Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Tattoosday Book Review: Skin Graf - Masters of Graffiti Tattoo

I guess it's no surprise to me that a quality book about the convergence of graffiti and tattoo art  has come to pass. Even less surprising is that Michael "Kaves" McLeer is involved.

Kaves is co-author, with Billy Burke, of  Skin Graf: Masters of Graffiti Tattoo, which is being released tomorrow, April 25, 2013, by Prestel Publishing.

In fact, before I even talk about the book, I should alert readers that tonight, April 24, 2013, Kaves and Burke, along with writer/producer Sacha Jenkins, will be speaking at the New York Public Library as part of the library's "Design and Style Series." The event runs from 6:00 to 8:00 PM and I plan on being in attendance. Directions and further details can be found here.

I am not a native New Yorker, but when I moved here in 1997, I settled in south Brooklyn, in the area known as Bay Ridge. My fellow city-dwellers who have lived here longer, recall the days when graffiti artists were household names, and have their share of memories of subway cars that were moving billboards for the daring and adventurous artists of this often-misunderstood art form.

When I started blogging about tattoos in 2007, it really was a learn-as-you-go experience for me. I first encountered the work of Kaves a year later, with this post. A year later, I met him, after he opened up shop on 93rd and 3rd near my home in Bay Ridge, and had the pleasure of watching him tattoo close-up (while I was being tattooed by another artist working in the space). His shop, Brooklyn Made Tattoo, is a fixture in the neighborhood and I run into Kaves from time to time, such as when he shared this tattoo, which was done by the legendary Mark Mahoney.

So you can imagine my excitement about the opportunity to read and review this new book, which chronicles   the history of some of the most well-known graffiti artists who have crossed over into the business of tattooing.

The list of artists ranges from Kaves to Seen ("the undisputed godfather of graffiti-inspired art on skin"), and includes Med, Baba, Mister Cartoon, Giant, Ces, Yes2, Pyro, Norm, Helz and Coast.

Each artist merits a chapter, cleverly color-tabbed, and chock-full of wonderful photos by Estevan Oriol and Angela Boatwright, and supplemented by many of the artists, as well.

The reader is introduced to each of these legendary figures with their tags, locations (Bronx, Brooklyn, San Francisco, L.A., Boston...), a small biographical blurb, and several pages of first-person narrative, accompanied by pictures of both art forms, graffiti and tattoo.

Photo by Estevan Oriol
The juxtaposition is brilliant, as the reader is treated to the sense of styles jumping from inanimate to animate, from brick to flesh. And just to prove to the naysayers who may question the "validity" of graffiti as an art form  we also see more traditional tattoos from these amazing artists, but with that extra something, a touch of the urban art that lies within the steady hand of the tattooers.

by Mister Cartoon
Photo by Estevan Oriol
I can't praise enough the ambitiousness and scope of this project, which succeeds to no end. It's amazing to see the versatility of these exceptional artists who can work as impressively on a canvas the size of a building facade or on something as small as the side of a hand.

Pyro Can
Photo by Estevan Oriol

by Kaves
Photo by Angela Boatwright
This book really is a visual treat.

by Mike Giant
Courtesy of Giant

by Mike Giant
Courtesy of Giant
The range of talent is breath-taking and I whole-heartedly recommend Skin Graf as a must-have for fans of graffiti art and tattooing.

My only criticism is that I want more. The book is bursting with color and styles, but it leaves me with questions, and wanting more. I would love to see a sequel. Are there any established female graffiti/tattoo artists? How about from other parts of the world? Hopefully we'll see a Skin Graf 2!

This book will hook you with its serious appreciation of the history and art of graffiti tattoo. It certainly expands one's appreciation of the art form, both on and off the human canvas. It's a must-have for your tattoo library!

Remember, if you're in New York City tonight, come to the New York Public Library to hear the authors discuss this incredible book.

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