Inked AU/NZ – Authentink Article – February 2011
by Kian ‘Horisumi’ Forreal
If you google ‘Thai tattoo’ the majority of links that come up are people on forums asking the question; “Should I get tattooed in Thailand?” So lets talk about that… Now obviously I have a vested interest in people getting good tattoos here in Australia and supporting the nations talent, as that is where I work and ply my trade so as much as I’d like to say this is an objective article there will be some bias on my part based on the above. Also, there are some very decent Thai tattoo artists here in Australia and in Thailand, so I have nothing against Thai tattoo artists in general but more with the clients looking to save a buck and feeding the bottom rung of the tattoo ‘industry’, for lack of a better word. And the feeding of this bottom rung doesn’t stop in Thailand, it extends to Bali, india and to Australia itself. Tattooing has exploded worldwide and with it has come the charlatans and the opportunists seeking the fast buck.
In the context of this article I am not talking about traditional hand poke Buddhist prayer tattoos that are done at the temples by monks, I am talking about western style tattooing done by non-religious tattoo artists.
I love Thailand, I’ve been there many times and tattooed on the beaches in the southern islands from my bungalow porch. So I will try not to be hypocritical when I say that getting a large tattoo in Thailand is a bit like Russian roulette. To start with there are so many shops operating now that you’d be hard pressed not to step on one of them on a trip there, and like here, a large percentage of them are staffed by people with questionable skills. It doesn’t take much to open a shop in Thailand, buy some gear, rent a spot and presto… A lot of shops and artists over there have no qualms with using famous artists tattoo pictures to advertise their business, going to far as to fill their own portfolios with the tattoo pictures of tattoo world luminaries and attempting to pass them off as their own. To the young newcomer to tattooing they would have no idea of what they’re getting themselves into and the level of talent of the person about to permanently mark their bodies has.
Recently I had the pleasure to attend a car show out in the western suburbs of Sydney. I don’t get out there much so it was quite an eye opener to say the least. In the few hours I spent roaming around the grounds spotting hotrods and drag cars I saw the most amazing collection of shitty tattoos I have ever seen in my life. Guys with full sleeves of crappy tribal, crooked stars, botchy black & grey, distorted and incorrect japanese and the list goes on and on. Not one single nice tattoo the whole day. Plenty of these car enthusiasts also had large crappy tattoos on their necks as their only visible ink to boot.
Who are the people doing these tattoos? Shouldn’t they be held accountable for lowering tattooing to the gutter after some of us have tried to hard to make tattooing beautiful? Quite honestly I was embarrassed to be tattooed that day, to be in the same visible category as these folks. I felt sad for tattooing and in a moment of clarity understood completely why tattooing is so reviled by the majority. If most ordinary peoples only contact with tattoos is to see this level of work on the streets, and face it, straight laced people don’t get out much so their contact with tattoos would be minimal, glimpses in the shopping mall or parking lot here and there, if all they saw were ugly renditions of popular styles scratched in the skin its not difficult to understand why the mainstream would think that tattoos are ugly, disgusting and vile. I thought so that day at the car show myself.
If you care about tattoos, or think that tattoos should be more widely accepted and embraced as a legitimate art form then give your business and your money to people that feel the same way and treat tattooing with respect. Find the people that are tattooing for the love of the art, whether its here or abroad, make sure you are getting the tattoo you deserve. The human body truly is a beautiful thing and to mar it with poorly drawn, haphazard work really is a travesty of the highest order. That shit is not coming off and will be with you forever and a shit tattoo can really lower your stock in life.
For the penny pinching traveler that wants to get a half sleeve or something similar in Bangkok on an overseas trip and save money make sure you add it all and that you are not participating in a false economy. We get a lot of unhappy people coming in to the shop to get work they got in Thailand fixed up or re-colored and most decent artists here don’t want to even touch other peoples work. So not only are you paying for a mess you are unable to get someone of talent to make it right after you realize what you’ve done.
And don’t think that its that much cheaper, one fellow I know that operates over on the islands usually asks prospective clients how much they would pay in their own country for the tattoo and then slightly undercuts it, but not by much. You won’t be getting any free touch-ups either if they are needed. I have some seen some great work come back from Thailand to be sure, but not nearly as much as I have seen train wreck after train wreck come back on unsuspecting people who didn’t bargain for that.
Due diligence is the key to all good tattooing. Know your artist by reputation and make sure the place is clean. You have to bear with the results for a long time and that money you saved will be long forgotten while the fruit of your scrimping lives on. Invest in yourself and reap the rewards.