Screening of TATTOO NATION on Thursday 12 Feb

TATTOO NATION: The True Story of the Ink Revolution will help you understand why our society is fascinated with tattoos–and it will show you how Latinos made an enduring impact in the development of this body art.

Over 100 people attended this screening and talk with Eric Pape! Here are some pictures.

Photo by Renee Paquier.

Photo by Renee Paquier.


Photo by DMG.

Eric Pape talked with the audience about his passion for tattoos. In this compelling entry, a shortened version of his talk, Eric tells the story of being introduced to and captivated by tattoos.

I saw my first tattoo when my mother introduced me to her new boyfriend: Robert Martinez. My mother had recently divorced the man who had adopted me before I was old enough to remember a time when I didn’t have a father. This man, whom my mother loved, had nothing in common with the life I had lived up to that point. He may have well have been from Mars.

Bob had black and gray badges from his biceps to his wrists. I learned later that he had given most of the tattoos to himself, using charcoal and a sewing needle attached to a pencil with a rubber band. He told me that he learned how to tattoo while serving in San Quentin prison, where he did time in the early 70s for robbery and assault. He rode a stripped down Harley-Davidson that I could hear rumbling up the block for ten minutes before he would arrive. Bob identified as Chicano, never Latino, Hispanic, or Mexican-American. I had never met anyone like him.

I wish I could say that I immediately accepted Bob into our family, but that would not be true. We experienced many rocky moments, and though he taught me about motorcycles and weight lifting and how to fight pain and sadness with a wide, toothy grin, he remained an ex-con, a biker, and a Chicano. Looking back, I am certain that race played a role in our troubled early relationship.

I left home fairly early in life and became involved in various subcultures, where I was re-introduced to tattoo art through the various subcultures with which I was involved. Every subculture had it’s own style: punks had traditional sailor tats, the “alternative” subculture valued tribal designs, and the industrial kids liked cyborg, Giger-style imagery. I walked into my first tattoo shop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The shop was a shady little shack, and Patrick, my first artist, sterilized his needles in a chipped, brown crock pot.

I never really stopped getting tattoos. I identify as a skeptic, mostly. There’s no doubt in my mind that Oswald killed Kennedy, and that the U.S. government had nothing to do with the fall of the towers. A weather balloon crashed in Roswell, New Mexico, not an alien mother ship. The Freemasons have no more to do with world history than the Shriner’s. But when I decided to go big with my tattoos, I decided on a spiritual theme. I decided to incorporate the four elements into my body.

I wanted those qualities I associated with the four elements to become part of me. I wanted to transform my body, and in this manner, transform myself. So, I worked with a few artists on water, fire, air and earth designs. My right sleeve represents earth, and for me, signifies fecundity, solidity and groundedness. My left arm represents water, with its accompanying associations of creativity and sensuality. Air is on my chest and fire on my legs, and with those images, I have incorporated wisdom and life, desire and power. By changing my body, I attempt to show my commitment to changing the thing I think of as myself.

My problem with Bob, and it really was more my problem than it was his, ended with the birth of my little brother: Ryan Joseph Martinez. Bob stopped being my mother’s boyfriend and became the father to my brother. We are not a particularly close family, in general, but I talk to Ryan regularly. I talk to Bob more than I do my adopted father. I remember when I came home to visit Ryan, one Christmas in the late 1990s, and sat down in Bob’s living room. He noticed that my arms were tattooed. We talked tattoos for several hours and it was the longest conversation that we had ever had.


Eric Pape talking with the audience. (Photo by DMG)

Here is a really interesting article by Fiona Macdonald about tattoos as works of art: “Tattoos: 150 years of body art.”

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