90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Monday, May 6, 2013

Turning Tattoos Into Fine Art

Most people don’t associate tattoos with fine art. But as more art school graduates end up in tattoo shops, the body art is increasingly influenced by artists from Jackson Pollock to Helen Frankenthaler.

Amanda Wachob received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from SUNY Purchase and she creates abstract tattoos in her Brooklyn studio. She got into tattoos after she started thinking about how art is influenced by its surface. She specifically wondered whether abstract expressionist Hans Hofmann’s squares and rectangles would take different forms on a more rounded surface.

“Then it dawned on me that maybe that was something I could explore with tattooing,” Wachob told Here & Now‘s Robin Young.

Wachob’s tattoos have an unusual brush-stroked effect, with ink spills and ink swirls. But she says that typical tattoos, like skulls and daggers, are still popular.

“The traditional American tattoo look is also still going strong and very popular and very classic,” she said.

Paul Nathan, a photographer in Williamsburg, N.Y., whose recent book, “Generation Ink,” documents the explosion of tattoo styles, says that tattoos are not as rebellious as in earlier times.

“It’s not like it used to be. It’s no longer a limitation. You’re kind of an outsider if you’re not tattooed in creative industries,” he said. “There’s a few people in our neighborhood who have tattoos on their cheeks. I think that’s probably the next thing.”


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1575369736 Scott Kimbriel

    Tattoos are self-mutilation originating from a need to signal inclusion in a certain tribe and by extension, exclusion from all other tribes. The urge to mutilate oneself never comes from a healthy place. Tattoos are always a bad idea.

    • Chris Lawton

      You seem rather rigid in your opinions and are presenting them as fact. The people that I know are some of the most decent and creative human beings I know. Each and every one of them is good with children, pets and are a part of community. I do not have tattoos myself, and am unlikely to ever get one, but I can say that the tattooed people I know seem far more mentally healthy than is the negativity expressed by your opinion.

      • Wahoo

        I liked your comment Chris.  As far as I tell from various articles I’ve read, for the US, about one fourth of people have one or more tattoos (vanishingly few people have a single tattoo); one fourth have toyed with the idea, one fourth don’t lose much sleep over tattoos (sounds like you are in this group), and one fourth get themselves tied in knots and spend their days googling “tattoo” so they can  proudly express opinions about something that they know nothing about.

    • http://thetattooedengineer.com/ Paul Berge

      I notice your wife is wearing earrings in your profile picture.  I guess some forms of “mutilation” are acceptable to you. 

      When it comes to tattoos, what you see as mutilation, people with tattoos see as decoration.  If I feel that I am enhancing the way I look rather than degrading it by getting a tattoo, that tattoo is by definition not a mutilation.

      How do you feel about women who choose to tattoo over their mastectomy scars? If this is a way for them to feel good about themselves after a life altering surgery, do you still think tattoos are always a bad idea?  

      How about people who choose tattoos that are hidden from view.  How does that exclude them from all other tribes? 

      You need to get out more and talk to a few people with tattoos before making such absolute statements.  

      • Alyssa Esparza

        You, sir, are quite awesome.

  • Scottwable

    People with tattoos think having them makes them somehow special or unique. There is nothing edgy about tattoos anymore. They’re  just plain boring. If you want to be really cool, develop a personality.

    • Chris Lawton

       Do you really know what people with tattoos think? It doesn’t seem so.

    • Joshua Lloyd

       “…develop a personality.” 

      Yes, please do, Scotty. 

    • http://thetattooedengineer.com/ Paul Berge

      To the contrary, it seems that only people without tattoos say that people with tattoos think having them makes them special or unique.  I have never heard a tattooed person claim that they got their tattoos to be edgy, cool, unique or special.  But I hear these things from non-tattooed people all of the time.

      • Wahoo

         I was edgy, cool, unique and special long before I got my tattoos.  :-)

  • BHA_in_Vermont

    Hopefully my daughters – 18 and 20 continue to think tattoos are not something they are interested in.   I know many people love their “body art” but frankly, I find it unattractive.

