October 5, 2002
12:24 PM   Subscribe

Portrait tattoos have a long history in tattoo art. Some believe that wearing an image calls the spirit of that image. With this in mind, it is both amusing and baffling to see the cast of characters that people choose to immortalize.
OK, chances are you never would, but if you simply had to make a decision about having someone's portrait tattooed on your body, whose spirit would you choose to call up?
posted by madamjujujive (30 comments total)
It's purely a matter of personal taste, but I have always found most tattoo portraiture to be visually unappealing. There are exceptions -- I have seen beautifully executed portraits, but I cannot for the life of me understand why someone would want them to become part of the body. Oddly enough, I hold plenty of other tattoo art in high esteem. Go figure.
posted by majick at 12:38 PM on October 5, 2002

Wow, I never realized Marylin had that many pimples.
posted by Berend at 12:49 PM on October 5, 2002

marilyn looks like she has chicken pox, but I love these-they're so much more meaningful than an abstract tribal or celtic linking pattern. Great links!

I'm retarded, but I want a small portrait of this guy.
posted by amberglow at 12:52 PM on October 5, 2002

posted by kozad at 12:52 PM on October 5, 2002

I don't think I would ever get one, unless my wife would let me tattoo my ex-wife on my left buttock.
posted by bradth27 at 12:53 PM on October 5, 2002

Hrm. I'm with majick on this one -- I'm not big on the tattoo portraits. I've got a sacred heart and a pinup girl already, and the latter is about as close as I'll ever get to a portrait.

That said, at gunpoint, whose spirit? That's a tough one. First thing that comes to mind, oddly, is the Venus of Willendorf (did I spell that correctly?) but I think I'd be much, much more likely to go for the Virgin Mary (I have a thing for Catholic iconography) -- I'd actually prefer Mary Magdelen, but that wouldn't really be a recognizable portrait -- I sure wouldn't know a picture of her if it bit me on the bottom.

Is there a spirit representation of Saint StopMyComputerFromScrewingUp?
posted by babylon at 12:55 PM on October 5, 2002

well, yeah, sort of.
posted by bradth27 at 1:25 PM on October 5, 2002

What a great assortment of American icons. James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, William S. Burroughs......WTF?! Darth Maul? I thought it was against the law to give a tattoo to someone intoxicated.
posted by lsd4all at 2:00 PM on October 5, 2002

Speaking of different icons... my buddy has a Sammy Davis Jr on his leg (he's kickin' it with a drink and smoke - classic Sammy) and he's getting a John Candy (probably J la Rue) sometime soon. They make a nice addition to the Jesus and angels and what-not... Me? I've got a hendrix on my shoulder - not sure if I'd get more portraits, when it comes to tattoos you never know!
posted by imaswinger at 2:04 PM on October 5, 2002

My husband has Barney Rubble playing a guitar on his right shoulder. He looks somewhat like Barney Rubble (we have Flintstone's paraphernalia all over the house) and would like to have this nurse, from Genesis' _A Trick of the Tail_ (picture is small-sorry) on his arm. As far as I am concerned, I always liked the pinup girl idea, although I have all abstract celtic designs. I half considered this for a drunken moment at some recent point...
I do know a man who had his baby daughter's 1 year-old portrait put on his arm. She died when she was about 3, so I am guessing that is why he did it.
posted by oflinkey at 3:45 PM on October 5, 2002

this pic of my cat, on my upper back, left shoulder area. it will be done so it's fairly opaque, the colours won't be as strong (and without the blk bground of course), sort of faded. it's going to be my first and only. the guy who'll be doing it is unbelievably good, i've watched his work on various friends and relatives for about 15 years... from way back when my b/f at the time stupidly had my face tattooed on his upper arm. nice for the girl he married years later, doh.

it's disturbing when a person has what i think is too big a tat or too many of them tho'. sometimes it seems like an addiction, or a way of hiding. i knew a boy once who was clearly and admittedly covering himself up out of self loathing. it's a tad scary when someone has more tat than natural skin, yikes.
posted by t r a c y at 4:11 PM on October 5, 2002

Ever since I first met him, the partner has been talking about getting a head of Frankenstein on his shoulder. I think it would be cool, but since neither of us can commit to a bumper sticker for the car, I don't see this ever happening.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:59 PM on October 5, 2002

I think the shoulderblade ones are okay (I love the Hendrix one), but I wonder what the ones on arms and chests are going to look like in a few years when the skin they're on is all saggy and wrinkly. I like t r a c y's idea, if I were to ever get one, it'd be one of my favourite cat.
posted by biscotti at 5:06 PM on October 5, 2002

Speaking as someone with a tattoo, and plans for more, I really enjoy seeing tattoos; of any kind. The fact someone decided to have a particular image painted, permanently on their body speaks volumes about this person. It's almost like a loose underground culture. There's no secret meetings of the tattooed society or anything, but it gives insight into a whole other mindset.

