The words tattoo and watercolor bring to mind thoughts that are starkly different; tattoos are permanent, while watercolors are delicate and should be taken care of for fear of damage. They differ in medium and canvas, yet they both demonstrate a lengthy process of creation, from conception to final product. A harmony between tattooing and watercolor painting exists as they are both art and have personal meaning to the artists and recipient. The beautiful and medium defying tattoos created by Buffalo native, Amanda Wachob, posses’ painterly qualities that you have to see to believe. Using a technique called ‘greylining’ (black ink diluted with water), the outline of many of Amanda’s tattoos appear non-existent; greylining essentially allows the artist to hide the outline, placing an emphasis on the color rather than what holds it all in place.
About five years ago, inspired by the Abstract Expressionism of Hans Hofmann (1880-1966, oil paintings), Amanda began contemplating how the canvas of his work seemed to dictate the shapes that were being painted and how they would change if nothing were containing them. ‘If Hans were going to make a painting on a surface that wasn’t a rectangle, what would the shapes on his canvas look like? What would something abstract look like, say, on the curve of someone’s arm? [Amanda Wachob, March 6, 2013]. Born from this thought process was the development and transference of ideas and theories onto skin with ink.
Like Ellen Steinfeld’s watercolors, Amanda’s painterly tattoos reveal a punch and vibrancy of color. The greylining and focus on color once again reveals parallels between the two mediums; watercolor is unforgiving, as is the permanent nature of tattoo ink, but both are limitless in what contains and restricts them. Some of the tattoos look as though a wet-on-wet technique was used, where the colors seem to meet and blend into one another, yet they maintain a transparency that you see in watercolors. Others look as opaque as though they were watered down and painted on with a fine brush. One thing is for sure, there’s no ‘dirty water’ here.
By approaching the art of tattooing from an abstract perspective, Amanda has blurred the lines of tattooing – physically and metaphorically speaking. By taking away the clean, solid black lines that constrain traditional tattoos, one can easily imagine watercolor being layered onto the human canvas; the skin of the pigmented water maintaining its shape until it sinks into the canvas and remains permanent. In a manner, these painterly, watercolor tattoos defy the fragility of the medium that has defined the watercolor community since conception. Tattoos are part of an identity, worn in the rain or the sun, and rarely put away to protect from the elements; if fading occurs, colors can be touched up. In contrast, protection from ultraviolet light is crucial to the sustained vibrancy or original state of a watercolor painting and if fading occurs, there is nothing that can be done to reverse it.
Should a tattoo that looks like a watercolor be referred to as a ‘watercolor tattoo’ or does it re-imagine the medium into something altogether new?
Britt Franklin is a Buffalo State Museum Studies graduate student with a passion for history, preserving old buildings and making museums and galleries more accessible and inviting to the public. Having spent the past 10 years on the move, Britt has put down roots in Buffalo and is learning to embrace the snow and cold weather; it is very different from the beaches and sun of her home in Bermuda.