Michael Atkinson, author of "Tattooed: The Sociogenesis of a Body Art," will give a talk tonight by the same name at 6 p.m. at the Arkansas Arts Center (reception 5:30 p.m.). Atkinson's talk accompanies the Arts Center's new exhibit, "Tattoo Witness: Photography by Mark Perrott," which opens to the public Friday. Also accompanying the exhibit are murals done by Little Rock area tattoo artists; both photography show and murals are in the Wolfe Gallery.
Atkinson (in photo below) was at the gallery this afternoon, studying a mural by Scott Diffee and Alina Bennett of The Parlor. Small stenciled tattoo images surround the giant skull in this piece; Atkinson explained that some dated to the 1920s. Some, like the swallow, are still done; Adrian Berry, a second generation artist who works with his father, Robert Berry, at 7th Street Tattoos, said it's popular with people who've gotten a divorce. Atkinson's talk ought to be a great one on a topic seldom examined in arts museums.
About the photography exhibit: I got a look at Mark Perrott's large-scale (44-by-44 inch) portraits of tattooed people this afternoon and they are gorgeous and narrative and sometimes startling. The subjects stare right into the camera, some with the kind of challenging look that says this is me, take it or leave it. Many of Perrott's people — folks he shot at tattoo parlors over a number of years (Times article here) — are quite beautiful, like "Virginia" (above), and by shooting in black and white, Perrott has de-emphasized the tattoo and emphasized the subject. So the photograph "Virginia" (above) is not just a picture of any tattooed woman, but a portrait of a confident beauty, whose dress — a string-tied bosom revealing top — deliberately echoes the spider web on her arm. Perrott's left no doubt that Virginia is a strong woman that you don't want to mess with.
Other portraits: Steve of Union City, N.J., holding a Heineken and taking a deep drag on a cigarette, with, among other images, the swallow. Joshua of Pittsburgh, who has spiky hair, a tattoo of Jesus and a locked chain around his neck. Margie, one of the few smiling faces in the show and here's why: Her tattoo is of herself as Little Red Riding Hood, with a wolf carrying a basket of wine.
Another photo, "Megan," is of a woman naked from head to waist to show her tattoo, a "tribal" abstracted thorny vine circling one breast and goes up over her shoulder. She wears a barbed-wire necklace and her nipples are pierced; she's a beauty in a prickly portrait.