During the weekend of February 13- 15, Salt Lake City hosted its annual International Tattoo convention. The Salt Palace room buzzed like a nest of metal hornets as the artists set to work with their machines. Hundreds of people milled about to take in the myriad artist’s styles and original arts and crafts, and to get in line for a tattoo or piercing. The $15 door charge and seven dollar personal pizzas were typical of conventions- particularly one rumored to be among the best tattoo conventions in the world. But while spectacular talent was displayed at every turn, I found myself at a loss. Conspicuously absent was any sign of a Utah Valley artist.
Tattoo artists came from all over the country and all over the world, and several in attendance were from Salt Lake. Knowing the amazing talent that exists in our own valley, I was surprised to see not one familiar name. Naturally, I decided to investigate.
My first stop was the beautifully decorated Painted Temple Tattoo parlor at 47 W. 300 N. in Provo, where artist Dan Walker was setting up. Obviously the most important thing is sanitation, and they take it very seriously. “I’ve changed my gloves four or five times just setting up,” he said as he arranged tiny cups of ink on the table. There’s no skimping anywhere- even though his soon- to- be victim is none other than his friend and fellow Painted Temple artist, Oak Adams.
Neither of them had any idea why they had been snubbed by the annual convention. They followed all the procedures; “You get a hold of them months in advance, send in examples of your work…” but they never heard back. The artists seemed a bit confused and maybe a little miffed, but spoke no ill of the convention. Their deep respect of other artists is apparent in their attitudes- not even being left out of a major event for no conceivable reason could change that.
A few blocks away at Death or Glory Tattoo (236 W. Center, Provo), piercer, and tattoo artist-in-training, Anjuli, was not at a loss for words on the subject when I asked. “Oh, we were banned,” she said without hesitation. She told me of a Utah Valley artist who had gone to the convention some years ago and “Made a complete ass of himself.” Since then, she said, no Utah Valley artist has even been considered for the famous convention. In essence, the “one bad apple” cliché applies, and haunts our fair valley to this day- even though the offending party is no longer in Utah.
Comfortably at work in his booth, Death or Glory artist Mike Larsen had his own explanation. “They seem to think we’re a bunch of scratch artists out here,” he said as he carefully etched a tribal shape into his customer’s back. There’s a feeling among some of the local tattoo talent that Salt Lake is a bit cliquey.
None of this controversy has dampened business in any Utah Valley tattoo studio I’m aware of. Several artists have earned their reputations as talented artists whose work is highly sought after. A love for their work comes standard, as Larsen expressed. “I can’t picture myself doing anything else,” he said, smiling. “I love my job. I get to stab people for a living… oh, that sounds terrible.” Far from a needle- wielding psychopath, Larsen is an easygoing guy with an attitude almost as laid back as Walker’s. He smiles when I mention Painted Temple.
“I love those guys,” he says. And the feeling is mutual between all the artists I spoke with. Aaron of Connvicted Ink in Orem proudly sports Oak’s work on his right leg. Many artists happily trade tattoo work like massage therapists trade massages. I don’t know if I’d go as far as “one big happy family,” but there’s an obvious kinship between valley artists.
If you want a tattoo, the artists offer similar advice. “Do your research,” says Walker, whose intricate surreal/ realism style has stunning effects. “Don’t just walk into a studio with a picture and say, ‘I want this.'” Tattoo artist’s styles reflect in their work. Of course, any decent tattoo artist will be able to look at a picture and duplicate it, Walker says, but emphasizes that he does his best work when he can take the customer’s concept and run with it.
Larsen seems to agree. “I like to put my own little spin on things,” he says. Artist’s preferences include a plethora of tribal, street graffiti designs, detailed realism, cartoons, and classic tattoo design, among many others. Artist Randal Craig (another Painted Temple guy), for example, is known for his heraldry and Celtic knot work styles.
As more studios open and Utah Valley becomes more and more inked, it seems absurd that the whole region should be snubbed. The talent in this area is undeniable. So come on, Salt Lake- give our artists a break. And all the happy, returning customers said, “Amen.”