The rich and varied history of tattooing takes you to some amazing places. Japan. New York City. Indiana. Indiana? Yes, believe it or not the Hoosier state has a colorful history with body art as shown in the Indiana Tattoo exhibit currently on display at Indiana University Bloomington. The exhibit includes an unprecedented number of tattoo-related historical artifacts from the state's past as well as visual art by contemporary tattooists from Indiana.
This impressive and informative display was curated by Colin McClain, a tattooist and native to Indiana, and Jeremy Sweet, the Associate Director of the gallery. "I think the best thing we did was keeping our focus on Indiana. Covering all of tattooing is a monumental, if not impossible task. You can’t do it all justice," said Sweet. "When I proposed the show, I initially thought it was just going to be about contemporary tattooists from Indiana, but as we discovered all the historical items, we realized it was important to add that element, too."
By limiting the scope of their show to only Indiana, the curators at the Grunwald Gallery have successfully put together what might be the most focused and thorough display of the history of body art for a particular region in the U.S. to date. By the time the show eventually took place it had grown into a three-part production, consisting of several rooms featuring flash design by bygone artists, old photographs of collectors, contemporary art from Indiana tattooists, and even an installment of relics from iconic tattooer and personality Roy Boy.
In wandering the gallery, one experiences the tattoo subculture of Indiana throughout the 20th century in an immersive and engaging manner. The wide range of focal points that the exhibit offers is eye-opening in terms of the art form's evolution in Indiana and, by proxy, elsewhere. Not only does the show enable one to see into the past in both a microscopic and a bird's eye perspective, it also opens up a window to how artists influence each other through time.
The crowned jewel of the show is a sizable inheritance from one of history's wildest tattooists, Roy Boy, may he rest in peace. The assortment of objects paint an extremely detailed portrait of one of the most interesting personalities from the industry's past. To say that Roy Boy was a “character” is an understatement. He’s more of legend, like a walk-two-tigers-down-the-street (which he did), larger-than-life persona, and the artifacts viscerally illustrate this fact. The aptly dubbed “Welcome Back to the Badlands” installment includes items such as his professional wrestling boots, the road-burned remains of his racing uniform from when he totaled a high-horsepower Rolls-Royce, and more.
The images here only feature a fraction of the fascinating documents and amazing art at the Grunwald Gallery right now. The Indiana Tattoo exhibit ends at the beginning of February, so be sure to make it by soon so you can soak in this educational and entertaining portrayal of tattooing's past and present in The Crossroads of America.