Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Tattooist Anil Gupta

It seems like everyone is sporting a tattoo or two nowadays (especially in NYC), but that doesn't mean that everyone has good ones. Most of them fall way below what constitutes as art, let alone quality art, but every now and then a piece of ink really stands out. Anil Gupta's work, for one, reinforces the notion that tattooing is a valid, if not universally accepted, art form, and that tattooists are true visual artists who happen to use skin as their (perhaps more complicated) canvas.

Years ago, along with Lower East Side historian Clayton Patterson, I interviewed "tattoo mechanic" Wes Wood in his Chinatown superstore, Unimax. According to Wood, Anil Gupta learned the art of tattooing from a psychiatrist in his native Bombay, before moving to the states. In New York around 1990, when tattooing was still illegal, he teamed up with Wood, who recalled Gupta's early techniques: "In the beginning, it was like scar city, he wanted to do everything with a single needle. But he got over it, he has an incredible ability to learn and to invent in his own way. He didn’t want to know from anything, he would try this and try that and he was able to do things right away. It didn’t take years of effort, it took months and then he was ready to fly."

Today, Anil is one of the world’s greatest artists for realistic color design, working by appointment only in NYC. After he got into full-fledged color and highly refined detail, he became the first and most eminent tattoo artist of the realistic style, and even does miniature "postage stamps." Wes told me the story of how the two would compete, using rubber grips on pens, to write the entire alphabet in the smallest amount of space. “And he would do it like that,” Wes said, pinching his fingers together, “his eyes could see that. He could look at a needle and tell you if there’s the slightest thing on the edge of the needle that you and I can’t see; we can’t see that, but he can...his eyesight was beyond belief.”

Yup, and so are his tattoos:

I'll let you know when I get one ;)


1 comment:

Bex said...

Those are some fantastic tattoos! I think I remember you mentioning this artist before...
Very original work - I especially love the on that looks like torn skin with the wording underneath.