My friend Michelle Carr is beautiful, and whenever I see her, I must beg her to let me gawk at her chest. She kindly pulls down or unbuttons or unzips whatever she is wearing and allows me a full blown uninterrupted stare at the most gorgeous tattoo I have ever seen (and of course her lovely ivory cleavage makes the ink seem to glow like she’s got a candle inside her – luminous, incandescent – ah – women are the prettiest creatures on earth).
She tells me the romantic history of that particular tattoo, something english sailors would get permanently emblazoned over their hearts during WW1, a woman’s face on gossamer wings, an illustrated hope, a dermal wish – made with careful and skillful lines and curves and subtle gradations of color – that their lovers would return to them after the war. The elegantly stylized art nouveau visage, wickedly sweet old school european traditional boldly drawn across Michelle’s flawless bone china white alabaster skin, the languid eyes sensual and knowing, with dramatic color and vibrancy and wit and decadence makes me swoon and sigh every time I see it. Every time.
The gossamer wings, fine and delicate in their painstaking detail seem to take flight and I’d like to hang onto them like a character in a children’s novel, wind watering my eyes as I blissfully enjoy the ride. It’s a classic tattoo I suppose, one that I have seen versions of in flash and in tattoo books and on living skin in front of me, but Michelle’s is so utterly mesmerizing that even though it is a familiar image from the great and venerable history of tattooing, on her, it’s like I’ve never seen it before. It’s beautiful to the degree that it stands alone, all others pretenders to the throne. Michelle’s tattoo rules and that is that.
The tattoo obsesses me, and I have a crush on it, and I am not sure my deep feelings aren’t reciprocated. When art is alive like that, who is to say it cannot love you back? I adore that tattoo with a passion (clearly) and I always thought I would have it someday, even though it’s not such a good thing to envy someone else’s tattoos because that leads to the inevitable crime of plagiarizing another’s tattoos, which is wrong.
Tattoos are individual and unique and best suited to those clever lucky few who thought to get them originally. Aesthetic genius should be rewarded with exclusive rights and privilege over intellectual property. Yes I believe this wholeheartedly, but Michelle’s tattoo is so fucking good that I had to have it somehow, so I asked her point blank if it was ok if got the same thing and she said of course it is because she is awesome and super cool and my friend.
I didn’t get the wings on it because there are already snakes on my ribs and stomach, so I thought there should be even more snakes and the face would be Medusa’s instead. Medusa isn’t really considered a romantic heroine but I like her style, her power and majesty isn’t really about pretty, it’s about something darker and therefore better, more thrilling and important. It’s feminism gone wild, which I dig immensely.
The artist behind Michelle’s magnificent tattoo is Craig Jackman, and I’d driven by his place, American Electric Tattoo, upwards of a million times. It’s on my daily beat. Sunset is my Appian Way and all roads lead to Echo Park. I would pause for the stoplight at Maltman and look at the funny storefront with its elegantly aged taxidermy and hypnotic mural of a tattooed lady, altogether looking like an ancient fortune teller’s machine at the Musee de Mechanique and think “If I got a tattoo here, I’d be home by now”.
That particular stretch of Sunset is legendary to me, paved with guava cheese tarts and songs by The Eels. I went on one of the most memorable dates of my life at the 99 Cent Store (I am not kidding – it was super intimate and hot and got slightly out of hand and risque around the off brand breakfast cereal display) and Millie’s, the only restaurant where I can honestly say I almost got into a for real not even lying fistfight – seriously you can ask Greg Behrendt – whose biscuits provided me with hangover relief so many times that i actually get a serotonin spike when I pass by its doors.
American Electric is probably the most old school of all the tattoo shops I have been in and have had work done in, with flash on the wall and artists on hand day and night who are good at doing anything and everything, japanese and bio-mechanical and traditional and portraits and script and single needle black and grey and pinups and coverups and anime and sobriety dates in old english lettering and what have you. This is the kind of blue collar tattoo shop of years past, where sailors might go on shore leave to get anchors on their arms or women’s faces on gossamer wings over their hearts. The place feels like it’s haunted by Bert Grimm, and being there has a time machine quality. Everything is a little bit sepia.
It’s always busy there and the constantly in use machines add a buzzy layer to the punk rock and heavy metal and Portishead and even Fleetwood Mac played loudish to distract the inhabitants from the pain, both given and received, as the artists don’t like hurting you as much as you don’t like being hurt.
The diversity of the musical choices speaks to the diversity of the clientele, and that in itself is a testimony to the versatility of the artists. It’s rare when you can be all things to all people, but American Electric tattoo manages it somehow without sacrificing the quality of the work, which is nothing short of miraculous.
The process of tattooing for me has been vastly different. I can spend years picking an artist and then wait more years for them and me to have openings in our insanely busy schedules. At American Electric there’s a possibility for instant gratification. It’s a place you can go when you are in the mood for something and you just want to go get it done right then. That’s a rare pleasure, to go from idea to impulse to realization in a day or even an hour. I haven’t done this yet, but watching other people do it during my multiple sessions with Craig is exciting and almost as good as doing it myself.
When the Medusa was first outlined, she looked a lot like Selene Luna, but now she has some shading on her, a bit of color on the snakes, and she looks like someone else, maybe someone I haven’t met yet who will turn me to stone at first sight. Craig has a light hand, which I am thankful for, as Medusa’s face is right on my sternum, and the snakes of her hair lie across each rib as if they are descending stairs. The detail is extraordinary, each snake with its own personality and shedding scales. The healing process has me waking up in a bed full of dry green skin like corn flakes, as if I were turning into the snake itself. I like it. If I poured milk on myself I would turn the whole of everything green.
The tattoo is brilliant, I can tell already, and it’s all a real dream come true. Much thanks to Michelle for allowing me to plagiarize and of course thanks to Craig Jackman for the inspiration and the realization.