American tattoo artist Amanda Wachob takes inking into the realm of fine art. Her popular abstract interpretations and brushstroke-type works belong inside a frame.
“Fire in a halo.”
On her website, under the link ‘About’, Brooklyn-based artist Amanda Wachob sums up her somewhat obscure artistic personality. Though philosophical, the description works well to describe the type of mark Wachob’s art is having on the world. Her pieces are unconfined, dynamic and kinetic, certainly because of her subject matter but more so because of her subjects. As a tattoo artist, Wachob’s pieces have become symbols for the limitlessness of the skin as a canvas.
Tattooing is an art form thousands of years old, with recent archaeological evidence of tattooed mummies pushing the earliest known date back another thousand years to circa 3,000 B.C. Used as symbols of love, religion, tribal dedication, status or even, ironically, pain alleviation in joints or other parts of the body, tattoos are some of history’s oldest relics of human belief and aesthetic significance. Tattoos have forever been an act of personal representation; a way in which people could identify with a mentality, manifest a belief system or express artistic and emotional passion that exceed the effectiveness of words.
While traditional cultures associated tattoos with belonging to a certain community or identity, modern Western culture is the first to have adopted the twist of individual expression in the art. Today, although tattoos are seen in abundance everywhere in the Western world, a large majority of the population still deems the art a rebellious expression of youth. It seems as if tattoos have taken on a two-fold status: on one hand serving as a symbol of acceptance into a marginalized – or perhaps now mainstream – culture, and on the other an opportunity to exhibit something of our individual personalities within a particular framework.
Part of today’s discourse on art is the ever expansive question of legitimacy. Street and body art have permeated deeply into aesthetic culture, shifting dimensions of beauty into previously delegitimised spheres. Yet these distinctions do not deter Wachob. Her tenacity and craft have made her one of the more sought-after tattoo artists in the country, with a growing number of fans and a months-long waiting list. “Many modes of expression that society once dismissed as being a craft or trade, are now being seen as legitimate art forms”, says the artist. “I think this is starting to happen with tattooing. Let’s embrace all art and not think of mediums in the hierarchical terms of ‘high’ and ‘low’.”
With each piece an abstract, experimental collaboration between herself and her client canvas, Wachob’s art elevates the status of the individual from within such a ubiquitous art form. Working together with her clients, Wachob’s pieces are dynamic, enduring fragments inspired by their personal stories. “When someone asks me to design an abstract piece for them, I usually make three paintings based off the discussion we had at our consultation. We talk about colour, placement, size, and what they desire of the tattoo. Since only one image is chosen, there are always paintings left that get “retired”. I started to re-use some of these designs by tattooing them on canvas. They were all created with that specific person in mind. So in a way, my tattooed canvases are about my clients.
“I began to play around and experiment with the idea of an abstract tattoo about six years ago. I kept seeing so many of the same images being repeated over and over. Tattooing is supposed to be such a personal expression, and it seemed ironic that people kept asking for the same designs.”
Described as an “abstract expressionist”, Wachob’s pieces resemble the brushed flow of watercolour paintings down to the near-impossible detail of simulated brush strokes, paint spots and even pencil doodles. “I wanted to search for a different way, a better way of communicating who we are”, explains the artist. “Perhaps colour and form can say more about us as people than representational images can… perhaps an abstract shape is better equipped to convey something conceptual and intangible like a mood or emotion. I play with abstraction, but I also enjoy rendering. Labels can be a convenient way to communicate information quickly. If I had to label or define my work I would say that it is investigative and conceptual.”