Cubicle Hardcoreby Roger Young, images by Dylan Geldenhuys / 02.02.2010
There is something weird in the Cape Town Convention Center; and no, I’m not being disparaging toward all the tattoo and body modification artists. God knows they’ve had a life time of being called freaks, but the atmosphere itself is odd, off, a little incongruous. The white walls, the little booths, the neat sushi bar outside, the extremely clean Harleys, display cars, the squeaky clean looking Suicide Girls; all somehow clash with the earnest men in leather, bent over bleeding skin, their patron’s faces in winces and steely grimaces. It’s almost as if by removing them from their natural environs, by placing this sub culture in a convention centre in order to highlight the talent and the artistry involved, the standard goth-esque trappings surrounding it are exposed as mere decorations, a superficial sideshow to the real business of putting ink under skin.
In it’s second year the Southern Ink Xposure festival hosted a glut of tattoo artists from around the world for three buzzing (as in the continual buzzing of at least twenty simultaneously tattooing artists) days and two nights at the Cape Town International Convention Center. It seems, at times, that it is less about showing the work and process to the general public and more about artists meeting, swapping stories, techniques and generally, well, convening. Other than the artists the hall is filled with three types in general, the least of them seem to be the mildly curious drifters, those who might one day perhaps get a tattoo and use this vague idea as a way to chat and mingle hoping that some of the danger of the proper attendees will rub off on them. The simpatico are the longest staying group of visitors, the musicians, the clothing shop assistants, the trance hippies, the jewelry designers, the already tattooed. They drift in figures of eight through the stalls, providing a languid air to the convention, looking as if they’ve seen it all and still love it all. But the pointed visitor must be the biggest group and the least visible on the floor, they arrive to get a fucking tat and that is all, seizing the opportunity to get work done from artists from as far flung as China, Sweden and the U.S. of A. They lie prone, bleeding, sucking air between their teeth, some blissfully smiling, the fast needle an opiate.
I watch Paul Booth from the USA working on one such devotee. It must be said that Paul Booth frightens me a little, he’s a big man who tattoos with a precision and shades with a beauty that is astounding, he has a fondest for what I can only call heavy metal gothic and has tattooed the likes of Pantera and Slipknot and been called, “The New King of Rock Tattoos” by Rolling Stone. He’s a veritable legend amongst fans of the hyper-realistic demons, skulls and aliens side of the tattoo spectrum. Booth makes tattoos that in anyone else’s hands would look ridiculous, but are rendered sublime by his skill. I say all of this because, as good as he is, watching him work on the girl, I get a little flummoxed. He is working on her upper thigh; a very detailed and horrible exquisitely rendered demon slash gargoyle of sorts emerges. It is such a hardcore thing to do, this tattoo, to receive, if I was a girl I’d want conceptual pretty butterflies near any area I’d be expecting lovers to put their faces, god knows it can be daunting enough, but to have to face that thing in the night, depending on the drugs I was on, would either send me screaming or laughing from the bedroom. It’s something I just don’t get, why do you have to be so hardcore? I say this with all the love in the world because apart from the fact that I see and respect the art and the skill, I also just don’t want Booth or any of his devotees to put a voodoo, or any other kind of, curse on me.
Outside later that evening I bump into Moog, a tattoo artist I last saw years ago in Yeoville. I ask him where he has been. He tells me he has moved to Knynsa, to live in peace among the trees. Joburg was a bit too hectic for him. I ask, “Why Knysna?” He gives me a steadfast slow gaze, “Okay, all my life, since I was small, I have been looking for the perfect shade of green. I was walking in the forests by Knysna a few years ago and I came around a corner and I saw it in the trees, this perfect shade of green, and I decided to live there. It took me a while, but eventually I just sold everything, loaded my dog into my car and drove there. I slept on the beach for a while. Now I live in the forest. In a house, of course, but very close to that green.”
I neglect to ask him if he is still tattooing, seeing as we’re at a tattoo convention I take it as a given, but who knows?
After Saturday night’s convention after party at the Assembly featuring the Mochines, Them Tornados and The Rudimentals, we arrive a little mumbley and hung over at Sunday noon, find a seat near the bar and watch the walkers go around. The convention hall is a little fuller today, a fourth type of visitor is making itself known; parents, with kids, acting like the circus has come to town. I see two kids with cameras running around snapping anything but not really looking. A teary eyed little girl is led out sniffling by her smiling mom, who sports a freshly bandaged arm. Even as tattoos become more and more mainstream and events and conventions like this one highlight the artistry and diversity of the people who do the work in a neutral environment; tattoos and the lifestyle around it will always be a scary prospect to the uninitiated, and this is, of course, a small part of the appeal.
All images © and courtesy Dylan Geldenhuys.