Now an established entry in the tattoo enthusiast’s calendar, the Great British Tattoo Show again rocked up to Alexandra Palace, the high point of North London, during the late May Bank Holiday weekend. Combining stalls by over 300 tattooists, both international and nearer to home, with alternative culture and music, it catered for the curious newcomer as well as seasoned, heavily-inked punters.
The buzz of dozens of tattoo machines was periodically overtaken by music from the acoustic stage, and the strains of Nine Inch Nails and Motorhead accompanying events on the main performance stage. Quietly charismatic despite his man bun—it’s not a bad idea to tie your hair up when you’re playing with fire—Andy Wakeford cracked flaming whips and juggled large burning structures. Guinness World Record holder, Daniella D’Ville, swallowed razor blades and balanced swords while doing the splits in a sparkly red corset, and the equally supple Anna Frost demonstrated her pole-dancing skills. Elsewhere a snake charmer strolled around the venue with a chunky python wrapped around her petite body as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
The highlight of the catwalks was a series of wearable sculptures created by Liam Brandon Murray. Each item serves a dual purpose as wearable clothing and a piece of art. Completely unique and composed of seven different substances, including three types of adhesive, stretchy paint, rubber and foam, they included customised jackets, waistcoats, washable swimwear and a full-blown wedding dress painstakingly detailed with numerous faces and figures (the model wearing the latter had to be lifted on and off the stage). His range is not yet available for sale but promises to be in the near future, with plans for a full exhibition and catwalk show within the next year. American R&B artist, TQ, has already been spotted sporting the purple jacket with sculpted lapels and it can only be a matter of time until high-end fashionistas discover these creations.
As usual, there was an array of merchandise. Recycled materials were very much in vogue with quirky robots and ray guns made by science-fiction enthusiast Mark from the stuff that everyday folk leave behind, and a selection of tiki designs painted onto reclaimed wood. Samples of moonshine were snapped up, the tough nut flavour being a particularly tasty treat.
But alcohol consumption and permanent ink do not mix well and of course, the main focus of the event was the tattooing. All around the room, brave souls gritted their teeth and bared flesh in public to gain their own piece of lifelong artwork on their person. The overall prize for the best tattoo done at the convention was Eric Kueh of 71st Skinslavery Tattoos, for an intricate black-and-grey chest piece. Other winners were Erikas Bulanovas of Algis Tattoo, (blackwork), Simon Caves of The Country Gent Tattoo Studio (Oriental), Zmetek of Custom Made Ink (realism), Rudi Ridgewell of Carousel Tattoo (traditional), Miro of Oxford Tattoo (neo-traditional), Ionut Botez of Famous Tattoo Studio (avant-garde), and Gazz Neaves of Black Rabbit Collective (colour and best of Saturday).
Much like tattoos, veganism is a trend that has moved from the alternative towards the mainstream in recent years. While vegans may check the ingredients of their food and cosmetics for animal ingredients or testing, a less considered issue is that of tattoo ink and sterilising lotions. Vegan activist and tattooist, Jimmy Galan, told me that over the last few years vegan-friendly inks have become more common, however it is crucial for vegans to check that their studio, or at least their particular tattooist, uses products that neither contain animal ingredients nor are tested on animals. Not only is all his own work cruelty-free but about 60% of it includes animal liberation quotes or images, reflecting the growing vegan and vegetarian customer base. A few stalls away I found another vegan tattooist, Bex Priest, from Cult of the Sphynx. Although accomplished at all styles, as a self-confessed old-school goth and horror movie fan, she has a strong preference towards darker occult themes, especially designs with intricate blackwork. She particularly enjoys tattooing those who share her taste in music, films and all things spooky.
There is a certain comfort in being in the company of the like-minded. Even in these more open-minded times, not everyone is accepting of body art and most people still have to cover up tattoos at work. Whatever your style, being around others with a shared passion brings an unspoken sense of solidarity. While celebrating the best of the tattoo world, the show catered for all tastes, from a small flower on the shoulder blade to geometric shapes across the back and everything in-between, without being judgmental or elitist. Large enough to cover all bases but small enough to get around the whole event and have a good view of the live performances, it was another successful year for the Great British Tattoo Show.
Photos by Carl Byron Batson and Candace Arizona Gratton. Not to be reproduced without express prior permission.