    It is sad that Mr. Nathan feels the need to be “in” rather than “out” with the “art crowd”.

  • Hans

    I find it very discouraging that two of the three comments thus far represent such close-minded and destructive mentalities.  I will be the first to battle for one’s right to express themselves, however when that expression turns into sweeping assumptions and derogatory classification of individuals you’ve lost me as a supporter.  In the future, please try your best to not generalize and turn things into “us” and “them.”


    Scott Kimbriel, tattooing has transformed from its roots and origins into an expression of art, culture, and opinion.  I hope at some point you can realize that you can certainly feel free to dislike the practice, but it would be wise to accept the fact that not all people that get tattoos are exclusionary people with an urge to mutilate themselves.  There are many that are quite healthy…indeed from a mental and physical standpoint. 

    Scottwable, you apparently have no respect for people’s choices and believe that your opinion on the matter should somehow be regarded as the law of the land.  I would love to hear you stand by your opinion after meeting some of the most intelligent, creative, and interesting people in this world and then finding out that they are covered in tattoos.  These people do exist, and it’s a shame that you apparently believe that all people with tattoos are lacking personality and are on some sort of wandering quest for identity and popularity.  The irony of your comment is borderline improbable.  You are accusing people who are literally willing to wear their personality in permanence on their body of having no personality.  If anything, I suppose I can thank you for a nice laugh.

  • Argon3

    oh, crap…..it’s about “rebellion”? Now it’s about conformity. If everybody has a tattoo it’s the un-tattooed that are the rebellious ones.

  • Pete

    What an intresting thread. I heard part of this report and lunch today and wsnted to add my 2 cents. I am and know plenty of tatooed individuals from a Political Science professor I met while getting my Masters with a full sleeve to my “brothers” in the United States Marine Corps. Yes, I own a semi- obligatory Marine Corps tattoo, and couldn’t be prouder to have earn the right to wear that ink. While I started getting tattooed back in the early 90′s when it was becoming popular, I was told only prisoners and salor got them. Truth be told, that was part of my reason at the time the simple inclusion in an exclusive group, and the traditions of them, like the the EGA I earned, or the turtle of becoming a shellback. Perhaps those aren’t ” original” tattoos, however, their importance to myself and others who recoginze what they are and their importance; far transends any lack of originality

  • Irena


    • Wahoo

      You haven’t posted a picture of yourself, but even if you are butt ugly, I’m too much of a bearded, pierced and tattooed total gentleman to say “yuck”.

  • Wahoo

    The tattoo on the upper arm of the gentleman in the tank top is without a doubt the coolest tattoo I have ever seen.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003854179878 Orange Sunshine

    Look, if you don’t like tattoos . . don’t get one.  Keep in mind that the more popular tattoos become, the more unique a non-tattooed individual becomes simply by having un-decorated skin.   In this way, those who don’t care for tattoos will be making as visible a statement as those who have them!

  • stinapag

    I love Amanda Wachob’s work, and I hope to be tattooed by her one day. 

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

September 15 26 Comments

A Call To Reject Corporal Punishment As Part Of Black Culture

An incident of child abuse by an NFL player has raised questions about the use of corporal punishment as a form of discipline in the African-American community.

September 15 26 Comments

Would You Pay To Get Your Kid Into A Top College?

A San Francisco company charges parents for a consulting package based on the odds their student will get into a certain university, with prices up to a million dollars.

September 12 9 Comments

Senator: Arab Countries ‘Need To Step To The Plate’ In Fight Against ISIS

Mark Begich (D-AK) is one of the few members of Congress speaking out against a key part of President Obama's plan for fighting the Islamic State.

September 12 Comment

Ecuadorian Drilling Damage Inspires Documentary

An American and an Ecuadorian are inspired to help Ecuador heal from decades of drilling and oil spills.