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If you go
What: Artlink tattoo invitational, “Come Hell or High Water”
When: Opening reception from 6 to 9 p.m. today; exhibit ends May 28
Where: Artlink Gallery, Auer Center for Arts and Culture, 300 E. Main St.
Admission: Free for Artlink members, $2 suggested donation for the public; call 424-7195 or go to
“Constantine’s Dream” by Fort Wayne tattoo artist Jeff Stumpp is part of “Come Hell or High Water” at Artlink.

Inspirations beyond skin deep

Artlink showcases the other arts of tattoo artists

Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Stumpp’s “Salome” also joins the exhibit, which features work by tattoo artists from Fort Wayne and Portland, Ore.

Tattoos are one of the few art forms in which your canvas is permanent, and what you put on it usually comes with an opinion. However, for a number of fine artists, tattooing has become a way to express themselves above all the fray.

For Artlink’s new tattoo invitational, “Come Hell or High Water,” participating tattoo artists bring their work out of the parlors and into the gallery. Opening today in conjunction with Artlink’s 34th annual National Print Show and Figure Drawing Sessions exhibits, curator Josef Zimmerman says he wanted to show the work of participating artists outside of tattooing.

“You can’t always make money as fine artists, so come hell or high water, they’re going to make money as artists,” Zimmerman says. “They’re all fine artists who went into tattooing to make their ends meet, and this gives them a chance to show what they can actually do on a canvas.”

Zimmerman says although tattoo artists may have clients willing to give them creative freedom, there are also customers who have their own vision, which can be limiting for an artist. The exhibit, a mix of media and concepts, allows artists to communicate their own motivations and inspirations.

“People want a certain style sometimes, and you’re kind of at the whim of that person,” he says. “If someone wants a ‘Sailor Jerry’ tattoo (a classic style inspired by tattoo artist Norman Collins), the artist may be good at making it, but that might not be their style.

“Sometimes people totally trust them to draw up a sketch of their own design, and it’s totally on them, but then sometimes people come in and want a portrait of their dog. They don’t have much influence there artistically,” he adds.

Eight artists have contributed two or three pieces each for the exhibit. Fort Wayne artists are tattoo veteran Jeff Stumpp, Mike Nankin and Nick Fabini, owner of Cardinal Tattoo.

“I’ve worked with Jeff Stumpp before, and he has been in the tattoo business for a very long time, and he does a lot of painting,” Zimmerman says. “He has run tattoo parlors that actually have had galleries in them, so he’s tried this before.

“Mike Nankin is a kind of switcheroo because he is a person that wants to do fine art, but he didn’t start out as a fine artist. He’s trying to find more of his voice in tattooing to personalize it for him.

“Nick Fabini will be doing prints at this show, which is something different for him,” Zimmerman says. “Normally, I see him doing more acrylic and oil paintings, so he actually is using this opportunity to do something new.”

Artlink executive director Deb Washler has also invited five artists from Portland, Ore., for the exhibit.

“There are so many talented tattoo artists that I could have probably filled two galleries, but I’ve worked with some of the artists before. I wanted to have a rotation of artists so that I wasn’t working with the same cast of characters,” Zimmerman says.

“We also didn’t necessarily want it to be about flash art, which is what you see up on the walls at tattoo shops, the pre-made stuff. Flash art, which I think is cool sometimes, has kind of been done. We’re looking for the more of the fine art aspect of what these people do.”

For Zimmerman, the gallery is as much for the artists as it is for the viewers. He hopes getting these artists in the gallery will influence them to make more art for art’s sake.

“There were several people I ask who were just too busy tattooing to make art. I get that because their time is money, and when you get paid $100 an hour to tattoo, to turn that down is sometimes hard to do,” Zimmerman says.

“All of these artists love their job, they all love tattooing, but I hope this is an opportunity for them to realize that maybe they should do or look into doing more of this work. They all are extremely talented, and I would hope that they would take more time to do this sort of thing in the future.”