Opening February 1, 2020, Body of Work: Tattoo Culture explores the rich history and modern artistry of tattooing as a dynamic, ever-evolving artform whose mainstream acceptance has been driven by popular culture. The exhibition features large-scale, original works of art created by Northwest-based artists who demonstrate the wide range of styles possible in tattoo art.
One of those artists is Cory Boersma, who calls Coeur d’Alene, Idaho home. Boersma entered the tattoo industry in 2008, when he detoured from his welding career path and picked up a tattoo apprenticeship that would span two years.
“My apprenticeship was long,” Boersma recalls. “The guy who taught me how to tattoo was a good dude, but he definitely was kind of more old school. I did a lot of hazing; a lot of scrubbing everybody's tubes, staying at the shop every day, helping out all through the night, making sure that everything is swept and kept clean, a lot of drawing assignments.
“I think about after like four or five months of doing the drawing assignments, he had me have friends come in and tattoo them,” says Boersma. “A lot of willing individuals getting really s----- tattoos from you in the beginning, just practicing.”
More than a decade later, Boersma’s work merges natural and mechanical elements, creating finely detailed, surrealist amalgamations punctuated by meticulous dot work and a predominance of black and grey.
“My process is influenced by the ever-changing ebbs and flow of life,” he says. “Expressions and emotion mixed with stark contrast. Deep feelings of realness and the ever-curious nature that is self. We are only here for a short time, so do you best and make mistakes!”
What was your initial art background?
Cory: I would stop cartoons when I was younger and just try and draw them off the screen. I love drawing and doing art, so I just kind of always did it and I always had friends that I would practice drawing and stuff with in college. I had a couple of really cool art teachers. … One of the teachers that I had ended up teaching me a lot, even with life. She was going through chemo — at the time she had cancer — so it was really weird to watch her kind of go through her little transformation. She ended up losing her hair and couldn't come in certain classes and was sick, but really kind of went to each student and taught them, or not even taught them, but just kind of like, ‘Oh, you're doing really good in this aspect. Maybe try and do this more,’ or ‘Do this and this.’ It was just really, really cool to have that be an inspiration to my art.
What was your first tattoo?
Cory: My first tattoo is on my wrist. It's a little green ink. It's actually turned the wrong way for me, which is a pretty big no-no in the tattoo industry. It was actually for a buddy when I was growing up. He had cystic fibrosis and I knew him since I was like second grade or first grade. He was my brother and I’s best friend. We got to kind of watch him go through the whole transformation and we were actually trying to raise money for him to get a lung transplant and that's what this kind of donate life little thing is right there on my wrist. Obviously, he passed away, but I think he was probably the one that made me be a tattoo artist, so if I would dare to thank anybody, it’d probably be West. Thanks West.
How did your friend West influence you to be a tattoo artist?
Cory: He lived life just pedal to the metal. … There was no stopping that dude. … He's like, 'Dude, you're a dope artist. You're talented. You should pursue whatever it is in life that you want to pursue and don't settle for anything less' kind of thing. If I would have never met him, I don't know, I'd probably be doing welding somewhere instead of art. I don't know. He’d really just be like, ‘No, dude, life's short. You really should do what you want to do and not settle for anything less.’ Yeah, that dude was awesome.
What inspires your art style?
Cory: What inspires me in my art is definitely looking at other artists that I like and even older artists. I love Francisco Goya. He was like one of my favorite artists kind of growing up. He was just such a weird kind of dark, quirky guy. He had a lot of influence on kind of more of the weird art that I like. Then Robert Hernandez obviously still kind of has an influence on me. I know I'm starting to kind of do a weird, wispier style that is a little bit inspired by him, but I try not to look at any of this stuff while I'm drawing things. More of the blackwork style lately has been pretty inspired by a lot of the dudes over in Europe, just the stuff that they're doing. … I like looking at a lot of black. I like seeing what you can push and pull with the heavy contrast of stuff. I used to do a lot of charcoal as well, so having that play as the inspiration to my tattoos I think is useful.
What advice would you give artists who want to enter the tattoo field?
Cory: Just don't, just stay out. The machines will do it for us eventually. No, honestly, what I would recommend to a young artist if they were looking to tattoo is to just get really good at drawing. A really good artist will be a great tattooer if they already know how to do art. I feel like right now there are so many incredible artists, not even just tattooers that are doing these incredible paintings and then also tattooing and pretty much doing what they can do on canvas. Or whatever they're doing art wise, they can transfer that over to tattoo really well, and it kind of helps you with understanding what you can believe in and leave out as well.
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