Get Inked

A provocative exhibition opens Sunday 5 July at Gallery 1855. Inked focuses on a series of prints and plates about inking paper and skin. We caught up for a chat about the exhibition with Curator Simone Tippett, who provides some fascinating insights below.

Inked, Lorelei Medcalf, etching

Inked, Lorelei Medcalf, etching

Tell us about the Inked exhibition coming up at Gallery 1855. What kind of artworks will be on display? Who has created these artworks and why?

Inked is an exhibition of prints and plates about inking paper and skin. The works are by contemporary Adelaide artists responding to the nexus between printmaking and tattooing in popular culture. Many of the works are on paper and are exhibited alongside the plates and matrices used to make the prints.

Printmakers circle through interesting sub-cultures that include street art, graffiti, zines, comics and roller derby. Many printmakers have an appreciation and interest in different forms of tattooing, piercing and scarification (and not just of skin) as these processes are akin to those of printmaking. We are all fascinated with ink and surfaces, regardless of whether we own tattoos or not.

Inked has been curated by Simone Tippett from Union St Printmakers and Vicki Reynolds, head of Printmaking at the Adelaide College for the Arts.

Do you consider tattoos to be a serious form of art?

Yes.

Generally speaking, I believe all forms of art are serious if that is what the artist intends. The subject matter or the manner of making artworks may be irreverent or un-serious, however, the search for meaning and the practice of making always is.

Also, there is no doubt that tattoos, like all forms of art, involve varying degrees of artistry and skill. I suspect that discussions about tattoos and art are similar to the wrangles that have been had for decades over ideas of ‘craft’ and ‘art’.

Having said that, I think most people would admit that the aesthetics and reasons for tattoos – the choices people make regarding their own skins – are incredibly personal. What is beautiful or meaningful to one person may be incomprehensible to another. In that sense, the ideas and expressions of tattoos have a real synchronicity with ideas of ‘fine art’ or ‘high art’. Ask 10 people visiting Gallery 1855 for their definition of art and you’ll get 10 different answers, a lot of criticism and possibly a heated discussion. Ask 10 people what makes a good tattoo or whether tattoos are serious art, and you’ll also get 10 different answers… But I wouldn’t criticise their choice of tattoo though!

Inked, Michael James Rowlands, Derby, relief print

Inked, Michael James Rowlands, Derby, relief print

A tattoo is normally a personal and intimate thing an individual has chosen for themselves. How can they be presented in a way for a broader audience, to evoke different reactions and insights?

Of all the questions I put to our group of artists, this one led to the most diverse range of answers. Some believe that tattoos are fundamentally intimate, verging on secretive. Others believe that an image displayed on their skin, within public view, is for public consumption within our contemporary image-saturated world. I hope that, in presenting this exhibition, we engender discussion about this.

Have you ever thought about staging a living and breathing tattoo exhibition, featuring real humans?

No.

There are plenty of expos and reality television shows that attempt this. There are also some interesting ethical, cultural and anthropological issues that would need to be negotiated in fully exploring this, beyond the usual conversations that are had on reality television. The Wellcome Collection in the UK is an interesting introduction to this: www.wellcomecollection.org/search/tattoo.

For example, in addition to some very accessible and interesting contemporary collections of skin, designs and tattoos, the Welcome Collection has a number of tattooed human skins that they are reluctant to exhibit for cultural reasons. A really interesting article about whether tattoos and skin belong in galleries can be found here: www.newstatesman.com/art-and-design/2013/04/will-tattoo-ever-hang-louvre.

An alternative view, of course, is that life is a living breathing tattoo exhibition. If you went to the Garden of Unearthly Delights during the latest Fringe Festival, you may have seen the Lizard Man. Go to roller derby or the AFL and you’ll see some great ink. Not to mention the experience of people watching at your local supermarket…

As one of the tattooed artists in this exhibition said, “We are all artworks in a way, aren’t we?? Living, breathing, travelling exhibitions…

Can you provide a short background on your printmaking and art career, and what you love about this art form?

I’m fascinated with printmaking, different processes, inks and surfaces. I love the idea of people who have never been interested in art, or who have had limited exposure to art, getting interested in exhibitions and learning to do something completely new. My aim is to plant seeds that get people away from their computers and into environments where they can play, have serious fun and make things with their hands. Printmaking is such a good way to do that.

I teach art at a community level with Union St Printmakers in Stepney. My co-curator, Vicki Reynolds, is the head of Printmaking at AC Arts. We are both on the Print Council of Australia and both regularly organise exhibitions that include printmaking. I am relatively new to the Adelaide printmaking scene, whilst Vicki has been a practicing artist and teacher for all of her career.

The artists in this exhibition hail from a diverse range of backgrounds. Come to the exhibition, see their works and find out more…

Inked, Simone Tippett, resingrave engraving - Heart III

Inked, Simone Tippett, resingrave engraving – Heart III

What do you hope people get out of seeing the ‘Inked’ exhibition at Gallery 1855?

I hope that Inked pulls people unused to fine art galleries into Gallery 1855. I hope it starts a conversation about what art is, what a gallery is and what belongs in a gallery – both in terms of public spaces, as in Gallery 1855 and also with respect to alternative spaces, as on people’s skins and in the private spaces in which they live. Looking at art and collecting it is an intensely intimate experience – whether in a fine art gallery, on your body, or via the images that you hang at home and live with. I feel that art is a conversation and a way of life, as much as the sports team you support or the clothes you wear. It is a way of interacting with and communicating with the world.

The thing that has amazed me, so far, in organising this exhibition is the diversity of responses from the artists. Not everyone has tattoos, others are covered with them. Most like and appreciate tattoos, but not all. Some are more interested in the cultural history and significance of tattoos, and what this says about us. Most of the artists are printmakers, in that they make prints, but many name themselves otherwise, for example as painters, drawers and graphic artists. However, all call themselves artists first and foremost, and all are serious about their art, even if their subject matter is irreverent, satirical or comical.

This is not an exhibition about tattoos per say – there are plenty of documentaries and expos that deal with the various contemporary sub-cultures of tattooing. Rather, this exhibition is about the idea of ink to a group of artists who are united in their fascination for ink on different surfaces.

Inked is on display at Gallery 1855 until Saturday 1 August. Gallery 1855 is open from Wednesday to Saturday, noon-5pm.

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