With its themes of human sacrifice, pre-Hispanic art is one of the most alluring yet disturbing artistic traditions on earth. Unfortunately, the majority of it was obliterated due to the brutal military campaigns of conquistadors like Hernán Cortés and Pedro de Alvarado, but now a handful of artists are resurrecting this ravaged iconography. Of the few individuals taking part in this revival, a number of them are tattooists. Some of the participants in this curatorial effort include Pedro Alvarez and Sanya Youalli. Goethe Silva Mier is one of the most devoted members of this small movement. He’s spent the majority of his almost 30-year career revitalizing pre-Hispanic motifs through the art of tattooing.
“Pre-Hispanic cultures are my inspiration. The whole concept behind my work is based on the history that I’ve learned over the years from books, museums, and actual ruins. Mesoamerican cultures are very rich in beauty and mystery,” says Goethe. “[This concept] is largely based on duality, one of the metaphysical ideas of greater transcendence in pre-Hispanic art. Everything was dual — men and gods, life and death, heaven and earth.”
Most of Goethe’s prolific body of work is devoted to gods associated with the more gruesome aspects of pre-Hispanic civilizations. “My favorite themes relate to the underworld and the deities of death. I like the dark aspects of the pre-Hispanic cultures, and how, to maintain balance in the universe, their religious activities involved ceremonies, rituals, rites, and sacrifices,” Goethe explains. “Mictlantecuhtli, the Lord of Death, is one of my favorites because of his frightful and insatiable appetite for human flesh and blood.”
“Xipe Totec is another deity I’m attracted, because of his association with Tlacaxipehualiztli, or the festival of skinning men in the second score of every year. It was one of the most important ceremonies. The act of skinning was dedicated to the Lord of the Flayed One,” Goethe continues. “In the sacrifice, the victims were flayed and priests were sewed into their skin. The blood from the ritual was used to fertilize the earth.” These are just a few of the divine beings that he’s tattooed over the years. Others fearsome figures appear throughout his portfolio, like Tlaltecuhtli — the god who eats the bones and drinks the blood of men who die in battle.
Goethe’s expertise in the mythos surrounding pre-Hispanic gods is just one part of what makes his work so true to its ancient roots. His mastery over the black and grey style is what enables him to recreate the sculptures and reliefs from temple ruins on his client’s skin. His tattoos look like they’re literally chiseled out of stone, with little nicks and other signs of erosion that make them look authentic. “I use a lot of contrast in my work, which fits perfectly with the pre-Hispanic imagery,” says Goethe. “I try to make the images strong enough to capture the essence of the deities.”
To see more of Goethe’s statuesque tattoos of the Aztec gods of the underworld as well as some of his other visual art, make your way to his Instagram. Also, check out this article about his recent art show, Underworld. He works at Collective Ink Gallery in Garden Grove, CA and travels around the world attending conventions and participating in seminars. If you want a piece by him, he can be contacted at email@example.com.