December 7, 2022 The voice of all eras.

Ink on skin: Art that is more than skin deep

December 2, 2020

December 2, 2020

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Tattoos have been around for centuries. Despite the fact that it plays a significant role in the culture and arts, it became a major taboo worldwide. However, we see a considerable change in the perception of tattooing and tattoos recently. This includes changes within the tattoo industry, as well as its perceived notions within the society.

In the present age where everything is immensely diversified, tattoos shape one’s identity in a slightly different way, defining it as a form of self-expression. Tattooing is beginning to be seen as much of a craft as any other form of art. Out of the growing mindsets and widening horizons, the scope of tattoo art is expanding like never before. With the large prevalence that has taken place over the last few years, tattoo has become mainstream, particularly among the younger generation.

Some people get tattoos to be reminded of something significant, because of their culture or religious belief, to rebel, or to simply be spontaneous and get something on the spur of the moment that’s permanent. Whatever the case may be, the permanence of tattoos represents a person’s individuality, something for the wearer to hold on to that works as an artistic extension of himself. 

More than getting into the bandwagon, let’s delve into an inspiring insight about how tattoos have been perceived over the years and where it stands today. We sit down with Shane Tan, a reputable tattoo artist that has been in the trade for almost two decades.

Shan Tan Tattoo Artist Singapore -GenZ magazine

Q: Who is Shane Tan aside from being a tattoo artist?

I’m a proud father to a five-year-old boy. I’ve been tattooing since I was 16, so this year will be my 20th in this field. 

Q: What got you into the tattoo industry?

I never really plan to get into the industry because there wasn’t any “industry back then.” There was just a handful of guys who were tattooers, and it wasn’t as crowded as it is now, so I wouldn’t really call it an industry. It just happens that I was getting tattooed from different shops all around, and then eventually, I decided and started to tattoo myself and my friends. [The] first few pieces were all free, because I was still learning back then, they’ll pay me [with] a pack of cigarettes or beers in exchange, or I will charge them at least $5 – $10. From then, I was acquiring the knowledge and gained the skill through time. 

Q: What is your creative process like? How do you approach designing a custom piece?

It varies for each project. Client usually gives me the freedom to explore on the details. So, they come in; they give me what they like in general, for example, a dragon or phoenix, then from there, I create my own composition. So, the creative process starts right after [the] client gives me an idea and set the path where he wants to go. I sketch up the design based on what the client wants, incorporating my own details, then show them the drawing. If they agree, we proceed to the actual process. But normally, they will need to wait 3-4 months for the tattoo to be done as I have a waiting list.  

Body Suit Tattoo Singapore

Q: What common stereotype do you get for having tattoos? Can you briefly tell us an unforgettable experience and how you reacted to it?

Over the span of two decades, I get all sorts of people. A lot of times, they feel what they don’t understand. They tend to keep a distance, especially during the early 2000s, before the internet starts to blossom. During that time when people are not yet into Social Media, it puts us in a disadvantageous position because we were always being judged, and it wasn’t comfortable to deal with on a day to day basis. 

I remember when I was living in Zurich, I couldn’t rent flats because of my tattoos. It was nearly impossible to get to rent an apartment because of the stereotypes and the notion of having ink in my body; they always associate the tattoo with being a bad person who has gone to jail. 

Most people judge me before they even know me, which I don’t have any problem with, though, because if you want to get to having extensive tattoos, you need to prepare yourself for that kind of reaction from society. There were just so much inconveniences, and the worst thing is the fact that you’re being stopped by the police, almost always because of it. 

Shan Tan Tattoo Artist Singapore -GenZ magazine

Q: But did you feel that the stereotype has changed over time? 

I’d like to believe that it became better, especially that people are more into social media nowadays. They get to see and understand the “art” behind it. 

Q: Was there a time you regretted a tattoo? 

No, I’ve never regretted it. Although it’s uncomfortable having to live with the inconveniences due to stereotyping, it didn’t directly harm my life, anyway. I never really cared about what society or what people think of me. The regret maybe is more on the design, and I wish to change it not because I want to fit into the general public, but because I realized it could’ve been better if I put another design or have another look things you acquire and learn over time. 

Q: Do you get feedback from your fellow tattoo artists on your aesthetic and design pattern? Do you give feedback as well?

It’s more of like an exchange of ideas rather than feedback. I feel that I don’t have the right to criticize and talk about people’s work. Everyone has different styles. We look at each other as a different unique artist who has a different approach to art. We share and collaborate ideas rather [than] giving feedback. A healthy collaboration where one can learn from the other.

