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 Ciara Havishya, a Canadian-born self-taught tattoo creator who got their start in the industry less than four years ago. They “hated” art as a kid, but as they grew older, they began to “really get into it.” They became inspired by early travels through France, China, and India, and carried an appreciation for their family’s diverse collection of Persian, Indian, and Mughal art, all of which contributed to the development of their unique tattoo aesthetic.
“I started to get some understanding of [how] art has shaped our world and our culture,” they said. “That experience and that saturation … really made me want to be a part of it. I found a way of doing that through tattoos.”
What was your initial art background?
Ciara: I was drawing a lot in high school. I was taking art programs. I think it was around that time that I started to really seriously want to pursue art. So, I was really pushing my art practice doing a lot of black-and-white illustrations with ink and brushes and a lot of fine line kind of work with engraving style stuff. It was a lot different from what I do now. But that was kind of my background. I was doing a lot of that. I got into art school at Emily Carr University. I went to art school from the time I was 18 until I think 21. I did about four to four-and-a-half years of art school. I dropped out when tattooing started to take off. I started to kind of run a bit of a small collective. I just decided to turn that into a business rather than pursue staying in school because I wasn’t really feeling supported. I wasn’t really feeling like I was being pushed in directions that I wanted to go in. So, I kind of just did that.
What was your first tattoo?
Ciara: My first tattoo [was of a] crow and a magpie. They’re kind of fighting over the string of pearls. And, there’s a moon cycle in the background and some dahlias. I think I got it because it had some meaning in it. I was really stoked on it. I was 18 and I just really wanted a tattoo. I think I did the thing that a lot of delusional 18-year-olds do where they have this idea in their head of how it’s going to look, and they bring it to somebody who doesn’t do anything even remotely in that style. Then they get something in that person’s style, and they’re disappointed, which was completely delusional. It’s a great tattoo. The artist that did it did a beautiful job. She’s incredibly skilled. I really like it.
Do you remember the first tattoo you did?
Ciara: Oh, yeah, I remember it all right. It was for a friend of mine whom I’ve tattooed many times since. It was like a little flower wreath type of design on his arm. It was terrible. I have a photo of it. Looking back, I’m not even sure how it’s possible to do that. My mentor at the time was like, ‘you know, we could just stop now.’ I was like, ‘no, I’m going to do it.’ I kept doing it. I kind of realize now that he was telling me to stop, and I didn’t listen, or I didn’t understand that he was telling me to stop. I actually fixed it up four months later and it was much better. It looks normal now, but it was not normal at the time. It was barely legible as anything. I still don’t even know how I did that. It was terrifying. I was really scared.
How did you develop your tattoo style?
Ciara: I think I work in a variety of different subject matter. I think what’s starting to develop more and more is I’m approaching my tattoos as a pattern work and decorative kind of practice rather than doing figurative work, although I still draw figuratively. And I still have an illustrational style. I kind of started keeping that more for illustration purposes. I think as time goes on I’ve just started becoming more and more aware and focused on what looks good on a body and how I can really honor the anatomy of who I’m tattooing rather than kind of imposing an image on the body, and just trying to bring out in the body what is already there.
What trends have you noticed in tattoo culture?
Ciara: When I first started tattooing, it was really blackwork everything. And, blackwork as a style was becoming big. So, you were getting a lot of the natural history illustration kind of engraving style stuff. There are all kinds of trends. The chandelier things with the little swoop de loop and the little diamond shapes was a big thing. It’s still kind of a thing. But, I think now it’s starting to look really dated. I think there are a lot of trends in tattoo right now. I think my intention when I started this space was just to put stuff here that people wouldn’t have seen before that would get them feeling curious and interested and just give them a brief moment of wonder in an area that doesn’t have a lot of that.
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