The Australian Tattoo & Body Art Expo 2013

Skullavera’ skull art symbolic of the celebration of the ancient Aztec Day of the Dead by Paul Settecasse Photo:Paul Settecasse

This year’s Australian Tattoo and Body Art Expo was as much about passion for art, camaraderie and education as it was about checking out and displaying cool, pretty things or tribal rites of passage.

At the gates of the Expo, held at the Royal Hall of Industries, Moore Park, shiny, rumbling Harleys were on display for the curious to have a ‘hammer down’ and ‘crack it’. Just inside the doors you were tempted to be a star with a professional make-over photo shoot.

Tattoo customers eager to ogle at other interesting art could also discover a myriad of popular skull art, symbolic of “Dia de los Muertos” or the Mexican Day of the Dead. The modern Mexican, painted, tattoo-like sugar skulls or “La Calavera Catrina” such as the carved clay pieces by stallholder ‘Skullavera’, came from ancient Aztec practices which celebrate and attribute their brightly colour-splashed skulls with rebirth and transformation.

Walking the many rows of creatively gifted tattooists busy at work, it was interesting to see many other industry-inspired artworks of all types from lingerie, skateboards, clothing, books, skull art, hefty priced ‘cockamamine’ (tattoo hand-drawn stencil design)  and collectable paintings and prints. There is a big market in tattoo and piercing ‘aftercare’ products and instruction to keep it safe, free of infection and looking great.

Tattoo up-and-coming artists hard at work on big tattoo pieces Photo: Stirling Hay

One could meander for hours amidst blue-haired rockabilly beauties, muses dressed in smart costumes and pierced or plain-dressed artists busy doing body art with their ‘works’(tools of trade). There were burlesque shows, DJs, pin-up pageants, a hip kiddies play corner, daily workshops and ‘Tattoo of the Day’ contests to keep one busy.

You could find the likes of Geoff Ostling wandering around and chatting and hugging fellow artists. Ostling, a lover of art, will be donating his skin, which is a garden of flowers ‘masterpiece’ full-body  tattoo, to the National Gallery in Canberra.

The highlight event was the premiere of Tattoo Nation, narrated by Corey Miller, with its never-seen before stories, original interviews and footage and heartening insight  into the iconic tattoo legends in California from the late 1970s onwards. The documentary focuses on the history of the prison-style ‘black and grey’ tattoo and its transformation from the symbol of a culture of renegades, gang violence and shady characters into a $1.65 billion US industry of hip popular art.

After running his own tattoo parlour, Six Feet Under, for nearly 20 years, Corey Miller has seen it all. Gratitude for life, having kids and being devoted to his art have been a saving grace for legends such as Miller who shed the rebellious undertones and  punk-rock ‘bad boy’ roots synonymous with modern tattoo culture by having a family and devoting his spare time to his passion for playing drums.

Corey Miller at his Six Feet Under Tattoo Parlour stand

Guest star for the three-day event, Miller, a premier tattoo artist with almost 30 years of experience and star of the popular LA Ink TV series, says it’s more chic to be inked up.

“Down in Australia there are some great artists. Melbourne last year; Sydney this year. Down here it’s more raw and fresh. It keeps me inspired,” Corey says and beams a smile.

Miller reflects that when he was 15 years old, he thought he was breaking the law by hanging out and watching the artists working at the local tattoo shop.

“When I started out in LA it used to be hard to get into. Hard to learn anything, hard to get supplies. What  I see now is a lot more educated and experienced artists bringing their skill and unique style to the business. Nobody knew it would be what it is today.”

The tattoo industry in Australia boasted an annual growth of 5.5 per cent in 2012. Miller and a growing number of tattoo lovers worldwide travel to the annual Expos to rub shoulders with the new wave of tattoo talent coming in and to see what they are doing. They come to check out the current emerging trends of cutting-edge artists.One observation at attending the Expo is that tattooists have become good communicators, with an approachable down-to-earth attitude. Competition is bringing out the best in the artists to create customised designs for their clients.

More females are also joining the ranks. Rin, from Kaleidoscope Tattoo studio in Bondi, recently moved here from China where she  grew up with an artistic family and had a budding profession as a graphic designer. Her gift for detailed work with tattoo art started five years ago when her mother opted for a tattoo – a red rose.






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