I’ve said that phrase nonchalantly my whole life even though, if I had really thought about it, I didn’t equate “tattoo” with “artist.” I had a very myopic view of what art was and what made a real artist. Art was what you saw at the Louvre or the Vatican; not on half-naked potbellies at waterparks.
I had unknowingly ingrained a stereotype in my head. I thought of tattoos as being, at worst, impulsive drunken decisions and at best, a journal in picture form declaring to the world the saddest parts of your life.
The irony of this is at age 41, I married a tattoo artist; a tattoo artist covered in the “journal in picture form,” from neck to toe. The first time I saw him I thought to myself, “His poor mother.”
Gradually I formed an appreciation for body art. I started to pay attention to the detail in a portrait and the heavy meaning behind the script. I even became brazen enough to form an opinion as to what was good work and what wasn’t. Eventually, I branded myself with two words very important to me: “liberté” and “activiste.”
While the pages of my husband’s “journal in picture form” were completely full, there came a time he HAD to add another page. When the worst thing that can happen to a parent, happens, how can you not include it in the book of your life?
It was one of those sunny Sunday mornings in June when you wake up only thinking about lingering over your coffee. But I wasn’t a 13 year old girl, in a new school, in a new state, trying to make new friends and struggling with not only the bullies that surrounded me but the bully in my head. Angel couldn’t take it anymore and on that sunny Sunday morning, she took her own life.
I heard the howl reverberate through the house. I knew it meant death. At that moment, another page was being written in my husband’s journal.
How do you write this page of your journal? Or maybe I should ask, WHERE do you write this page of your journal? My husband’s journal was literally full. The only way to add to it would be to tear a page out; so, he tore a page out. Tearing out the page meant frequent treatments with a tattoo removal laser. Difficult and time consuming, yes, but not nearly as difficult and time consuming as finding the perfect artist to write that page for you.
Write that page…how do you find the artist to write the most important page of your story? The page that will be over your heart forever. The page you’ll read the most. The only page that really matters.
IT’S NOT EASY. He scoured the globe for the Rembrandt of tattoo artistry; from Australia to Europe. He found a few, but whilst their skill was truly gifted, they humbly acknowledged the burden of creating a piece so personal was more than they wanted to take on.
Eventually, an artist in Italy referred him to Claudia Reato. Claudia is a renowned tattoo artist in Vicenza which is about 40 minutes by train from Venice. Her artistic niche is described as Dark Realism. The lay person, like myself, may think the “Dark” in Dark Realism is used to describe the mood of her work. Her instagram page is filled with cracked bone, bleeding eyes, and flesh so chiseled you’re deceived into thinking you’re staring straight into the inner workings of the human body. In actuality, “Dark,” refers to her heavy use of black and gray ink. She uses this black and gray ink to create fields of flowers that look light enough to pluck and portraits of women with eyes so sultry you’ll feel yourself being seduced.
You know what you won’t see much of in her feed? Herself. This is a conscientious decision she’s made. She refuses to use her sexuality to garner attention for herself. She bats her eyelashes and with a mockingly suggestive shrug of the shoulder says, “I could be sexy and be famous LIKE THAT!” and snaps her fingers, “but, it's not for me.” Claudia wants her work to speak for itself and enjoys that look of surprise when someone realizes it's a female behind the needle. “My art would be judged differently if they knew I was a woman. They would be more critical,” she tells me. “Why do we still judge based on gender?” With a twinge of sarcasm and slight roll of the eyes, she says, “Let’s evolve.”
No kidding. Let’s evolve.
I can see why Sebastian chose her. Claudia is sincere and humble but also confident in her abilities as an artist. She wasn’t intimidated with the heavy responsibility of writing the most important page of a man’s journal, right over his heart. “How could I say no?” she asks.
“Angel would have liked her,” Sebastian tells me later. Angel was a girl that also confidently owned her talents. She was uncannily beautiful, could sing, write books and make honor roll without breaking a sweat. She also took her modesty seriously. It was a serious matter that was unusually important to this 13-year-old girl.
Angel would be proud knowing Claudia had made her portrait.
If you could ask Angel, “Can girls be tattoo artists?” she’d roll her eyes and say,