Bold that Holds is our series where we examine the meaning behind traditional tattoo motifs. Be sure to check out some of our other installments, such as this piece about reapers and Death’s place in the realm of body art.
We don’t really like to promote violence around here, but when we see a skull staring out forlornly from a sea of negative space, we just want to put the poor bastard out of its misery. The same goes for every solitary rose and lonely heart that crops up on people’s skin. We’re not serial killers, modern day versions of Vlad the Impaler, or anything sadistic like that, but every traditional motif looks way more exciting with a dagger driven through it.
Daggers have been a fixture of traditional tattoos since their origins in the late 1800s. This double-edged figure appears in the portfolios of early tattooists like Christian Warlich and Charlie Wagner and is still a prevalent design today, (see: the devil head by Adrian Cipollone). Starting out, sailors were inscribed with impaled roses to represent the longing that they experienced while abroad, but over the course of the last century, tattooists have skewered nearly every icon in the art form, ranging from animal heads, like the ones by Jan Netten and Samuele Briganti, to more unexpected imagery such as Sam Cole’s speared sneaker. Some of the artists here — Kike Esteras and Beau Brady — experiment even further with classic dagger designs.
The most compelling aspect of daggers is how they complicate the meaning of tattoos. A rose is merely a rose, unless it’s run through, that is. Then it becomes more than just a symbol for romantic love, taking on connotations of betrayal, heartbreak, and even vengence. Or what is one to make of the odd mixture of lethalness and fragility embodied by Carlos Barcia’s blade with butterfly wings? By being buried to the hilt in other imagery, these furtive weapons create oppositional dualities in body art. In Ryan Cooper Thompson’s piece, a lady head becomes more than eye-candy when she’s got a knife between her teeth, and the pieces by Andrew Mcleod, Neil Dransfield, and Simon Blay show how complex the image systems surrounding daggers can be.
To see more impaled traditional motifs, check out the Instagrams of the artists seen here. If you’re thinking about getting a new tattoo, why not make it more badass by having one of these tattooists drive a dagger through it?