New York has been at the forefront of the art world for decades, with the 1970s giving rise to a new trend; underground art as mainstream. Its grassroots graffiti movement prompted director Tony Silver to make the now widely recognised documentary, Style Wars, featuring Richie “SEEN” Mirando, a graffiti artist turned tattooist. Rock stars and alternative artists were proving that getting inked was cultured. Time magazine was the first publication to acknowledge tattoo artistry as the “vogue of the counterculture” and not just the crass ink work that “adorned the arms and chests of sailors, roustabouts and construction workers.” Now tattoo artistry has grown so much in status it is likened to a luxury beauty treatment. With well renowned artists like New York’s Scott Campbell performing the work and sessions by appointment only, people are queuing up to get branded with a recognised work of art.
Richie Mirando, known as the Godfather of graffiti, hailed from the Bronx and started his ‘career’ defacing subway lines throughout New York in 1973. He predominantly backjumped the 2,5 and 6 subway lines leaving his alias “SEEN” as a calling card and people started to follow his work. He and his crew gained legendary status from producing top to bottom throw ups on cars around the city and at one point there were more “SEEN” pieces than billboards in New York. He even labelled the Hollywood sign with his trademark. He started moving into the mainstream in 1981 when he exhibited his work alongside artists like Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. After his rise in success he opened his tattoo parlour in the Bronx in the late eighties. It continued the trend of the tattoo renaissance.
On much the same grain but the other way around, Scott Campbell reached mainstream success from his talent as a tattoo artist. He says himself “I’m just the Dirty kid who snuck in the back door” and after opening his studio in New York’s indie creative hub Williamsburg, he worked on an Aussie kid one day, and the next the shop was full of reporters and camera crew asking about the tattoo he had given Heath Ledger. And so, as they say, the rest was history. His clients and subsequent friends include the likes of Sting, Courtney Love and Josh Hartnett. More recently, his inspiration from well known clients and his inkling (no pun intended) to use different mediums is what pushed him into mixed media art and he started to participate in group exhibitions. He now holds solo exhibitions at the OHWOW galleries. Invaluable art on your arm anyone?