Tattoos, Identity, Place, Belonging, Art

My sense of identity is shaky, the inevitable product of childhood upheaval, emotional abuse and growing up gay at a time of acute homophobia. My sense of place is acute because I feel I live in exile. I was born in East Yorkshire, and for six years of gold my life was normal, my accent thick and Yorkshire, my horizon extending as far only as Scarborough, York, and very occasionally Edinburgh. Life was lived in the sound of the peeling bells of Beverley Minster, in the dusty aisles of Fine Fayre and basking in the approving clucking of Yorkshire matrons. I did know how life could change and how soon exile could descend, how quickly places could vanish and how soon belonging could be replaced with the cruelty of Southern snobbery. In the blinking of an eye the soft rolling countryside of my gentle Yorkshire world was suddenly replaced with a Middle European landscape of German pines and strangeness. I was told how lucky I was to become part of the new European project, to live in a foreign country, but I simply wilted under the condescending gaze of snotty teachers and privileged children for whom my accent and East Yorkshire home was somehow a joke. And I never returned to live in my home. About a decade ago, I visited, with my mum, in the winter, on a day trip from York. The first place I wanted to see was Hammonds in Hull. Each turn, each stair brought with it a fist of feeling, memories like emotional grenades. Thus began my visits to Hull and Beverley, becoming increasingly frequent and often lonely pilgrimages. I wandered and relived, tracing old steps and reconnecting, through art, through social media, through travel. In my head, I know this is where I come from because there is nowhere else that claim me as its son. Yet my sense of belonging is not yet complete. Perhaps that is how the universe meant my life to be, in order to spark my creativity and set off on my quest to paint Hull again and again. It is an odd feeling, this belonging yet not belonging, living elsewhere and dreaming of a return to a promised land where the sky will once more be blue and my hair golden, and where the bells will ring and the air smell of roses and creosote like they once did. A few years ago, wishing to literally engrave my identity into my flesh I had a tattoo, in a parlour overlooking Hammonds, a reminder of where I come from to last for the rest of my life. I wiped tiny flecks of blood from my bruised, vaseline-covered skin and felt a wave of gentle joy. I am fascinated with tattoos, with the irrevocable decision to mark one’s flesh in symbols of identity. There is delicious danger, a flirtation with the forbidden, the sharp, life affirming scraping of merciless metal on naked skin, and the finished product, a life-long statement about who we are, where we feel come from, what we hold dear to us. I was walking in Holderness Road, an area I do not know very well, but which has a nostalgic shadow in the form of Reckitts and Coleman, the factory where my dad worked in the days before the exile began. And I here I saw the lovely pink hues of Bish’s Tattooing shop and I knew I would paint it. I painted quickly, the colours blending on the canvas, like strawberry custard, soaking into the shredded card. I created windows infused with realism and finished by completing the signage, with its seductive invitation to let the sharpness of the needle and its sweet pain play out on my flesh once more. My work is available for sale, and I willingly take commissions which make perfect and the most original of gifts. My work is always available as posters on request. Just ask. Please like my page on Facebook too.
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3 comments on “Tattoos, Identity, Place, Belonging, Art

  1. Your work is gorgeous. And I absolutely adore this line:

    “There is delicious danger, a flirtation with the forbidden, the sharp, life affirming scraping of merciless metal on naked skin, and the finished product, a life-long statement about who we are,”

    I’m designing my next tattoo now and I couldn’t agree more. 🙂

    Wishing you peace,

    Allison

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