By Sam Paul
Photography by Dan Howell
Walking through the New York City Tattoo Convention is like traveling through the city itself. Every few feet, you encounter a new culture, one wholly different from the last. Tattooers from some of the most known New York shops like Sacred and Red Rocket buzz away on their machines. Some, such as Amanda Wachob of Dare Devil, whose work resembles watercolor paintings, practice the art in ways that were unimaginable when the convention began fifteen years ago. Not far away, artists from Magoshi Tattoo in Japan tap their images into skin celebrating their nation’s ancient tradition as a woman braids a man’s long hair beside them. On the same floor, an artist is using Wes Wood of Unimax’s newest machine, which is still awaiting a patent.
The New York City Convention, like New York, is a melting pot. “We have from the most primitive, like traditional hand-poked tattooers from the Pacific Islands like Brent McCown, to Wes, who has the totally modern version of a tattoo machine,” says organizer Clayton Patterson, who, alongside Steve Bonge and Butch Garcia, has been working on the convention since its start. “That’s a big spectrum.”
New York is well represented. The old mainstays mingle with newer shops like Lone Wolf in Brooklyn, while big names from abroad like Baba from LA, Boris from Hungary, Wicked Tattoo of Spain, Palaco Tattoo of Brazil and more hold court beside them. A steady stream of customers keeps tattooers busy throughout the weekend.
“We’ve almost had the same group of people in terms of artists for the last fifteen years, so the turnover is not very high. But the turnover that has happened has made it much more international because now we have Brazil, Spain, England, Japan, China, Taiwan,” says Patterson. “It’s definitely become more global.”
A slight woman from a small company called Tattoo Artshop by Jack Jiang sells woodcarvings and geisha combs, across from Steve Leather NY, where t-shirts, corsets, spike-clad clothes and custom fangs are sold. Andrew D. Gore and Satan’s sideshow provides distraction on stage between the awarding of trophies. The entertainer escapes from a straightjacket while riding a unicycle, and hooks in his face hold up a cup he later drinks from. Local punk kids serve as the “Tattoo Crew” and help keep the event running smoothly. All of this happens beneath huge sideshow banners that are reminiscent of tattooing’s—and the country’s—past.
“The artwork here is top-shelf, museum-quality art. It’s old America. Those are really historically important works of art,” says Patterson. “Those banners are like a museum show.”
The venue itself has its own history and importance. Held at the Roseland Ballroom in the heart of Times Square since just after tattooing became legal in the city in 1998, the convention has blossomed alongside the industry and the neighborhood it calls home. Once a place where people came to experience the NYC’s seedier side, Times Square has become the city’s main tourist attraction. Both the convention and Roseland Ballroom have remained.
Check out the rest of Skin&Ink’s coverage of the New York City Tattoo Convention in the November 2012 issue of Skin&Ink. On Sale Now!!