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Tattoo or not to home
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Photo by Lee Woolcock
Summer is over, and another spectacular tattoo viewing season is behind us. As temperatures fall and we gradually cover up with clothing, so much body art gets hidden away.
Still, Barcelona remains a good town for tattoo sightings, with warm days throughout the year bringing out Celtic crosses stamped on triceps, angel wings spanning shoulder blades, pin-up girls draped down thighs, tiny names hidden on ankle bones, calligraphic bar-code coiling around lower backs and roses, many roses. It seems that when it comes to tattoos, anything goes.
But unlike piercings, hair colouring or haute couture shopping, tattoos are forever, unless the expensive and painful process of removal is undergone. So who are the people who sport tattoos and why do they get them?
Natasha Robbins, a stunning Argentine-Costa Rican woman, is covered from ear to toe in dragons, lizards, flowers, skulls, tribal patterns and oriental symbols. “I had a rough childhood and I started young,” she said. “I liked the attention. It was also a way for me to believe in myself. A way to believe I could do anything I want. Now, that I am older, I don’t like the attention so much, but I do get a lot of modeling work.
“I still love them as much as always and don’t regret a thing. Yes, I will probably get more, or at least touch up the older ones. My husband loves them. They have a kind of a personal history for me; I know exactly where I was and what I was going through when I look at each one. Painful? No, not really, just keep them clean and get them from a good place.”
Gareth Jones, a Welshman living in Barcelona, has three simple tattoos. His philosophy is more straightforward. “I got one because I like it, nothing more, nothing less. I thought about it for a long time, and then just did it. The one I got last summer is a little more personal. Shall I say spiritual? It’s related to my Kundalini yoga practice.”
Would he get another? He smiled. “Of course, why not? But they’re not cheap, and you get what you pay for.”
The smallest and least expensive tattoo in Barcelona takes 15 minutes and costs about €30-€45. This price can go up to €400 per hour depending on the design and the artist’s reputation. A full shoulder tattoo can take up to three hours. To remove it, multiply the cost—and pain—by three.
Many of the tattoo parlours in the city have the lasers necessary to carry out this removal. The parlours are heavily regulated by health and safety inspectors who visit approximately every three months. They are also ecologically-friendly and have a special service to dispose of used needles and ink. Hygiene is the key to avoiding infection from a tattoo, which is their major health risk. There is also a minor risk of an allergic reaction to the pigment, but the biggest risks of all are dissatisfaction and the dermatological problems that may come with removal.
In Barcelona, the minimum legal age to get a tattoo without a parent present is 16. In addition, the customer cannot be intoxicated, clearly something more difficult for the tattoo artist to be certain of. At the award-winning tattoo parlour Studio Basia, open since 2006 on Carrer Ros de Olano in Gràcia, they make sure that the client “really, really, really” wants the tattoo. “It is something permanent and serious,” said Basia Kuzma, the owner and a Polish native [pictured on page 12]. “The one thing I have noticed is that the people coming to get tattoos are getting younger and younger. The parents turn to me and say, ‘She wants it, what can I do?’, and I think to myself that the girl is 12 years old, why does she need a tribal mark on her bikini line? If the parents can’t control them, who can?”
Basia’s father had a tattoo and she says it is something natural to her. She believes there are two types of people when it comes to getting tattoos: “The mainstream, people who pick things off the Internet and have no idea why they want it, and the ‘collectors’ who know what they are doing. They have many tattoos and are willing to go as far as Japan and wait five months for an appointment to receive ink from a specific tattoo artist.”
Basia spent years as an apprentice in Mallorca, cleaning floors and needles and answering phones, before she was allowed to tattoo even the simplest design. The apprenticeship system is alive and kicking in the tattoo world and, in fact, is the only way to enter. “You can’t just take a three-day course, you are painting someone forever. Every week, I get kids coming in to ask me for an apprenticeship. They show me their book and I say, ‘Go back to art school’. Often they come back three months later with a new book and I still send them away. When I see a tattoo from across the street, I can tell who did it, just like a Picasso or Matisse, it is obvious from the style, colour, texture and line.”
When asked about extreme tattoos, Basia responded, “I don’t know, ask them, but I do know one statistic: three out of four people with facial tattoos commit suicide.”
The phone is ringing, Basia’s dog Frodo is barking, Shirley Bassett is cranking, the shop is bustling with youngsters who want piercings and are giggling over the tattoo displays. Basia is in her element. In truth, it feels like a neighbourhood hairdresser’s salon. “Yes, it is a serious business, but it can also be very beautiful. If it doesn’t have a true meaning, then don’t do it.
A Harris survey conducted in 2003 in Rochester, New York, found:
16 percent of all Americans had tattoos, with an equal percentage of males and females.
Among those between the ages of 25 and 29, 36 percent had a tattoo, while 31 percent of
the gay, lesbian and bisexual community wore one.
Four percent more Democrats had tattoos than their Republican counterparts, but the Republican regret rate was six percent higher than the national average.
The most commonly-cited reason for regretting a tattoo was “because of the person’s name in the tattoo”.
Forty-two percent of tattooed women and 25 percent of men questioned said their body ink made them feel sexier, while 36 percent of the non-tattooed control group believed tattoos made people less sexy.
The poll stated that there were more than 20,000 registered tattoo parlours in the US, and listed it as the sixth fastest-growing industry since the mid-Nineties, along with mobile phones, the Internet and bagels.
First published in September 2008