A History of Tattoo Design

Slate’s design blog.
May 6 2014 10:09 AM

The Art of the Tattoo

Tattoo designed by Mark Kopua on a silicone model of a man's backside, 2013.
Tattoo designed by Mark Kopua on a silicone model of a man's backside, 2013.

Photo by Thomas Duval. Courtesy of the Musée du Quai Branly.

Tattooists, Tattoed, a new exhibition at the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris’ museum of indigenous arts, is a survey of the tattoo as global art form. Curated by Anne & Julien, founders of the modern art and pop culture review Hey!, the show traces the history of tattoos from the Neolithic period to the present day.

Tattoo motif designed by French tattoo artist Tin-tin on the silicone bust of a woman's body.
Tattoo motif designed by French tattoo artist Tin-tin on the silicone bust of a woman's body.

Photo by Thomas Duval. Courtesy of the Musée du Quai Branly.

The exhibition aims to demonstrate the role of tattoos in cultures around the world and explore how the evolution of inking technology and an international tattoo design community has given new life to the art form. It includes some 300 photos, illustrations, designs on canvas, and other visuals from around the world.

Montreal-based tatoo artist Yann Black's design on the silicone model of a man's arm.
Montreal-based tatoo artist Yann Black's design on the silicone model of a man's arm.

Photo by Thomas Duval. Courtesy of the Musée du Quai Branly.

But there is no substitute for showing off the art of the tattoo than an actual human body. The curators stopped short of hiring models to bring the subject to life. Nevertheless they have made a bold design choice by inviting a group of international contemporary tattoo artists to do their most imaginative work on a series of silicone body parts that are displayed throughout the exhibition.

Tattoo designed by Grime on the silicone cast of a man's leg.
Tattoo designed by Grime on the silicone cast of a man's leg.

Photo by Thomas Duval. Courtesy of the Musée du Quai Branly.

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Cast by a special effects workshop using real models and tested by French tattoo artist Tin-tin, the artists transformed 13 legs, arms, busts, and backsides using tattoo machines or traditional tools, just as they would normally work on actual skin.

Tattoo design by American Leo Zulueta on the backside of a silicone model of a man's body.
Tattoo design by American Leo Zulueta on the backside of a silicone model of a man's body.

Photo by Thomas Duval. Courtesy of the Musée du Quai Branly.

The show runs from May 6 to Oct. 18.

Kristin Hohenadel's writing on design has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Fast Company, Vogue, Elle Decor, Lonny, and Apartment Therapy.

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