Originally published in The Weekly Packet, July 3, 2013
Corey Paradise illustrates the history behind tattoos
Tattoos first began as body art for “globe-trotting dukes,” said Corey Paradise in a talk on the history and meaning behind tattoos, and a live demonstration, at the Blue Hill Library on June 27. Paradise opened Paradise Tattoos, in Blue Hill, in 2007.
by Anne Berleant
If you’ve never stepped foot in a tattoo shop, and all your knowledge comes from movies and TV, you’ve seen a “terrifying and exploitative” picture of the entire industry, said tattoo artist Corey Paradise on June 27 at the Blue Hill Public Library.
Paradise, who opened Paradise Tattoo in Blue Hill in 2007, delved into the history, art and meaning of tattoos—and gave a live demonstration—as part of the library’s Art Adventure series.
What began as a body art for “globe trotting dukes” in the mid-1800s and then flourished among the blue collar population, has now “spread around the world,” said Paradise. “It’s clearly an art form that is gaining in popularity.”
Using a banana in place of human skin, Paradise explained the technical aspects and the technique behind needle-and-ink art, deftly tattooing a portrait of Stephen King as a slide show of his work flashed on a screen behind him.
A seashell drawn inside an ear.
Words circling a wrist.
A babe on a fisherman’s forearm.
An orchid on a back, surrounded by calligraphy swirls.
“The last 20 years have evolved the art form rapidly,” said Paradise, from exposure to art like Asian brush-stroke painting, the Yukio print movement in Japan and the rising level of education and expectation of clients.
Yukio art, based on the mythology of hero tales, “is responsible for 70 percent of the images of tattoos today,” Paradise said. “It’s really stood the test of time.”
Also popular is lettering in tattoos, which Paradise said accounts for nine out of 10 tattoos. “People want tattoos of the things in their world”—such as the names of their children and phrases that hold a special significance.
Paradise works with potential clients—whether they come to him with a vague idea or a design found on the Internet—to create a tattoo that holds meaning for the individual.
“I try to be patient with customers and let them be sure it’s what they want,” Paradise said. For one customer, that meant a tattoo of a chimney on his calf, with flames coming out of the top, a testament to his own craft.
Paradise gave some simple advice, such as don’t get tattooed out of spite, and think hard before getting a tattoo “of negative things.” If you want a tattoo on an unusual place, like your face, “you have to talk me into it,” said Paradise. “I don’t take face tattoos lightly.”
Paradise is licensed, in the same way a hair stylist or massage therapist is, to practice exclusively in his tattoo shop.
The tools of his trade are “simple pieces of technology that haven’t changed that much in a long time,” Paradise said.
A tattoo machine, adapted originally from a dressmaking tool, is created from attaching an electromagnet to an “opening and closing circuit,” Paradise said. “It’s essentially a telegraph machine.”
The tiny sewing needles, soldered onto a steel bar, are dipped rapidly in ink like a quill, “so it’s like drawing with a pen.”
While most people view tattoos as permanent, Paradise sees them as a temporary art form, lasting as long as its wearer’s life.
How much does getting a tattoo hurt? an audience member asked.
“Like a cat scratching a sunburn,” Paradise said. “If tattoos are the most painful thing you’ve ever had in your life, you’re lucky.”