Welcome to Water & Ash, our series showcasing the best black and grey tattoos out there. From Chicano-style payasa girls to hair-raising realistic horror tattoos, the world of black and grey is immense and intriguing. Find the best of it here each week.
While perusing the portfolios of expert black and grey tattooists, sometimes I find myself feeling like Pygmalion — a character who falls hopelessly in love with a statue in a story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Every once in awhile, I stumble across body art that gives even Michelangelo's Pietà a run for its money, and it always takes my breath away. All of the artists showcased here create this sort of stunning realism, making their work look like it was carved from marble than inscribed on people’s skin, and just like the figures that adorn the walls of cathedrals, temples, and ziggurats, these pieces gesture toward the divine.
Several artists seen here use the work of famous sculptors from the past as a reference for their body art. The portrait of Christ by Nathan Herbert is directly based on a bust by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and Jun Cha’s amazing depiction of the crucifixion takes after Lorenzo Mattielli’s “Fall of the Angels” in St. Michael’s Church in Vienna. Eric Marcinizyn, Jhon Gutti, Mumia, and Ryan Mullins also produce mind-blowing tattoos inspired by Christian iconography.
The compositions by Chris Mata'afa and Robin Hernandez draw from Buddhism and Hinduism, and this take on black and grey is also perfect for capturing the aesthetic of ancient Greek statues, as illustrated by Matt “Skinny” Bagwell’s faun and Oscar Akermo’s Themis. Alan Padilla, turned to reliefs found on Mayan ruins for inspiration.
As illustrated by these flawless tattoos, black and grey realism can emulate the appearance of sculpture to a T when in the right hands. The high level of contrast that can be achieved in this style enables tattooists to imbue their designs with a statuesque quality. If you closely examine the pieces here, you can plainly see the careful distribution of black shading, greywash, and negative space that they employ to create the likeness of stone. Though they won’t hold up quite as long as their three-dimensional counterparts, each of these masterpieces will look magnificent for an entire lifetime.
To see more stonelike black and grey body art, make sure to visit these artists’ Instagrams. If you want the tattoo equivalent of a sculpture by Donatello or Rodin, consider commissioning one of them to give it shape on your skin.