Until very recently, tattoos were no part of my life. Well, in strictness, they still aren't - I haven't had one put on while on holiday recently! But I am now much more aware of what tattoos are all about, and of their artistic appeal. This is thanks to an exhibition at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall at Falmouth, which I went to on 30th March, soon after it opened. It will run until January 2018, so, if you are in Cornwall for any reason between now and then, do make a point of seeing it.
I will confess that I saw the exhibition entirely by accident. I was in Falmouth for a few hours, planning only to walk around the town. I'd parked near Falmouth Town station - where you can find a free space in the street quite easily - and had walked the short distance to Falmouth Docks station before turning towards the town centre, which took me past the redeveloped part of the waterfront. I hadn't even been aware that the Museum was there, but I spotted it, and it was advertising two concurrent exhibitions:
The one dealing with Captain Bligh of 'Mutiny on the Bounty' infamy especially caught my eye, and it made me venture inside. It even made me stump up £12.95 for admission. That's a lot. And there was no age concession available. But it was explained to me that my ticket lasted for a year, and I could return as often as I pleased for the next twelve months. Hmph - fat chance of taking advantage of that! But I like maritime museums, and did want to learn more about Captain Bligh, and my holiday budget was in great shape: I could easily afford it. So I got my ticket and went in.
And indeed, I was glad I'd paid for admission, because the Captain Bligh story was eye-opening, and filled me with unexpected admiration for his clear view of duty, his leadership qualities, and his amazing seamanship. Forget the film portrayals. I don't say he came across as a man you'd personally like, and anyone who found him prim or frustrating or stubborn might have ample grounds for that judgement; but he was not a mere bully, nor a spiteful martinet. He had a later career full of achievement. Surprisingly, he died aged only sixty-three: I'd already outlived him by two years, and without much special effort. Perhaps the epic open-boat voyage he had to make with his loyal crew members following the mutiny had fatally undermined his long-term health. A replica of that boat was on display, and it was very small for a long slow voyage on starvation rations.
Enthralling though the Bligh exhibition was, I couldn't help noticing the adjoining entrance to the tattoo exhibition. Initially I'd decided to ignore it entirely, as I just wasn't interested. But it sort of drew me in. I wasn't sure what I'd see.
Well. A tattoo for every forearm. In fact, an almost overwhelming display of forearm tattoos. And a creepy one, too, because those silicone rubber arms and hands looked so lifelike, as if taken from casts of real flesh. Indeed, at a quick glance, it looked like a collection of severed limbs, with groping fingers. Brrrr.
The creepiness was most acute in the case of two entire arms that looked, even close up, exactly like two real arms neatly and freshly sliced off, and stuck up for display. (Why was no blood dripping?)
The quality of the art was however beyond dispute. These were surely at the very top end of what you might get if seeking a tattoo. And for the most part, the designs and their very skillful execution compelled admiration. My little camera grew hot from snapping this clearly major exhibition.
There was plenty of information and explanation about the origins of tattooing in various parts of the world, its cultural significance, and the innovative things that had been happening to tattooing in modern times.
By the time one had studied all of this, there was a definite notion implanted that wearing a tattoo, a modern-style one at any rate, might be a very cool thing. Anyone susceptible to suggestion would surely look for a tattoo shop afterwards without delay, and make serious enquiries. I didn't. But I'm sure that a dozen or more visitors every week must be inspired by what they see, and end up with a tattoo of their own, men and women both - for clearly this is now something for both sexes to consider. And it need not be on open display. The photo at the top of this post shows a take on a 'traditional' naval tattoo, and it's on the upper thigh of a young woman called Derryth Ridge, who helped to put the exhibition together. Here it is again:
She says she loves it. But it's normally hidden under her jeans or skirt, and therefore remains discreet.
It strikes me that if you had a birth mark, or a skin blemish, you could hide it with a tattoo. So the thing could be useful, as well as making a statement.
So why haven't I whizzed down to Brighton - a wonderful place to find a tattoo shop, incidentally - and arranged to have a personal tattoo? Well, there are several reasons. One: I don't come from a background in which tattoos are usual. I'm predisposed to thinking that tattoos are not for me. Two: if everyone is having them, then I want to be different and not have one. I don't follow the herd. Three: it would hurt. Four: a really nice one would cost a lot. Five: what in any case would I want tattooed on me, and where? An arrow, with THIS SIDE UP next to it? A heart, with I LOVE FIONA on it? A skull, with I'M AN OLD AGE PENSIONER over it? It's so very difficult to decide.
But don't let me stop you. If you want to have a tattoo, go to it.