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London Tattoos: walking canvasses of art

Everyone has a story to tell. And many Londoners have theirs etched out on their skin.

Tattoos are not so noticeable in winter when people are covered in warm layers, but many people here are walking canvasses of works of art.

In fact, one fifth of British adults are now ‘inked’. And Nick Groom claimed in his book, The Union Jack: The Story Of The British Flag, that tattoos are most popular amongst British people, compared to the rest of Europe (Groom, 2006).

To fuel this trend, London is home to some of the world’s best tattoo parlours and run by acclaimed artists.

This year will even see the city’s eighth London Tattoo Convention from 28 – 30 September, celebrating the diversity of this art form.

Meaningful or meaningless

Some tattoos are elaborate, some are plain, others are deeply meaningful and many are spontaneous decisions which are either regretted or accepted. All are deep imprints on skin that are lived with for a moment or a lifetime.

Jordan Webber, 22, from Florida and now living and studying in the city has three tattoos: a simple verse from the bible - Isaiah 43:2 - on her hip, a butterfly outline on her foot and a cross shaped by song lyrics on her waist.

She says that the bible verse, ‘As you pass through the waters, I will be with you’, represents her and her brother’s love for water sports and they got the tattoos together when he left to join the Air Force.

Jordan got her butterfly tattoo done along with her mother, to signify their growth during a difficult period of their lives. “We got it on our foot to symbolise the trials we walked through and how we came out on top,” she says.

The large cross on her waist is formed by lyrics from a song that she repeatedly played to uplift and inspire her during hard times.

Inviting questions

Tattoos can be poignant for the person who has them and also invite curiosity from others who notice them. 

“All my tattoos, up until now, have been designed in a way people have to ask me what they mean. which then lets me explain my story,” says Jordan.

Justin Kramer, 28, views all ten of his tattoos “as being similar to cave paintings or a road map. Each one reveals a little bit about the culture and time that I have spent alive.”

His body paintings represent his music and film influences, as well as tributes to loved ones, such as his grandfather and father.

“Most recently, I got my left forearm covered in a painting of a zebra that my grandfather did in 1966,” he says.

“When he passed away, I was given this painting and it was hung in my apartment in Brooklyn for years. Staring into the lines had become almost therapeutic for me.”

What about the pain?

Justin, along with many others, does not seem to mind elevating his pain threshold for the sake of it: “Although it may sound strange, I usually fall asleep while being tattooed. I find the sound of the needle to be relaxing.”

Justin says that his tattoos mark a particular moment in time and the character he was within it - he is one of the lucky ones who accepts the decisions he has made. Unfortunately for some, the craze to get tattoos can be met by future regrets.

Unconventional art, from tattoos on skin to graffiti on the walls add colour to a London that can appear grey and lifeless at times. London is also a city that offers a variety of canvasses for individual expressions.

What is your story and how do you choose to tell it?

Words by Monica Sarkar
Images by Monica Sarkar and courtesy of Jordan Webber, Justin Kramer, Alya Mooro and Amit Khadka

Find out more about the London Tattoo Convention: www.thelondontattooconvention.com

Find a London tattoo parlour here: www.uktattoostudios.co.uk

More articles by the author:

Animal farm in the city

Settling down to meditate... in Piccadilly Circus

Blindness doesn't conceal a sense of London

Up in smoke: shisha on Edgware Road

Written versus the spoken word

Home from home: the local café

A healing touch

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