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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Living Art

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Trista Marie, second-place winner in the Shepherd Express Flat File Contest and a professional tattoo artist by trade, is one of only six women who practice the art of tattooing in the metro Milwaukee area. In fact, only 30% of all tattoo artists worldwide are women. Marie, passionate about her career and encouraged by placing second in the Shepherd’s contest, explains the inspiration behind her professional life.

Why did you become a tattoo artist?
When I was young I spent time with my grandparents, who were both artistic. They gave me a scrapbook where we made art projects, drawings and pasted things together. When I was older, I did an apprenticeship with two tattoo artists and have been practicing professionally for three years.

Why did you choose tattooing as a medium?
Tattooing is a very permanent form of art. The human skin is a walking, living, breathing canvas and hard to destroy. And it tells stories unlike any other medium. Painting can convey messages, but a tattoo can tell you so much more because the person, the canvas, tells you the story behind it.

What equipment do you use to tattoo?
A tattoo needle is like a paintbrush, and has multiple needles grouped together, like multiple bristles on a brush. Different types of needles are used for outlining and shading, like paintbrushes. Our modern methods are credited to Thomas Edison and his electric engraver. Samuel O’Riley took his design and made the electric tattoo machine in the 1890s— that’s basically what’s being used today, with only about seven changes in the design since then.

Where did tattoo art originate?
Tattooing goes back to the age of the “ice man” … one of the oldest art forms besides writing or drawing on cave walls. Still, it’s such a social stigma in our culture today, because it was often used to mark criminals. But in other societies, tattooing was a rite of passage for both men and women.

And is tattooing considered more adornment than cultural stigma in these societies?
In Papua New Guinea girls of a certain age are encouraged to tattoo their entire face, ornament it, using a lemon thorn for tattooing, to signify beauty and coming of age. Here in the States people may use tattoos as memorials, or tributes, especially to love. But I do tattoo many 18-year-olds, and perhaps it’s becoming a rite of passage.

What do you like best about being a professional tattoo artist?
I like meeting all the different people, with their stories, and creating the art for them. And my job is to create—the artwork is permanent and lives with them.

Correction: The caption accompanying last week's Off the Cuff photo for RSE Video was misidentified. Pictured were Rod and Michele Eglash.

Trista Marie | Photo by Christopher Bluhm