Tattoo Nation: the art of skin ink

Gold Town to show documentary in celebration of Pair-a-Dice Tattoo Parlor's 15th anniversary

I do not have a tattoo. I’ve never wanted a tattoo. I’ll likely never get a tattoo. I don’t understand why a person would ever get a tattoo. Women, with tattoos, intimidate me. Though that’s mostly because women intimidate me.


And don’t even get me started on piercings.

The most significant body modification I’ve ever experienced was changing from a center part to a side part in 1988. I tried being a hippy for a couple of hours in college, but tore the beads off my neck. How the tattooed and pierced handle the hardware hanging off their body parts is beyond me.

Granted, there was that drunk night. You know, that drunk night - maybe it was college with friends, maybe it was fishing, maybe you were alone and pathetic in a basement - but that drunk night when even the most committed tattoo teetotaler contemplates the needle. For me, it was Charlie Brown. At the time, I felt sympatico with Chuck. Decent, friendly, tries, but is put upon by this cruel cruel world. (I was young. Shut up.) So why shouldn’t I tattoo an angry Charlie Brown flipping the bird on my ankle?

Because, Clint, it’s stupid. You just don’t make body modification decisions when drunk and ornery. It’s a rule we all should have. Body modification decisions should come from a happy place of calm reflection. Then you get drunk to dull the pain of the needle.

Next week, April 15-17, the Gold Town Nickelodeon will feature “Tattoo Nation.” The film is being shown to celebrate 15 years of business for the Pair-a-Dice tattoo shop. 

Tattoos are very hip now. As said in the promotional material for the film, tattoos are no longer signs of rebellion. “Tattoo Nation” tracks this progress of American tattoo culture from southern California from the 1960s, when tattoos were very much the domain of the marginalized, imprisoned, or military, to now when even my very non-rebellious family and friends contemplate skin inks. (Hey “skin inks” is almost a palindrome!)

Fortunately for me, “Tattoo Nation” does not get into body modifications beyond ink. The rebels today go for forehead knobs, claws, filed teeth, lip and ear disks, bifurcated tongues, whisker implants, and piercings. And the piercings always seem to be in the most sensitive and dangly of parts. If I had to get a piercing, I’d choose someplace random like my thigh. Look, the Libertarian in me says, “Good on ya, mate!” (The Libertarian in me is Australian for some reason). The Republican, Democrat, Green, Alaska Independence Party, and Whig in me are all slightly nauseous.

So not only was I pleased with the focus on tattoos over other modifications, I was surprised by how beautiful the highlighted creations are. I know next to nothing about tattoos and was blown away by the art pushed into the dermis with a needle. There are men and women with their bodies entirely covered as they record every significant event in their lives on their skin. I enjoyed the slow pans over the ink. The work, especially the more modern work on body suits and sleeves is unreal. The realism these artists reach is unexpected.

One guy had a photo-realistic tattoo of Michelangelo’s Pieta tattooed to over his rib cage. That was amazing. I’ve seen the real thing and the tattoo artist nailed it. The movie points out that one reason tattoos have moved beyond rebellious subcultures into the mainstream is precisely because the art has become so good. Whereas once you may have turned your nose up to a “love” tattoo over a wilted rose, now you can get the Pieta.

The motivations behind tattooing are often honorable, reflecting a person’s history, family, heritage, pride and culture. These were not decisions made when intoxicated.

The film provides a decent education in tattooing. I now know what black and grey tattooing is and its relevance. I now know the game changing importance of moving single needle tattooing out of prisons and into modern tattoo parlors.

The technical aspects of the filmmaking were good as well. There is some intriguing camera work, use of split screen and creative editing.

Maybe it’s the technical writer in me, but I would have liked more context. This movie will most likely be enjoyed by insiders who already have an education and history with tattooing. The film’s focus was narrow. How the Chicano style of tattooing that came out of southern California in the 1970s has gone on to take over the world. There’s some mention of Asian styles but it’s mostly in passing. My guess is there are many more skin marking styles around the world that were not mentioned at all. Plus, I would have loved more nuts and bolts information on the process of tattooing. What is in the inks used today? Exactly how does the needle get the ink under the skin? How long do tattoos last and what happens to them over time?

Mostly however, this movie put me into a happy place of calm reflection ... maybe my pale skin would make a great canvas. Any use of color ought to pop! Color; like the yellow in Charlie Brown’s shirt… hmmm.

• Clint Farr can be contacted at

"Tattoo Nation" will be shown at 7 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the Gold Town Nickelodeon in the Emporium Mall.



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