Students Staff

26 January 2016

Getting under the skin of London’s tattoo culture

Dr Matt Lodder from the School of Philosophy and Art History has helped create Tattoo London, a landmark exhibition at the Museum of London which is helping challenge perceptions about the art form and celebrating the work of tattoo artists throughout history.

As she developed the exhibition curator Jen Kavanagh worked closely with Dr Lodder, who is completing a history of tattooing in London. The exhibition, which opens on Friday 29 January, brings together original art, photography and film to tell the long and surprising history of tattooing in the capital.

Tattooing in London dates back to at least the early 17th century, long before Captain James Cook’s voyages to the Pacific. However, it wasn’t until the late 1880s that the first professional tattooist, Sutherland Macdonald, was making a living in the capital. Today you’ll find studios up and down London’s high streets, each offering their own individual styles with many having lengthy waiting lists for those wanting work by their favourite artist.

Dr Lodder said: “Tattooing has been an important part of London's cultural and social fabric across several centuries; though its rich stories remain poorly understood by the uninitiated. The Museum of London’s exhibition brings together four key studios spanning four decades of work, and puts them into the contexts and chronology of the pioneers who came before them.

"It is a real pleasure for me as a historian of tattooing in London to have been able to help these four incredible artists to tell their stories as artists, and to place their ideas, their craft, their talents and their visual idiosyncrasies at the forefront of an exhibition in a way that has never been done in this city before."

Through a partnership with four of London’s most prominent tattoo artists and their studios, visitors to the exhibition will get under the skin of what it’s like to be one of the capital’s top artists and see bespoke London-inspired tattoo designs.

Lal Hardy at New Wave, Alex Binnie at Into You, Claudia de Sabe at Seven Doors and Mo Coppoletta at The Family Business have all opened the doors to their London-based studios. Each has created an original artwork inspired by their experience of London for the exhibition.

Jen said: "This is an exciting exhibition for the Museum of London. The collaboration with these four artists has meant that the ever-growing culture of tattooing in London is better understood, and we’re so thrilled to have collected a little insight into their amazing working lives. Tattooing has come a long way since the 17th century and is now a major phenomenon among today’s Londoners. We hope that this exhibition will appeal to existing and new visitors to the museum, offering them a rare glimpse into the fascinating life of a tattooist in the capital.”

The display comprises both historic and contemporary photographs that will sit alongside the new commissions from the four artists. Oral history interviews and a new short film will reveal what it means to be a London-based tattoo artist.

The exhibition runs until Sunday 8 May 2016.

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