In a country where an opportunity to show off skin at the local swimming pool is as commonplace as a trip to the mall, it’s not so surprising to find out that we have the most tattoo artists per capita. In 2005, there were five separate tattoo shops in the 101 area with a total of eight resident artists. To put that into perspective, in Sweden that same year, there was one tattoo artist per 250.000 people. Yeah!
So it’s absolutely no surprise that the 7th Annual Icelandic Tattoo Convention was shoulder-to-bare-shoulder packed with everyone from amateurs to aficionados, first-timers and loyal customers, trying to get some of their birthday suit emblazoned with customised designs. Those who managed to get some ink over the course of the three days were quite lucky as it seemed that all of the nearly two dozen artists, local and international, were almost too busy to even take a bathroom break.
Shouting over the needles
When we stopped by on Saturday afternoon, the buzz of the tattoo machine was cranked up to the max. One had to shout awfully loud to greet people or to get the attention of the very concentrated ink-givers. Most tables were crammed with onlookers, many of them family or significant others. Where yours-truly managed to squeeze through to get a better look, some incredibly impressive work was taking place. First-time international artist Gent Stef, from Italy-via-Denmark, had been working 34-year-told Jón Svanur’s forearm for nearly three hours. “It’s my kid’s Chinese Zodiac sign,” Jón Svanur told us, “It means a lot to me.”
Getting tattoos for the family while keeping it in the family was a big trend at the festival. At Jason Donahue’s booth, another first-timer from San Francisco was preparing to get the names of her two teenage children tattooed to her wrists, while her eldest was getting ink of her own done by Holly Ellis at the next booth.
Ink is thicker than water
Over in the far back corner, American artist Mason Coriell was adding a jukebox to a series of rockabilly portraits he had previously done on 20-year-old student Alexandría. Mason, who splits his time between Iceland and Hawaii, was the kind of sociable artist that regales one with tales of sky-diving and jiu-jitsu training as well as keeping complete focus and precise needle-work. “I am very loyal to him,” Alexandría said, “He’s got me!”
Indeed, much like four hairdressers and other roving service people, establishing a loyal customer base is paramount in the world of tattooing and many of the international guest artists come to the festival because of their loyal clientele. Artists such as Thomas Asher, Sofia Estrella Olivieri and Jason June have earned high-standings from their frequent guest spots at Reykjavík Ink, the festival’s host parlour, and left them in high demand and with little time to spare. Good for them, less good for us poor bastards who didn’t pre-book them (full disclosure: Jason June is responsible for 95% of the tattoos on this article’s author)!
Good vibes in a new space
Aside from the addition of several new international artists to the roster, the biggest change at this year’s convention was its new locale. Whereas in previous years the festival had taken place at the old Bar 11 on Laugavegur and subsequently at Sódóma, prior to that bar turning back into Gaukur á Stöng, it all went down in a huge white tent plunked down in the yard behind Bar 11 this year. “At first I was a little sketched out by hearing it was going to be ‘open air’,” said Jason June who has been coming to the festival since its first year, “but it’s been really great. It hasn’t changed the feel of it.”
The feeling of which he spoke is one that many artists echoed: a good sense of closeness, friendly attitudes, intimacy and a chance to be personable. “It’s not like one of the big conventions where there might be more people, but I’ll do less work,” Jason Donahue said. “It’s smaller in size, but I’ve been busy almost the whole time.” The intimacy of the festival was probably best reflected in being able to stand within an arms’ reach of people getting deeply personal and meaningful artwork carved onto them, in some extremely sensitive spots. Twenty-three year old Bjarni grimaced as Javier Wolf Betancourt tattooed a cassette tape onto his ribs. “It’s always painful,” he said.