Bold that Holds is our weekly showcase of classic traditional tattoo motifs executed by some of our favorite artists in the industry. Be sure to check out some of our previous installments of the series.
Let’s just face the uncomfortable fact that, sooner or later, we’re all destined to die, but if it’s any consolation, we can get some killer body art along the way. It’s just like Blue Oyster Cult once said, “C’mon baby, don’t fear the reaper.”
Nothing demonstrates the graceful acceptance of our inevitable demise better than having a tattoo of Death himself. Because he’s such a dramatic personification of the idea of death, the Grim Reaper has become of the most popular motifs of all time, initially surfacing in maritime body art around the turn of the 20th century and becoming a staple figure in the world of tattoos as the art form grew into what it is today.
The Grim Reaper has been depicted countless times in various forms throughout numerous cultures, taking on too many titles to remember — Yama, Thanatos, Mot, Hel, and Santa Muerte, just to name a few. He’s even played chess in both Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal and Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. His iconic appearance in these films — the one most of us are accustomed to — actually originates from the Netherlands prior to Christianity’s arrival. Pagans there referred to him as Hein and envisioned him as a skeleton shrouded in a dark cloak, wielding a scythe with which (in keeping with their religious practices surrounding the harvest season) he reaps souls like wheat.
During the Grim Reaper’s long sojourn among the living, Shakespeare may have best capture our shared fixation on our own impermanence in his famous “to be, or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet, and these tattooists answer his question with a resounding “live fast and die hard” through their designs. Ian Wiedrick, Heinz, and Ross K. Jones all show us how our vices, be them sex, drugs, or firearms, are a few of the reaper’s favorite things, too. Other artists, such as Steve Von Riepen, Graham Beech, Geno, and Valerie Vargas, bring out the fearsomeness of Death through their unique takes on the traditional style. Peter Lagergren illustrates the totality of death through the scale of their of their massive compositions. Though the reapers are stylized in diverse ways, each of these pieces shows that death is what makes little time we have so precious.
To see more breathtaking body art done in the traditional style, make your way to these artists’ Instagrams. Should you want a tattoo that shows you’re not afraid to stare Death in the face, have one of them design a reaper for you.