Edited by Julian Wong.
When it comes to tattoos, there are a million and one perspectives on what they mean and what they should mean. Whether they’re historical, personal, or philosophical, everyone’s got something to say about skin art; even those who don’t have any at all.
Over the 21st to 23rd April weekend, at the Singapore Ink Show, we took the chance to speak to some tattoo artists about their tattoos. In the process, we realised that contrary to what has often been said, there isn’t always a story behind every tattoo. At the same time, they’ve become a way for these individuals to define themselves—and not just aesthetically.
On the right side of his upper forehead, Jap’s lightning tattoo stands for what Elvis Presley used to say: TCB, or “Taking Care of Business.” The diamond on the left side of his forehead, represents an earned patch symbolic of bikers’ code—a very serious motorcycle club thing.
“Most bikers will know what it means when they see it,” he says, “If you want to know more you can go and Google it.”
As it happens, Jap is also the president for War Pigs Motorcycle Club.
For him, facial tattoos are the first thing he sees in the mirror every morning. As such, they’re a reminder to stay on his toes, work hard, take care of business; take care of the family. After that, of course, comes the motorcycle club.
Kelvin, or Monster, tells us that his facial tattoos don’t mean anything.
“I just felt like my skin empty la, and I wanted to go further,” he says.
Eventually, he reveals that by getting the tattoos that he has, he wanted to leave himself no way out of the tattoo industry. The objective: so that he can get better at tattooing.
Like medieval jesters who used face paint as part of their aesthetic, Kurt’s tattoos (the black dots under his eyes) are kind of the same thing. The only difference is that his are more subtle markers, and because he’s an introvert, this “face paint” motivates him to break out of his shell.
“At the same time,” he adds, “I am still what I am. I feel like since I’m a tattooer and am always going to be one, my tattoos also show my dedication to tattooing. I also won’t deny that they make me look better.”
“I actually do more piercings because maybe, I’m more logical, or more technical. I’m a perfectionist so even little inconsistencies bug me at night,” says 25 year-old Vincent Tan.
He believes that tattoo artists need to be more creative because if you’re an artist, you should be able to create no matter the medium. If you’re just technical, you’re nothing once you wipe off the stencil—which is why he’s still working on becoming a better tattoo artist.
His head tattoos represents his two sides: left side for his logical side and the right for his tattooing side. They’re tattoos of his gear, from his first tattooing machine (right) to his piercing equipment (left), and remind him that this is what he chose to do in life after not having had much of an education.
“I don’t have many tattoos, but I plan all of them and I always go for the most painful ones, which is why I had my head tattooed,” he says, “But it turns out, feet tattoos were the worst for me. They might not be good tattoos, but I thought about them before I got them.”
3 years ago, someone in his family passed away. The cross under his left eye has then become a symbol to remind him of that person. Because his face is where his tears come from, he says that this reminder of those sad days will make him stronger for the future.
Apart from this, he also has the logo and website for his tattoo shop tattooed on his neck.
Victor’s tattoos are a mixture of Polynesian black art and other styles. They don’t mean much, and are just a reflection of what he likes. He’s had them since he was 19, even before he became a tattoo artist. Like Kelvin, he says, “Once you go neck, facial, hand, there’s no turning back.”
It’s motivation for him to work harder for his trade, to make sure that he will stick to what he’s doing and work hard for it.