How Tattoos & Street Art are Entering the World of Fine Art
Long gone are the days when tattoos meant you were a sailor or a working girl. Similarly, street art has evolved from hastily sprayed tags underneath the freeway overpasses to awe-inspiring murals on the side of buildings all over the globe. Despite mainstream attention, however, the two are often perceived as counter-culture mediums of expression. Art, but not quite fine art.
Since the inception of Hush Anesthetic in 2009, the independently owned, Miami-based company has championed artistic expression. Its built an impressive network of tattoo creators and collectors, comprised of the most sought-after artists in the business. The company’s Pro Team is a passionate society of industry leaders deeply committed their collective craft: art.
In December 2015, Hush invited a few of its Pro Team members for Miami Art Week, the contemporary art world’s annual convocation in the Magic City. While Art Basel Miami Beach remains the focal point of this decadent, weeklong fête of blue-chip art collecting, a plethora of satellite fairs and temporary art instillations pepper the city’s trendiest event spaces. They’ll provide lesser known artists the opportunity to showcase work alongside next-generation Basquiats, Banksys, Hirsts, and Ahol Sniffs Glues. Above all, the Pro Team gets an opportunity to shine was at Hush’s inaugural Art Basel event. Their mural by Orlando-based street artist, Fame set the perfcect landscape for it’s live tattoo set up.
“We wanted the event to be about the artists,” says Hush founder Ubaldo Perez. “Tattoos and graffiti may not be the first thing people think about when they hear fine art, but our Pro Team does amazing work. And we think it’s important for them to be included in that conversation.”
To get people talking, Perez and his partners had to find the perfect forum, an intimate events space to showcase live tattooing, yet large enough to house a live mural painting. The group settled on Hive Lounge, a pop-up events space in the epicenter of Miami’s creative hub, Wynwood. To mix-it-up even further, Hush opted to take over the outdoor art village, a unique challenge in itself.
“Miami weather is unpredictable,” says Jorge Vivar, Hush’s creative director. “But there was something ritualistic, almost primitive, about live tattooing outdoors that was really appealing to us.”
Naturally, it rained. But despite unforeseen setbacks, the Hush crew kept a positive vibe. “We were hoping for howling wind, not torrential downpours,” jokes Perez. Nevertheless, the event was “awesome,” he says. And most importantly, the artists were able to showcase their work after the rain stopped.
“It’s motivating to be around such great talent,” says Pro Team artist Don Taylor, who joined Perez and Vivar in Miami. “You see so much amazing work down there, and it inspires you to step your game up.” Taylor, a Marine Corps veteran, started tattooing several years ago when he was stationed in Japan. However, the Columbus, Ohio-based artist started tinkering well before then. “As a kid, I was always doodling when I was supposed to be paying attention, and I’d get yelled at all the time,” he says. “It’s hilarious to me now that I get paid to do just that; I get paid to do what I love.”
Taylor met Perez at a tattoo convention in Miami, TattooLaPalooza, about six years ago. Intrigued by the company’s line of long-lasting topical anesthetics, he added Hush Gel, Hush Spray, and Hush Soap to his proverbial tool kit at Riot Ink.
“I do a lot of color work, a lot of color realism,” he says. “Hush makes it easier for the client to sit through longer sessions, and it gives me a really good look at the surface—allows me to make sure everything is as saturated as I want it to be.”
During Art Basel, Taylor used Hush products on both of his live tattoo subjects, an experience he’ll never forget. “There was a lot going on,” he says. “You’re surrounded by artists all working their craft and showing their work off, and then it clicks: it’s time for you get into your zone and show off your work.”
Taylor thinks events like Hush’s Art Basel activation help strengthen the public’s perception of tattoos. “You worry sometimes about tattoos getting too mainstream and losing their artistic value with things like Pinterest tattoos,” he says. “But with the influx of actual studio artists in the game, the caliber of what’s being produced is incredibly high.”
Plans for the 2016 installment of HushXArtBasel are underway. Taylor says he’d love to be back for a second year. “Just to be able to say I was a featured artist during Miami Art Week is a good feeling.”
Follow Taylor on Instagram, @molassesjones.