Opening February 1, 2020, Body of Work: Tattoo Culture explores the rich history and modern artistry of tattooing as a dynamic, ever-evolving artform whose mainstream acceptance has been driven by popular culture. The exhibition features large-scale, original works of art created by Northwest-based artists who demonstrate the wide range of styles possible in tattoo art.
One of those artists is Ricky Gaspar, a former professional football player and Linfield College design student whose art is rooted Austronesian, Polynesian, and Oceanic tattoo traditions. With a strong interest in Viking and Celtic patterns, Ricky incorporates imagery from those diverse cultures into each of his unique and original designs.
"Someone’s trusting you with their body part for life," he says. "I’m going to take the time to make sure that it’s literally the best tattoo that I do every time."
How did you become involved with the tattoo industry?
Ricky: I was always an artist. I went to college, graduated with an art degree, and took a detour playing professional football. After that, I had to figure out what was next. I’ve always been into tattoos anyways. Through my culture, I’ve always been doing various styles of the same kind of art because it’s always been part of who I am and what I was drawn to the most through art. ... I kind of decided let’s look into it and see how it goes. Maybe this could be the future. It checked a lot of boxes in terms of what I liked and what I wanted out of life and what I didn’t want out of life. And, here we are. That’s kind of how it started. It was really kind of 'what’s next?' I honestly believe at the time it was almost a bit of a dare because we may have been critiquing people’s work at the time, casually as friends go and get bad tattoos done and trying to be as supportive as possible — something along those lines of, 'can you do better?' came up at the time. Maybe I can. That’s how it started.
How would you describe your tattoo style?
Ricky: I generally would say I do Polynesian tattooing. Broader, I can say I do tribal tattooing. That’s kind of what’s on people’s palettes in terms of what they know to reference as the context of what I do specifically. … I enjoy blackwork, tribal work, indigenous black and things that actually have story and roots and history there. I enjoy Celtic knotwork.
How did you develop your tattoo style?
Ricky: Stylistically speaking, I think what I do stems from a background in graphic design. ... I’m used to staring at a screen and seeing things really hyper, up close. You get used to seeing things in such a fine detail that it kind of coincides with my OCD a little bit. And, the art kind of plays into that. Stylistically, I lean towards a very vector-looking kind of aesthetic because in the graphic design world when you’re working with those kind of programs, you’re dealing in line width for contrasting. And, that’s what really speaks to a lot of people about this style of work is that it’s very bold, very contrasting, visually striking before anybody even knows what they’re looking at. It’s really being able to push and use that through shapes and line width.
How have you seen the tattoo industry evolve since you first started?
Ricky: I’ve been tattooing for about 11 years now, going into year 12. This industry has grown by leaps and bounds. I dig it all. It’s just art. At the end of it, we’re all just artists. Whatever we do, it is what we love. As any artist, all you’re trying to do is live your truths doing what inspires you for others and connecting with people that like what you do. That’s why there’s something for everybody. Art is subjective. There’s no best. There’s no grandness. There’s no right style. There’s no right amount of work. Every tattoo is a seed that grows into more tattoos, which is just how the business side of everybody making a living goes. In terms of art, I think it’s beautiful that it’s grown to a place where it’s everywhere and anything.
Is there anything you wish more people knew about the tattoo industry?
Ricky: Good tattoos take time. We live in such an instant society now. Everything is 23 seconds’ worth of attention span. The industry as it can be portrayed – don’t get me wrong – it’s because of some of the things that have happened and grown in the media that has allowed the art of tattooing to grow from just the stereotype of what people saw tattoos were. There’s limitless options of what people are doing in terms of tattoos now. Generationally, the next ones are coming up faster and stronger because of all of the avenues that you can tattoo what you want to.
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