Jason Vice from Cincinnati is an orderly at a hospital and jokes that his life lives up to the name.
“I have a few” — vices, that is — “Tattoos being one of them.”
Wiry and sporting a white goatee, Vice spent at least 13 hours this past weekend flat on his belly, stretched out a folding table while Josh Payne, a heavily inked tattoo artist from Denver, etched on Vice’s left calf a multicolored fantasy of dinosaurs being blown up by crashing UFOs.
Payne agreed, smiling, that there are people who believe he’s appropriately named. Payne is an artist who makes his living using an electric-powered high-speed needle. It is used to wound flesh in a design of one’s choosing, often accented with a rainbow array of indelible dyes.
Trevor Carson, a burly U.S. Navy sailor from Hampton by way of Houston — who was having tattooed on a lower leg a rose-wrapped likeness of the face in Edvard Munch’s iconic painting “The Scream” — put it this way: “It’s temporary pain for forever beauty.”
For 2½ days an estimated 4,000 people — many of them tattooed, others un-inked but curious — streamed through a Chesterfield County hotel for the Richmond Tattoo, Art & Music Festival. This trade event has been going on for nearly 35 years. This year’s was the first since 2019, having been interrupted by the pandemic.
Although coronavirus skin-removals were uncommon, tattoos are common. Many were keen to get more. The droning buzz of the hand-held devices used to create tattoos — some refer to them as “guns” — was a sign of brisk business, even in the closing hours of the festival Sunday afternoon.
Safety and hygiene are paramount. Needles should be only used once.
“Nobody wants to use a needle twice,” said Big Jaz, a Brooklyn, N.Y., ex-pat who works as a tattoo artist in Norfolk.
Damian Barley of Richmond, a bartender at the hotel, spent his break prone as Jake Raburn, a tattooist from Las Vegas, fashioned an elaborate pattern on Barley’s right calf. Barley (27 years old) was 16 at the time he received his first tattoo. The tattoos on his arms were a tribute to his sister and brother. His Marine Corps service years are remembered by his stars.
“They call it ‘ink therapy,’” Barley said of tattooing. “I always feel better after I get one. I think of my body as a canvas.”
Raburn was just like many tattoo artists: He got involved in tattooing through his art. He began to draw and paint as an early child. Raburn has been a tattoo artist for six years, having served with what he described as an “old-school apprenticeship” under a veteran of the craft.
Raburn has a tattoo just above his eyebrow that serves as a warning. It reads, in an Old English font, “Anti-Social.”
Raburn said that an inebriated passenger on his flight to Richmond from Nevada began pestering him during a layover in Austin, Texas: “I told him, ‘Man, read my forehead.’” Raburn, whose studio in Vegas stands in the city’s art district north of the casino-lined Strip, said cabin attendants had the man removed from the aircraft.
The art of tattooing dates back thousands of years. Humans have used permanent tattoos as status symbols or emblems for their faith and courage, as well as punishment, since ancient times. In recent years, tattoos — and piercings — have become increasingly popular among generation s.
Richmond is third in the list, just behind Las Vegas. 1 Miami and second-place Las Vegas for its number of tattooed residents, according to a 2019 segment on the NBC morning show, “Today.” It attributed Richmond’s distinction to tattoo shops aplenty — about 14.5 per 100,000 people — in a city that’s home to 229,000 people.
Pew Research Centre found nearly 40% of all people aged between 18 and 29 had at least one tattoo in 2017. Virginia law allows anyone under 18 years old to have a tattoo. This is because a consenting parent or guardian must present when a minor inks.
Cervenna Fox is a Briton living in Las Vegas. She was just 16 when her first tattoos were done. They were likenesses to swallows. Now 31, Fox is covered with tattoos, many of them recalling her British heritage — a fox on her right arm and a lion on her right leg. You will also find images of antique weaponry such as an ax, malice and a hammer.
Fox — who is also a burlesque artist, performing in a shimmering, silver bustier and feathered fans — said that tattoos are illustrated stories not unlike what might be seen on walls of an ancient shrine.
“If you have a look at temples, they always have art that tells a story,” said Fox. “Our bodies are temples.”