A picture of my inner forearm tattoo. (I added some smudges for no real reason other than to hide the terrible hairiness of my arms.) ... :)

To me, it's all about symbolism. You've endured this pain to keep this indelible mark; a picture that you want someone to see. (There's the personal aesthetic joy too, don't get me wrong.) It's impossible to explain really, the compulsion to get a tattoo. But, if you're serious about it, then it is a serious, almost soul-searching decision.
posted by Dark Messiah at 5:16 PM on October 5, 2002

Note: "added smudges..." to the .jpg image. I'm not that vain.
posted by Dark Messiah at 5:17 PM on October 5, 2002

I've got the Superman S tattooed on my chest-- had it done when I was 23 to remind me that I'm super.
posted by jodic at 5:46 PM on October 5, 2002

I have a tatoo of my face tatooed on my face...only thing...noone can tell!
posted by HTuttle at 6:59 PM on October 5, 2002

Nightliner Tattoo (madamjujujive's 2nd link) also has some great biomechanical tattoos.
posted by azimuth at 7:37 PM on October 5, 2002

It's impossible to explain really, the compulsion to get a tattoo.Or the compulsion to get more than one. I spent ages designing the small tattoo I have on the inside of my wrist and I love it, but after I got it I understood for the first time, why people can end up with so many. Tattoos seem to be almost addictive in some way. I don't mind portraits on other people but really prefer the more symbolic designs.
posted by Tarrama at 7:40 PM on October 5, 2002

Wow. That's...amazing!

I don't think I could ever commit to having a tattoo, though I've considered it in the past. Comes with being a perfectionist, I suppose, in that I'm never wholly content with the things I create once they're complete.
posted by Danelope at 9:08 PM on October 5, 2002

i probably wouldn't ever consider getting a portrait of an actual person. mainly because i wouldn't feel comfortable with someone getting a portrait of me tattooed on them. it just seems weird.

however, something portrait style of a fictional character isn't as cut and dry. like the jack nicholson from the shining in the first link. sure it's jack nicholson, but it's also the character created by king and iconized (?) by kubrick. and nicholson has to be prepared for that type of idolization.

personally, none of my 3 tattoos so far are portrait style. but my next one will probably be a portrait of frank from donnie darko. the drawing donnie does and puts on his calendar. fictional character, but not human-looking.
posted by dogwalker at 9:50 PM on October 5, 2002

thanks oflinkey for reminding me of my favourite record cover of all time.
posted by mhjb at 11:31 PM on October 5, 2002

Our friend Alemão
has a few De Niros, a Salvador Dali, his daughter, and others... And this
guy I photographed in Sturgis has Jim Morrison, John Lennon, and Jimi Hendrix.
[self-linking bastard!]
posted by ig at 1:09 AM on October 6, 2002

ig, your photos are stunning! I found this link among my bookmarks last night and thought it would make a good addition to the thread. But I was too sleepy to post it so I set it aside for the morning. I was surprised and pleased to see the coincidence of your post! I must say that Lost Art is an absolute gem of a site and one I've admired for some time - it's nice to have the opportunity to tell you that in person. Thanks!

On another note - for aficionados of portraits and other tattoo styles, Skin & Ink has a fascinating section of readers' photos that runs the gamut.
posted by madamjujujive at 6:41 AM on October 6, 2002

For a pretty extensive showing of tattoos take a look at BMEzine, a pretty comprehensive body mod site, including these geek tattoos.
posted by geekyguy at 7:18 AM on October 6, 2002

When one decides to get a tattoo of Uncle Fester I wonder how one comes to the decision to get Uncle Fester as portrayed by Christopher Lloyd instead of the other Uncle Festerguy from the Addams Family.
posted by jodic at 9:25 AM on October 6, 2002

Definitely Frida Kahlo's Self-Portrait with Monkey. What a tremendous spirit she was.
posted by jennak at 10:26 AM on October 6, 2002

I definitely wouldn't choose to get someone's face as a tattoo, but if forced at gunpoint it would probably be Charles Darwin: explorer, scientist, gentleman, and - in our era - symbol of sanity and reason.

I haven't gotten any tattoos yet, but I have been working on this design for a few months. I'm not sure when or whether I'll end up using it, but it's been a fun graphics project.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:25 AM on October 6, 2002

I've got a number of portraits tattooed on my arm, but none of them are real-life characters. Do they count? They're from the comic Preacher. I also have an Escher drawing that is in the same style (on my other arm).
posted by jetgrrl at 12:15 AM on October 7, 2002

I was trying to psyche myself into getting the Richard Pryor illustration from the cover of 'Wanted' done, but luckily I talked myself out of it. I guess I am just soft.
posted by ztt at 6:27 PM on October 7, 2002

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