On the opening night of the Goodbye: New Works on Paper art show, most of the Kings Avenue NYC team was busy pulling lines and shading, while over the noise of thrumming tattoo machines, a few of its staff members and two visiting artists — Justin Weatherholtz, Zac Scheinbaum, Frankie Caraccioli, and Brian Paul — talked to us about their paintings. Walking through the small yet profound collection of visual art, we were confronted by depictions of the Grim Reaper, Fudo Myoo, lethal snakes, landscapes of the afterlife, and other deathly tattoo imagery.
Though the artists’ styles are widely varied, the idea of embracing death unites all the paintings in the show. Each contributor used familiar tattoo iconography to communicate emotions surrounding our own mortality. “We wanted to put together a show based on what we all know stylistically, something that would fit us all,” Weatherholtz said. “We all draw a lot of skulls, reapers, snakes, and imagery like that, so the theme of goodbye seemed perfect.”
The four collaborated over the course of several months to make this event a reality. While most of the compositions were created individually, a few of them are joint ventures, in which one artist illustrated the primary image and another filled in the background. The flash sheet with four reapers, for instance, was shipped across the country three times before being finished. They also inspired one another by sharing their progress via social media. After Paul painted an abstract Fudo Myoo for the event, the others follow suit, with each of them elaborating on the salvational deity in their own unique ways.
Weatherholtz produced a number of impressive pieces for the show, including several with his iconic skulls and a few inspired by Irezumi. Some of his most stunning illustrations were clearly inspired by comic books. “I decided to do a few that had a narrative element to them because of the theme and the stories behind it,” Weatherholtz explained. “I’ve loved comics since I was little, and my intention was to create an experience where the viewer could interpret death in different ways.”
Scheinbaum’s paintings are some of the most arresting ones on display. He chose to do a study on cultures that are on the brink of, or have already gone, extinct. Using photographs of people from around the world and other references, he created massive, pitch-black silhouettes and painted faint white imagery like flowers, spiderwebs, and human bones inside their frames. Each one has an eerie feeling to it, almost like you’re seeing an apparition in the night.
Though most of the paintings are steeped in tattoo imagery, Caraccioli executed several compositions that venture further into the world of fine art. A few of them are based on work by some of his biggest influences. His “Reaper in Gold” is a deathly interpretation of Gustav Klimt’s famous masterpiece “The Lady in Gold,” and he also made an homage to Georgia O’Keeffe’s late landscapes. “I tried to capture her aesthetic but make it ghostly, with an end of days feel to it,” said Caraccioli. “So, I draped the bull’s skull in a funeral shroud and placed it in front of a blood-red sunset at Monument Valley.” For good measure, he also contributed a piece based on his famous “Death in Paradise” tattoos.
Paul’s work is by far the most bizarre art currently hanging on Kings Avenue’s walls. His work is like looking at a landscape by Hieronymus Bosch while on a fat dose of powerful LSD. He described one of his pieces as “a red skeleton breathing out his space-dragon of a soul to create the cosmos,” if that gives you any idea of just how esoteric and inexplicable his strain of surrealism is.
Through their diverse takes on the idea of saying goodbye to the world of the living, these artists have painted a collective picture of the conceptual vastness of death. Together, their artwork authentically embodies all the fear, mourning, and acceptance that defines us as human beings.
The Goodbye show will be up until this coming Sunday, April 2, so if you’re in NYC this weekend and want to see some profound paintings made by tattooists, make sure to drop into Kings Avenue Tattoo. Who knows, you might even walk away with a powerful depiction of death to hang on your living room wall.