20 years; with the same core people, the same core philosophy, the same slightly dark approach to tattoo aesthetics, the same community and more or less, the same name.
As you might imagine, over the years a few people have asked about why we operate under the “Pagan” moniker. So, here’s the long version; back in 1996 the reasons were different than perhaps they are today, and I think our understanding of the term Pagan has grown right along with the creative philosophy that prompted us using it in our name.
In the mid 1990s they was a very strong artistic and aesthetic movement at work within tattoo culture. Namely, the New Tribalism or Modern Primative style was having a big influence on how a sizable portion of the new crop of mid 1990s tattooists perceived their place in the continuum of tattoo history. There was, in that post-grunge era, a recognition by Western born tattooists that our artistic lineage was not limited to the travelling carnivals or the boardwalk tourist towns. Our artistic and spiritual roots went deeper than the bowery paycheque parlours and the port city sailor scratch-houses. Our tattooing was not just the markings of the lost rebel, the biker, and the angry soldier or the whore.
Finally, Western (and especially North American) tattoo culture was emerging out from under the cultural wet blanket of an almost exclusively White and Christian world view, and also escaping the ghetto of low-brow pop culture imagery and the stigma of criminality. True, Japanese tattoo imagery had long been appropriated into Western tattooing, but largely in an ugly way, and very rarely with any respect for its traditions, subtleties and nuances.
A new breed of professional tattooist was becoming aware and becoming avidly interested in their connection to the body adornment traditions of the rest of the world. Notably, it was the full-body tattooing of the Pacific peoples that awakened this interest first. The black inked and intricate, geometric patterns of the Moari, the Somoans, Tongans and Fijians dominated this first wave of tribalism in modern tattooing. The symbolic influence of Borneo and Micronesia soon followed as did the markings and body paint of the various Indigenous peoples of the Americas. It wasn’t long before ethnically European and American artists started to wonder about their own culture’s pre-Christian body adornment traditions. A revival of ancient Celtic, Nordic and Slavic motifs started entering the work flow of most Western Tattoo shops. The tattoos found on the bog-preserved corpses of ancient Indo-European travellers started appearing on the flash sheets of American tattoo parlours.
Sadly, it was in this era of hunger for a connection to a tribal or neolithic or pre-Christian past, that a lot of “art crimes” were committed. Sacred symbols were often grossly and unknowingly misappropriated. Tribal art styles were often replicated badly, without a respect for the hallmarks of their original forms. Disparate and unrelated motifs and spiritual markings were jammed together in uninformed fusions with Euro-centric symbols or sayings. Ironically, in our haste to harken backwards to the ancients, and to be inclusive of other cultural ideas, many of us in the 90s were guilty of our own form of artistic colonialism.
I will note here that in the ensuing years, our shop has garnered a fair reputation for the appropriate handling of these pan-cultural motifs and symbols. That knowledge has come with earnest study, thoughtful consultation and learned respect for the source material.
And so it was, in 1996, in an effort to reflect our broad interest in all things ancient, shamanic, tribal, mysterious and unorthodox about tattoo culture that we chose “Pagan” for our moniker. We extended that to Pagan’s Hammer in homage to the Nordic God Thor, and as a tribute to an influential tattooist from Denmark who had been an early mentor of sorts. The hammer was also metaphorically representative of the the tattooists tools in ancient times.
We were chosing to be “Pagan” less as mark of inclusion in any sort of neo-pagan bookstore witchcraft identity, and far more as an mark of rejection of what we viewed as the constraints of Judeo-Christian-consumerist-grownup culture. Maybe with a healthy smattering of spooky Hallowe’en inflected earnestness for good measure.
So, as we soon roll into 2016, we are still very much……. Pagan Tattoo.
And our understanding and use of the “Pagan” moniker still incorporates our rebellious underpinnings of 20 years ago, but has been tempered by the rigours of having become functioning adults while working daily in the bizarre confines of a tattoo studio. Today we are likely more moderate, humanist, patient, scientific, naturalist, and likely less theistic in our outlook. But still very much……. Pagan.
Today we are likely more discerning and pragmatic, yet more spiritually aware and divinely inspired. Hopefully working towards a crystal clear set of contradictions. Ancient and Modern. Spiritual and Scientific. Naturalist and Urban. Irreverent and Respectful. Traditional and Innovative. Wise and Weird.
Hope that offers a glimpse,
P.S.: Look down below for some more info and images related to my Heathenistic Pagantastic Arts Exhibit coming OCTOBER 29th 2015, in Edmonton at the Pleasantview Hall.
Putting the Pagan where my Idols are.
The poster image above really does tell most of the tale, but here goes anyway…….I have spent the last 16-18 months putting together a collection of visual artworks that represent my perceptions of the universally accessible spiritual themes in the cultures of the Northern Hemisphere. Old World and New World. Among these works will be hand crafted Shamanic drums and my friend Barry will be there presenting his ancient style metalwork.
Hope to see you there! Come for a cup of mead and toast the ancestors on the eve of Alfablot and Samhain.