Q: Did you ever feel awkward while tattooing your first few clients? If yes, how did you evolve from being awkward to having this level of comfortability?

As an artist, there’s always that level of professionalism, and for that to be achieved, you have to fully detach yourself from the client. The tattoo will be on their body permanently, it’s not something you can erase when you don’t want it, so this requires focus and, as much as possible, no distractions. I highly value my art and always treat the person as a canvas; for me to get the result we both want, we need to put aside awkwardness. I have been doing this for two decades, and my main goal is to create a piece memorable for the client, so I always set that line.

Q: Out of the two decades, was there a time someone complained on the tattoo you did? 

I’ve got a few when I was just starting. Things like “the output is not refined,” and clients wish to patch up or modify. I was learning at that time. There’s also one I can clearly remember; it was when I was working in Zurich. There was a guy from London who flew to Zurich every two weeks to get his tattoo done. He requested a Chinese warrior, and he was clear about the design. It took us months to finish it, and he was happy with the final outcome, but after a couple of weeks, he sent an email and wished to change the design to a phoenix. I was quite blown away; I remember because we have done the process, from showing the design to doing the actual tattoo, and then he suddenly had a switch of preference. I told him straight up that it’s impossible. He expects something permanent to be changed into a phoenix. 

Body Suit Tattoo Singapore

Q: What sets you apart from different artists?

To be honest, I have no idea. It’s a struggle for me. Being [someone] creative, I’m always fighting to improve and be better at what I do. It’s difficult for me to judge my own work because there are times when I thought of my work that’s not so good, and it needs to be improved, so I cannot think of anything that makes me stand out from the rest. Being in the creative industry, you always tend to find inspiration from other artists, and you feel like it will make your personal work so much better.

Q: Do you have any distinct style?

I’ve been seeking and trying to gain as much knowledge as I can in Japanese tattoos because I can relate to the Japanese style better than all the other genres. There are a couple of terms, such as “Irezumi.” Still, I prefer using “Horimono or Wabori” because Irezumi is used back in the day in Japan as a symbol of being in jail; if you committed a crime, and after you serve the time as part of your punishment, they will give you that for the crime that you did. Horimono or Wabori is one of several traditional Japanese tattoo styles that is more into symbolizing arts by the method and purpose it serves way back.

Q: What impact do you wish to have on this generation, given the previous stigma about having tattoos?

Well, you see, we don’t really have the power to change people’s minds. I can only try my best to show them who I really am as a person, convert that stereotypes into the realization that we are not all gangsters. Definitely, not all are ex-convicts, and that we are all normal human beings. While the internet is doing its work to shed a light on tattoos, especially to the young people of this generation. For me, [what] I want to create and influence them on a personal level is to alter the prejudice by showing the brighter side of me, to show people that this tattooed guy isn’t harmful, or does not pose any threat to you, to anybody, or the society. 

Body Suit Tattoo Singapore

Q: Beyond tattooing, what do you really love? What do you wish you had more time for?

Being a dad, I wish I always have more time with my son. And also, find my way and have more time connecting to music I’ve always loved music. It became a massive part of my life until today. Music has always inspired me a lot in terms of the things I do as an artist, not to how I create my designs aesthetically, but the way it does to give me that drive to produce a good result. 

Q: What advice would you give to young creatives trying to find their style?

There is a lot I wish to give, but one very important [thing] I think is to be reckless. Reckless in seeking his/her own dream. I’ve always been reckless in the sense that if I want to achieve something, I will go all the way out just to achieve what I want. Of course, it’s not the ridiculous ones; it’s the kind of recklessness that doesn’t limit yourself to be creative. No boundaries. It’s taking the risk because you believe in yourself more than what society and people around you tell you. To be creative is to be free. To let go [of] most of the teachings we were forced to absorb over the years. It’s having the freedom to explore your creativeness without having to mind about what people might feel and say about you.

Shane-Tay-Tattoo-Singapore-copy-4

Society raises us to believe that tattoos are a form of rebellion, but what we don’t grow up hearing about is the beauty of body art along with its history. Making something on our body permanently in the form of a tattoo and the pain of having it shows one’s commitment to it, thus, making it more of a valid reason to stop discriminating, rather, see it as an avid form of art. People carry it with them every day; it becomes a part of their body and their new skin, in which they are conveying their identity and attaching their inner self with it.

Whether it is for individuality, fashion, honoring the memory of someone, or just to hide a scar, tattoos are a living legacy of a person, laid bare upon their skin for the entire world to see. As a society, we must consider this and treat people with respect they deserve for showing us their lives, then we’ll realize that in most cases, these people are more decent human beings than most of us.

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