Tattoo shops lining West State St. are well-recognized landmarks in the community. But what brings so many shops to Ithaca? I sat down and spoke with three artists from three of Ithaca’s most prominent shops to find this out.
Just walking around the Commons, you can find a plethora of artistic creativity. However, none incorporate the creativity of Ithaca into their art quite like tattoo shops. “I think this town is special because we have so many different people from all over the planet influx into Ithaca all the time, every year,” said Artist Point Tattoo Co. artist Ron Wilson. He further explained to me that he sees Ithaca’s diversity as the main contributor to the success and growth of Ithaca’s tattoo scene. Wilson went on to acknowledge the influence of both Cornell and Ithaca College on the success of Artist Point, citing the universities as space for “a meeting of minds from all over” and filling the town with “a lot of creative types.”
Amanda Mulholland, Stiehl’s Body Modification artist, agreed: She reasoned that the “booming business” of tattoo shops in Ithaca is indebted to the influence of schools and the artistic visions of young people. “The younger client base I have right now,” Mulholland told me, “aren’t looking at what happened 15 years ago. They’re looking at what’s happening now. And artists are buying off of that too. I see a lot more artists putting art on skin, and the younger generation is seeing this too.” Yet the younger generation of college students is by no means taking the reins of the tattoo industry.
When I asked Austin Strait, an artist based out of Hand of Fate Tattoo Parlor, he told me that collaboration is still very key in the process and that the clients with more tattoos are more open to his visions and ready to move “on to bigger and better pieces.” Strait spent time as a tattoo artist in Louisiana, and, comparing it to Ithaca, he told me “that it wasn’t too easy to work your own design in [Louisiana]. I’ve noticed that since I’ve moved here, I’ve been able to progress in the way that I’ve wanted. I do get a lot more freedom in the artistic designs.”
Wilson also agreed that his clients give him artistic freedom and told me how fulfilling he finds collaboration, stating that “That’s really the best part of being an artist nowadays: helping people become more of who they want to be and helping them realize their artistic vision on their skin.” The artists each talked about the responsibility that comes with creating tattoos, as Mulholland told me, “It’s both a pro and con to think that someone is trusting you with their body. It’s very humbling.”
I asked each artist where they think the industry is going. Strait returned to the influence of younger people, telling me that, in addition to clients, he sees a younger generation of artists coming onto the scene; that the tattoo industry is more and more occupied by those who “weren’t the punks of the street but were art students who had a love for tattoos as well. They’re really showing that tattoos can be for everybody.”
Wilson also told me that he sees “ an entire generation or two of tattoo artists coming out of art school.” But innovation and tradition go hand in hand. He emphasized that the art of tattooing is “very personal” and that “the techniques have been passed down.” He continued: “The more people feel they are categorized, the more they subtly pushback and try to become individuals.”
Tattoo, as an art form and industry, is continuing to grow at an unprecedented rate. Strait said that a tattoo artist’s “entire career is experimenting, finding new and better ways to do the tattoo.” and that with this experimentation comes artistic innovation. Currently, he sees that “realism and hyperrealism are taking over. Even 10 years ago you wouldn’t see anything close to what they’re doing now.”
The tattoo industry in Ithaca remains incredibly special as a hub for creativity and innovation.
Art lovers live on every corner and contribute to the greater acceptance, visualization and innovation of tattoos.
Erin Hockenberry is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].