Book Explores Tattoo Culture through Paintings, Badassery

margaret cho.jpg
To say that Shawn Barber has an obsessive appreciation for tattoos would be an understatement. The tattoo artist and painter has 227 tattoos himself and several breathtaking paintings of other tattooed bodies (like Margaret Cho above) in his new book, Memoir: The Tattooed Portraits Series. This is Barber's third book showcasing his painted portraits, but Barber writes, "this homage is still in its infancy."

While teaching and working as a full-time fine artist, Barber finally tended to his hunger for tattoo culture and took a few years traveling to meet artists and learn the craft. In 2010, he finally opened Memoir Tattoo in Los Angeles with fellow artist Kim Saigh. The shop houses a group of like-minded artists, many of whom are also fine art painters like Barber and Saigh.

Barber's book is a collection of his own paintings, sweeping brush-stroked renditions of bodies inked with every tattoo style, from traditional Japanese to photorealist to Ed Hardy-esque imagery. In addition to his paintings, Barber creates a study of tattoo culture itself with several portraits of the artists, studios, and studies on how the machines and tools are made.

Just don't let the badassery go too far, badass (and heavily tattooed) comedian Margaret Cho warns in the foreward. Next to her own portrait, laying down to receive more ink with lollipop in hand, she (barely) recalls once getting Barber a little too high off cannabis lollipops to work his magic.

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Returning ink addicts soon realize it's not only the aesthetic need for a certain piece of art, but the process and culture that draws them back in. Being a living canvas is enthralling -- feeling the medium on your own skin, the intimate relationship with the artist, and finally, becoming the art itself.

Memoir: The Tattooed Portrait Series is out in hardcover from San Francisco-based publisher Last Gasp.

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