Ink big: the rise of celebrity tattoo artists


A few years ago we saw the rise of the celebrity Superchefs – they created a multi-million pound industry that changed the way we eat. The next chapter in our boundless creation of mythical national characters: the rise of celebrity tattoo artists.

Don’t get me wrong, I still worship Nigella, but I’m simultaneously finding myself increasingly obsessed with who’s tattooing what onto who. My instagram was once an asylum of selfies, artsy fashion shots and healthy eating recipes (because, yes, I’m also a total sucker for the juicing, gyming, quinoa trend, and I’m not afraid to admit it.) But a plethora of tattoo snaps are slowly taking over my feed.

When Milton wrote “fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise” he clearly didn’t have an iPhone at hand. Long gone are our notions of virtue and ‘clear spirits’ – now we want those ‘spirits’ inked. These days, it’s becoming almost abnormal not to have a tattoo and our celebrity-worshipping culture is adapting to this change.

The rise of unique celebrity artists is bound up in our social media-fuelled fascinations with the publicly performed lives of our modern-day heroes. We live in an age where a minimal amount of detective work is required to locate the exact whereabouts of the likes of Cara Delevingne, at any given time. Which means, that, obviously, we also know where our ‘it’ people get their tattoos. And they sure as hell get a lot of them.

Everyone knows who Bang Bang NYC is: he bought a tattoo gun at 18 and at 20 tattooed Rihanna. All the ‘it’ people are flocking to his Lower East Side shop, including Rita Ora, Jourdan Dunn, Katy Perry, Chris Brown, Cara Delevingne. The celebrities tattoo him back as they leave: his body is like an incredibly cool autograph book.

But the rise of celebrity tattoo artists isn’t just about pre-established celebrities frequenting the same parlours. Where tattooists were once required to tailor their designs to specific demands, they are now developing individual styles. The quest for the perfect tattoo now also means the quest for the perfect artist.

Dr Woo, based at the Shamrock Social Club in L.A., is a perfect example of this. You could recognize his tats anywhere. Don’t get the wrong idea, he’s not low-key: he also just inked Cara (who hasn’t these days?) and he’s booked up until the summer. He uses a single needle, where most artists use seven: it’s notoriously difficult and he’s nailing it.

I must confess – upon seeing Dr Woo’s tattoos I was hooked. I began compulsively researching flights to L.A., I became unable to hold any other topic of conversation. I became plagued by an insurmountable desire to get inked in the signature-Woo style. Yes, I’m a wide-eyed idiot when it comes to this kind of thing, but, seriously, check this guy out.

Artists are rising everywhere and the internet has given us instant access to their body of work. Here are just a few places to start: Marla Moon, Madrid, does beautiful intricate stylized designs, Sasha Unisex, Moscow, inks in a way that resembles watercolour paintings, Chaim Machlev, Berlin, creates sleek and complex black geometric tattoos, Xoïl, Paris, has a distinctive Photoshop collage aesthetic and Dom Holmes, London, designs incredibly elaborate tattoos, inspired by Japanese woodcuts and traditional Tibetan Thangka paintings.

The tattoo industry is changing. Artists are finally being recognized for unique styles, as the art of ink is increasingly appreciated and accepted as a legitimate form of art in mainstream culture.

FLICKR USER: Flavio Scorsato