Tattoo culture offers unique opportunity for artistic expression

Cody Bader at Black Mammoth Tattoo focuses in on his work for a client. Bader has been tattooing for more than ten years and has worked at multiple shops in Manhattan. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

Tattooing is a popular body modification that requires a special level of trust and communication with one’s tattoo artist.

Whether rooted in religious tradition or pure self-expression, tattoo culture has grown steadily, and is now a mainstream practice in western society.

The art of tattooing grew from service-based history for sailors and military members to a community that traverses professions, filled with artists who push the boundary of what can be designed on a human canvas.

Getting tattooed is considered by many artists a form of connection and artistry, where two people come together to create one-of-a-kind piece art, achieved through communication.

Rarely do tattoo clients walk into a shop and pick a piece off the wall or from a “flash,” a board with multiple tattoo designs on it. Today, it is more common for individuals to enter a tattoo shop and talk to an artist about what they want.

A design lays out before use on the client at Black Mammoth Tattoo. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

“I think that instead of leading someone on the path, that we are there to kind of walk beside them,” said Matt Goss, artist at Syndicate Tattoo in downtown Manhattan. “Instead of leading, we’re with them.”

Tattoo artist Matt Goss sits in front of the multiple pieces of art he has done over the years at Syndicate Tattoo. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

Using both the ideas of the client and the artistic talents of the artist can make for a great tattoo, but not every artist can do every sort of style or image, said Cody Bader, artist at Black Mammoth Tattoo.

“A lot of times I think people sometimes can have expectations that all artists are the same,” Bader said. “It’s going to look different from whatever artist does it because they all have their own styles.”

Cody Bader at Black Mammoth Tattoo sits at his station in front of the multiple tattoos and art pieces he has done over his years as an artist.(Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

Marcus Van Royse of Mash Up Gallery, another local tattoo shop, said something similar: “We’re all artists, and we all do things just slightly different. Every tattoo shop is going to be slightly different … And it’s trying to create their image in the best way that we know how to translate that into our type of artistic style.”

Marcus Van Royse chats in the main entrance of the Mashup Gallery shop in Manhattan's Aggieville. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

Bader also said it’s important for artists to keep in mind the permanence of their work.

“[We] just have to remember that, it’s a big deal to each person, even if it’s small tattoo,” Bader said. “We might forget that we did a week from now, but it’ll be with that person for the rest of their lives.”