Arts

The branding that doesn’t wash off…

I’ve come to hate the graceless, charmless daubings that are now splattered randomly across the thighs, calves, and arms of so many young men and women, says Jo Knowsley.

These nouveau pieces of ‘art’ look like they’ve been drawn helter-skelter, with no rhyme or reason, by the scratchy ball-point pen of a five-year-old…

My dad always said only cattle should be branded: inked deep with a stain that proclaimed their ownership by a clan.

Back in the day tattoos were also a badge of honour for anyone who’d served at sea. Then came the ‘art’ tattoos in places like Los Angeles where much kudos resided in the calibre of the artist.

I can’t say I have always hated them. Some are truly works of art – like the elegant, rhythmical scrolls wrapped round the arms of Maori and Polynesian warriors.

There was also a certain thrill during a clandestine hook-up on discovering a man who had a face pretty enough to grace the cover of Vogue was not only inked in giant eagles across his chest (and other parts) but could even make them dance. 

What I’ve come to hate, however, are the graceless, charmless daubings that are now splattered randomly across the thighs, calves, and arms of so many young men and women. (And how I think they’ll grow to hate them, too, as those carefully crafted roses and ‘meaningful’ symbols collapse with age to resemble nothing so much as sodden scribbles and spineless weeds.)

These nouveau pieces of ‘art’ look like they’ve been drawn helter-skelter, with no rhyme or reason, by the scratchy ball-point pen of a five-year-old. How have they become so popular?

What astonishes me even more is that this is a generation who really doesn’t like to be told what to do: hey, let’s pull down ‘inappropriate’ statues from our history; let’s not get vaccinated because it’s something the government wants us to do; let’s be gender fluid and even protest against male authors outlining details of a female character. Let’s ban anything that tries to define us in ways we don’t want to define ourselves.

(There are, of course, protests on key and critical issues such as climate change. And I have few issues with these. I might not glue myself to the railings but I have a grudging admiration for those who do.)

Yet by getting themselves so comprehensively ‘inked’ this generation are effectively branding themselves. And in an indelible way. And why are they opting to do so with such appalling, disfiguring taste? Is it some new and impossible-to-understand form of rebellion? No-one could consider this art.

It’s not even as if the tatts are particularly meaningful. One woman I spied at a market last week had a life-sized squirrel tattoo’d on her right calf. A squirrel. I ask you.

If it’s some new rite of passage I have not a clue what it all means.

According to recent reports, lockdown has prompted a growth in popularity of tattoos of the faces of loved ones, birthdays and key dates. But it’s minimalist tatts, with simple clean lines (the ones I loathe the most) that have become the sudden star of inking. Landscapes, insects, animals, bugs and pets are particularly popular themes. The popularity of Zodiac signs, and matching ‘love’ tatts has also never faded. 

The main tips tattooists dish out to anyone craving some permanent ink are: don’t turn up drunk; don’t arrive with a gaggle of friends; put care and thought into the design – where you’re having the tattoo and why.

But still nothing explains the quantity of young flesh I’ve seen this summer adorned in scrawled drawings on random body parts. Or why they’ve chosen to have it done in the first place.

Next time I spot a beautiful young man or woman, and ponder on why they’ve decided to desecrate the temple of their body in this amateurish way I might bite the bullet and ask them. But I suspect most would still struggle to explain that verminous squirrel.

Show More

Jo Knowsley

Jo has held senior staff writing roles on some of Britain’s leading newspapers including the Sunday Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday, and is now a freelance writer. She has reported on major breaking stories around the world and has written for magazines and newspapers in Britain, Australia and New Zealand in publications as diverse as Marie Claire, the Daily Mail, Metro, Saga and Grazia. In the past she focused primarily on news-lead reports and interviews. Today she writes across a number of platforms on subjects ranging from property and travel to theatre and features. She grew up in New Zealand and has made her home and career in London since 1990.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button