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MAGAZINE: Hot, dry, and inked

Springs Preserve, tatoo, Inside Henderson

Local artists Swarm (left) and Austin Spencer collaborate on portions of a mural in the Springs Big Gallery Sept. 14 which is part of the exhibition Hot, Dry & Inked, showing through Jan. 10. Photo by Buford Davis

LOCAL COLOR: Autumn at Springs Preserve offers mix of cultural & arts experiences

– Well before Captain James Cook introduced the word ‘tattoo’ to the European world, along with descriptions of the intricate body art he encountered in his Pacific Islands expeditions, tattoo imagery was heavily influenced by maritime culture. How has life in the Mojave Desert influenced the modern application of the art form? That is the question posed in the current Springs Preserve art exhibit, Hot, Dry & Inked, on display through January 10.

Springs Preserve, tatoo, Inside Henderson

The Cuhuilla Mystery, by Swarm. Courtesy Springs Preserve.

“For whatever the reason, more people have tattoos here in Las Vegas than the rest of the country, on average,” says Springs Preserve Assistant Curator Emmi Saunders, who produced the exhibition over the course of the past year. “It has gone from being considered a ‘low’ art to something people have come to really respect. And these artists are very accomplished in several mediums.

“We wanted to explore the influence of the region. The desert landscape, the animals, they feature prominently,” Saunders explains.

Native peoples throughout the Pacific Islands, Americas and into Greenland have a linked tradition of skin art (the term ‘tattoo’ derives from the Polynesian word ‘tatau’, meaning ‘workman-like’), which is represented by photographs in the exhibit, but the selected artists draw less from this culture than a contemporary perspective on the desert environment.

Springs Preserve, tatoo, Inside Henderson

Mojave Creep Car by Mike Biggs. Courtesy Springs Preserve.

In fact, a handful of alluring photographs are the only images of ink on skin featured in the exhibit, which focuses instead on painting and sketches created by 16 local artists. The showpiece is a 10 foot square mural on the Big Springs Gallery wall created by four artists working together in a single day. “Very often these artists will work on the same body, but at different times,” explains Saunders. “They will add to someone else’s work. This is unique for them because they are working together on a piece at the same time.

“We talk a lot about impermanence in this city. It’s what this city is based on. One building is torn down for another and then that one will go too. And it’s interesting that tattoos are considered permanent. But it’s not true. In the scheme of things they are very impermanent.”

Springs Preserve, tatoo, Inside Henderson

Local artists Austin Spencer (top, left), Swarm (top. Right), Tyson Taumaoe (bottom, right) and Mike Biggs (bottom, left) collaborate Sept. 14 on the mural for the Springs Preserve exhibit Hot, Dry & Inked.

The tattoo dies with the body on which it is displayed, Saunders points out, which makes it and art form unlike any other. The skin may be the ‘canvas’ but the individual decides through a lifetime when and how the art will be displayed and to whom.

“People are interested in tattoos, it is an art form they really relate to,” says Saunders, “And they always have. People in the cave era had tattoos, people all over the world adorn themselves with tattoos. It’s very personal.”

And increasingly mainstream in our culture, since the days when body art was considered a mark of the underclass. A recent Pew survey found that 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 26-35 have at least one tattoo, as opposed to 10 percent of Americans over age 40.

Far from purely a form of artistic expression, the practice has been used historically to signify social status, amorous devotion, sexual provocation, acts of valor, religious or gang affiliation, as well to imbue magical powers, protection and enhanced fertility. Tattooing has also been used as marks of shame and forced on people for identification.

Springs Preserve, tatoo, Inside Henderson

Tattoo art has been a part cultures worldwide since pre-history, including the Pacific Islands and the Americas prior to European incursion. Courtesy Springs Preserve

The modern tattoo machine was a modification of an otherwise unpopular Thomas Edison invention, a mechanic duplicating pen, by tattoo artist Samuel O’Reilly in 1891.

New technology has made possible the creation of intricate images that could not have been executed using traditional methods. But Saunders points out that many people still opt for the stick and poke method which is more arduous for the artist and the recipient.

The first tattoo shop in the Las Vegas Valley did not open until 1977, when artists Doc Dog and Smilin’ Paul opened their door and with it the door on a tattoo culture that is as robust as any in the country.

Today 150 tattoo shops operate in the Valley, employing more than 600 working artists, including some of the industry’s most respected.

“I think this exhibit is a little bit different (for Springs Preserve),” says Saunders. “And very much what we want to bring in. A little unexpected, and exciting and engaging.” | iH

Hot, Dry & Inked Springs Preserve. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Free for members or with paid general admission. 333 S. Valley View Boulevard, Las Vegas


Grapes and Hops Festival
Oct. 3, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Sample high quality wine and beer selections from some of the city’s top dining establishments…all to raise money for a good cause.

Haunted Harvest
Oct. 16-18, 23-25, 30-31 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Experience chills and thrills for all ages at this popular annual Halloween season event…if you dare.

Odyssey’s Shipwreck! Pirates and Treasure
Oct. 18, 2015-Jan. 31, 2016
Hands-on interactive exhibits afford young an old chance to experience life on the high seas. Brave a 75 – mph hurricane tube, hover over a shipwreck in a virtual submersible and view more than 500 artifacts recovered from multiple doomed vessels.

Dia de Muertos
Nov. 6-8, admission fee.
This family friendly event continues a 3,000 year old tradition of honoring loved ones. Live theater and dance performances, face painting, sugar skull paint and art exhibition.

This article was featured on page 18 of the October 2015 issue of Inside Henderson Magazine. 


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