Friday, July 17, 2015

Skin Art and Whales Teeth at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum

Tattoo History: a Source Book: An Anthology of Historical Records of Tattooing throughout the World. Edited and Introduced by Steve Gilbert with the Collaboration of Cheralea Gilbert. Published by Steve Gilbert, 2000. Printed by Juno Books. 216 pages, includes illustrations, references and index.

Since ancient times, tattoos have been identified as the co-expression of the tattoo artist and the person being tattooed. Perhaps because the topic is currently regarded as exotic, author Gilbert's treatment is a fascinating and thorough history and an absorbing read. The author covers details of the uses and meanings of tattoos in ancient and modern societies. In Japan, for instance, when tattoos were common between the 17th and 19th centuries, the art of Japanese wood-block printing featured detailed portraits of skin painting. Gilbert describes the illustrations from a book, Suikoden, a tale of outlaws in old China in the 12th century. When this book was published by a Japanese ukiyoe* artist in the late 1820s, it was immediately popular. The artistic style of these Japanese tattoos became iconic and represented personal values such as courage and loyalty.

In 21 chapters, Gilbert’s Tattoo History, a Source Book, examines the images in tattoos and portrays tattooing as an intricate combination of art and technique. Outlining its recent developments in the United States and Polynesia and elsewhere, Gilbert includes the contributions of late twentieth century artists Sailor Jerry and Don Hardy. The book is illustrated with both black and white and color photographs and line drawings, and includes chapter by chapter references and an index.

*ukiyo-e is a Japanese word that refers to a style of printmaking and painting of very colorful figures and landscapes designed to illustrate stories, folk tales, and ultimately a wealthy and merchant class lifestyle.

An exhibit entitled “Tattoos and Scrimshaw: the Art of the Sailor” is currently on view at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum until mid-December, 2015.

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