Tuesday, September 16, 2003

I got my first tattoo eleven years ago. Right bicep. An Aztec turtle, the one who bears the sun across the sky on its back every day. I had to go to East Providence, a shop called Electric Ink, because tattooing was illegal in Massachusetts at that time. Driving home, I was already planning where the next one would go. I later heard of a saying among tattoo artists--you either get just one or you go for a body suit. No question in which direction I'm heading.

I design all my own work. I turn it out scaled the exact size I want in two forms, one in line only for the transfer onto my skin and another colored as I want it for the artist to use while filling in the color. I have enjoyed very good relations with my tattoo artists who like my designs and the way I prepare them. I usually choose from primitive or pre-Columbian sources and adapt, combining or changing motifs until I get what I want. My color scheme is limited. Black predominates with highlights in red and tobacco brown. I make the designs compatible with the contours of whatever part of the anatomy they're going on and I plan an over-all look, not just a random collection of uncoordinated pieces.

There are two major exceptions to the pre-Coplumbian theme. My big back piece combines Leonardo da Vinci's ideally proportioned man with the "What a piece of work is man" passage from Shakespeare's HAMLET. I needed to say something about all the important men in my life and that was the most powerful statement I could think of at the time. The other one is on my right thigh, a compass rose with the direction points--N, SE, W--replaced by the initials of my partner, me and all the people involved in bringing us together. The center of the compass rose has a graphic representing the event where we met along with the date.

Why did I do all this? It wasn't just to be fashionable but to place a great deal of what I am and what I believe in on the great canvas of my skin. For me tattooing is a link to a specifically male and far more authentic spirituality than anything to which I had access via conventional Christianity.

My partner isn't into body art. But he is infinitely patient and understanding concerning my needs and how I express myself. This is how we treat each other. Neither of us has ever thought of the other as a home improvement project or somebody we could or should change. He is actually proud of my ink in his way and will show it off to other guys, as he understands that I would never have had it put on my body if I hadn't meant it to be seen. It's part of the incredible bond between us.

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