With the widespread popularity of tattoos skyrocketing, it has become increasingly hard to trace back and visualize the origins of specific art forms. Once marginalized to convicts, sailors, outlaws, gangs and bikers, tattoo culture has blossomed into a remarkable fusion of art and identity, inevitably carving out its own place in the mainstream. Through firsthand accounts, interviews, and stunning visuals “Tattoo Nation” is a remarkably beautiful interpretation of American Tattooing.
“Tattoo Nation” does an exemplary job of chronicling the movement of ‘black and grey’ realism from the fringe of society to the mainstream appeal it holds today. Born within the American penal system, ‘black and grey’ is a purely American art form, developed by the resourceful, largely Chicano prison population tattooing with makeshift machines while serving hard time. ‘Pachuco’ culture spawned the ‘cholo’ and spread ‘black and grey’ identity with iconic, Spanish inspired designs permanently engraved into their skin.
Using archival footage, amusing interviews and showcasing breathtaking tattoos, “Tattoo Nation” is an inspiringly intimate exposé of emotive, multilayered expression. From the joint, to the streets of East Los Angeles, to the early tattoo shop, single-needle artistry was pioneered by founding fathers Charlie Cartwright and Jack Rudy in the 70’s. Cartwright and Rudy honed their craft, eventually taking in seminal artist Freddy Negrete and joining forces with Don “Ed” Hardy, globalizing a tattoo style once on the outskirts of society.
John Corry is no stranger to exploring various cultural phenomena, making waves with his documentary “Forks Over Knives” attributing many degenerative diseases to the human animal-based diet. In “Tattoo Nation”, Corry and Director Eric Schwartz take a more celebratory perspective on a taboo market, without commenting on potential health risks or regret, arguably the films lone shortcoming. Narrated by Corey Miller, “Tattoo Nation” picks the brains of tattoo titans and advocates across the board, including celebrity tattoo enthusiasts Travis Barker and Danny Trejo, providing a well-rounded backstory on a topic that is only now beginning to get its due recognition.
"Tattoo Nation" is a celebration of the fringe. The future of tattooing remains to be seen. Modern advancements will propel body art into the stratosphere, but the classic, expressive beauty of “black and grey” tattoos will forever be a trademark of Southern California. “Tattoo Nation” cements “black and grey” as universal art, speaking to the human experience and soul.