I kept a keen eye on the website to see which artists would be attending: Paul Booth, Boog, Sabado, Nicole Lowe, Dan Smith, Adrian Edek, Davee, Dean Sacred, Steve Burlton, Simon Erl and Mick Squires, to name just a few… one thing was for sure, New Zealand had definitely not seen a show with artists of this calibre under one roof before.

The show is a two-day affair, but Friday night there is a pre-show party in town sponsored by the guys at Western Magnetic. Not only is this great because there’s free drinks, but you get to make some friends and meet all the other artists working the show before its even started, so by the time you turn up to work on Saturday it already feels like one big family. That is, of course, only the beginning of the partying as there is an official gathering thrown by someone somewhere both Saturday and Sunday making it all about having a good time and socialising.

The crowds came thick and fast with over 10,000 people passing through the doors over the weekend, which is a LOT for a little town on the west coast of New Zealand. There was plenty of entertainment, bands, burlesque and skating, as well as all the usual tattoo competitions. In total there were around 250 artists tattooing over the weekend, and almost every corner of the globe was represented including traditional Ta Moko artists from New Zealand and native modern tattooing from both the North and South Islands.

With such care taken in making sure everyone has a great time, and with huge support shown in record numbers through the doors, Brent is now aiming to put the show on every year instead of every two. “When I first started I wasn’t sure how well it would go down here,” he tells me, “but with such great support from the tattoo community and so many people in attendance, the future is looking good.”

The show is by far one of the most social conventions around and I can’t recommend it enough; it’s so geared up to the artists who in turn make it appealing for the public to attend, I hope I am here next year to work it again!


Text & Photography: Craigy Lee