What if we all lived in a utopia, where there was no societal strife and everyone was adorned with ornate bodysuits? Watsun Atkinsun gives shape to this idealized version of humanity in his Illuminated Transformations series. In this ongoing project that resembles work by other multimedia artists like Cheyenne Randall, Atkinsun alters photographs of men and women by illustrating blackwork designs all over them with pen and ink. In doing so, he creates an alternate reality in which extensive body art makes the world a more beautiful and spiritually stirring place.
Though he used to specialize in vibrant illustrative work, Atkinsun had an epiphany that drastically altered his style. “I developed this philosophy about why I don’t like to do figurative or representational art anymore. I prefer to work with symbols, pictograms, and sigils that are embedded with abstract conceptual ideas, because in a way, you’re the figure,” explains Atkinsun. “We’re decorating your body temple. Why put a bunch of images on your body when you’re the true subject? Decorate your temple so that it focuses on your soul, so that you are the primary theme and motif.”
Atkinsun is a radical symbolist. He mixes and matches various traditions of ornamental art to create designs that are, as he puts it, infinitely novel. “The best thing about being a part of today’s blackwork renaissance is that you can focus your attention anywhere. It’s so eclectic and versatile. Everywhere I turn, I’m confronted by limitless potential, especially because of how I do it,” Atkinsun explains. “I crash genres together. I’m like a collage artist. I go out of my way to pick styles like mehndi and fuse them with postmodern Mondrian minimalism, or I’ll grab some Gaelic symbols and Nordic sigils and merge them together.”
Most of Atkinsun’s make-believe bodysuits are too avant-garde to ever take shape on collectors in our current cultural zeitgeist, but this is also what makes them visionary. They are representative of an enlightened future in which individuals can be more outwardly expressive of their beliefs. “Ultimately, the Illuminated Transformations series is a romantic vision for what tattooing could be in a more utopian society that celebrates ornamental arts of all kinds,” says Atkinsun. “I illustrate this beautiful possibility onto people's bodies to turn them into more stunning creatures.”
Though Atkinsun is aware of the limitations posed to his artistic vision, he has high hopes that his legacy will lead to further experimentation in the field of ornamental blackwork. “To me, the Illuminated Transformations series represents the culmination of 20 years of cultivating my philosophy of art,” says Atkinsun. “I want to herald in a new era of tattoo visions, to make something that shows what body art can become, and I hope it uplifts and inspires generations to come.”
To see more of Atkinsun's imaginary masterpieces as well as some of his real-life body art, visit his Instagram and website, where you can also find the remainder of his Illuminated Transformations series. He works at Hollowed Ground Body Art Studio in Portland, ME and travels occasionally as well. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for consultations.