Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Steve's Sleeve and the Narrative Behind It

Earlier this month, I was in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn for a mixer for The Brooklyn Crescents lacrosse program.

The event was held at Der Schwarze Kolner, a beer garden that offered up some tasty beverages. Over the course of the evening, I noticed one of the employees who was diligently passing out frosty steins to patrons. I introduced myself and asked if I could photograph his sleeve:

Since Steve was working, I asked him to e-mail me with details about the tattoo, and he didn't disappoint, even sending along a collage of the sleeve so our readers could get a better look at the full scope of the artwork:

One of the aspects missing in both photos is this part, which I captured when Steeve bent his arm:

Steve explained:
"First, one needs to know that this tattoo was about 4-5 years in the making before I sat for my first session. So I definitely thought about it for a long while. It was originally inspired by a Bansky stencil in which a woman in a dress is shooting herself in the head. From this bloody mess emerges a number of butterflies. Interpret what you will... I took this to mean rebirth after death and the cleansing properties of fire. I had studied medieval alchemy heavily as a graduate student, and this symbolism of death and rebirth through flame resonated with me greatly. Plus, I know that each of us has a fiery  self-destructive side and I am no exception. I wanted to honor that side of myself and also to silently pay homage to those friends over the years that I have lost to suicide.

So working closely with Joy Rumore at Twelve 28 Tattoo in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, we designed the upper sleeve [that] would show a woman, slightly cartoon-like and pin-up styled, holding a gun to her head. Rather than a bloody mess like in the stencil, I wanted her face to be content and pretty. Her hair burns red and orange like the fire elemental she is. From the gun, which has been fired, emerges stars and smoke. From the smoke, moving down the sleeve, emerges a spiral galaxy and more stars in negative space. The bottom sleeve is dominated by a salamander and a phoenix inside of a retort.

These two creatures are mythical symbols of fire, as they both burn up and rise from their own ashes. Fire blows from the top of the retort, and a 1up Mario Mushroom [visible in the top photo at the bottom of the sleeve, near the wrist], the one overt pop-culture reference on my arm, comes forth again illustrating rebirth and 'extra' life after death. Other features of the sleeve are the bullet casing, which is haloed inside my elbow pit, and the final black star on the inside of my wrist, which has the alchemical symbol for Mercury within. Mercury is the activator, the 'invisible, secretly working fire' of the purification process. Lastly, the Latin words MUNDUS VULT DECIPI are inscribed on my arm. They translate to 'the world wishes to be deceived.' I agree with this saying, attributed to the Roman Petronius (1st c. AD), as many individuals live life 'asleep.' Only though the fire can one truly awake into a higher self.
Still, despite the short novel of meaning I find and imbue into this tattoo, overall it is a beautiful piece of art and I couldn't be happier with Joy's work. She was very patient with me as we completed the piece over the course of three years! Money ran tight at times and our schedules conflicted, but in truth the time allowed for us to work together and for the tattoo to organically take shape. For instance, the bottom sleeve was not designed at all when we began the top sleeve. I remember suggesting to Joy the idea of the 1up Mushroom blasting from the retort, only to have her laugh with enjoyment at how nicely it would bring things together. You know you have found an excellent tattoo artist when they are genuinely interested and excited to work to create a shared piece of art.
I guess that's my sleeve's story then. Oh, and by the way, the girl has no name and I doubt she ever will!"
Steve's praise for Joy Rumore is not unfounded. She's a remarkable artist who has had work featured on Tattoosday several times before (click here to link to all previous posts tagged with her shop).

I greatly appreciate Steve sharing his sleeve with us, and for taking the time to give us a full and thoughtful explanation of the design process. Thank you Steve!

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Anonymous said...

Graphic of woman shoting himself is not a Bansky. I'ts jbyron's print, look: http://www.threadless.com/profile/23190/jbyron/designs

Tattoosday said...

The jury is still out on the Suicide Butterflies design. The comment above does link to a shirt with the design attributed to Jason Byron Nelson, but other sites (i.e. Amazon) say it's a Banksy design. Since Steve says it was inspired by the Banksy piece, and it is not a copy of it, I'll leave it at that.