Tattoo London: The Museum of London

The popularity of tattoos has visibly grown in the last decade, seen on the skin of Londoners, television programmes dedicated to inking or “fixing” regrettable past decisions, and its recognition as a worthy art form. ‘Tattoo London’ takes up a small but well curated space in the basement of The Museum of London and offers a concise overview of the history of tattoos in the capital, before focussing on the work of four eminent contemporary artists. The exhibition is photography led but complemented by vitrines displaying tattoo machines, inks, artist influences and designs, as well as a large plasma screen showing a short film entitled ‘A Day in the life of Four Tattoo Studios’ and a tattoo chair visitors can sit in and listen to extracts from interviews with the featured artists. Prior to the exhibition I knew little about the history of tattoos in London and was interested to learn that the first professional tattoo artist, Sutherland MacDonald, began work out of hours from his supervisory job at the Turkish Baths on Jermyn Street in 1889 for the fashionable and wealthy. Between the 1930’s and 1950’s George Burchett who stylised himself as ‘The King of Tattooists’ set up studios in Waterloo, and in addition to his high-class customers also inked servicemen and women with his most common designs comprising regimental badges, large scale Japanese works, and portraits of film icons. Following World War II a stigma around tattoos emerged and artists fought against this, but found they were primarily catering to London’s subcultures (punks, rockers, Teddy Boys, skinheads, and the gay community). The opposite wall of the exhibition concentrates on Lal Hardy, Alex Binnie, Mo Coppoletta and Claudia De Sabe – none of whom were born in London but from 1970’s onwards have set up studios and brought their global influences to the city creating impressive designs on the canvas of human bodies.

Tattoo london
Entrance to exhibition
Lal Hardy
Lal Hardy tattoo designs
Photograph of a tattoo studio in London
Display cabinet showcasing tattoo paraphernalia

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