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Unfeeling Skin

Brooklyn artist Amanda Wachob detaches tattoos from the body and turns them into fine art.

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In "Blackline 7," Wachob tattoos her abstract design on leather; in "Scratch 1," she inks an orange's rind.
  • In "Blackline 7," Wachob tattoos her abstract design on leather; in "Scratch 1," she inks an orange's rind.

Sometime in the hazy past, a human discovered he could print skin permanently with needle and ash. Otzi the Iceman, the well-preserved natural mummy found in 1991 in Italy, was marked with lines and pricks. Fast-forward 5,000 years, and Richmond is the third most-tattooed city in the country. But what happens when something other than the human body becomes the canvas?

New York-based painter and tattoo artist Amanda Wachob answers that question with her show at Ghostprint Gallery, "Beyond Skin: a New Vision of Tattooing," featuring mixed-media acrylic and tattoo paintings along with photographs of tattoos on leather and fruit.

The show represents the circuitous route her art has taken. Wachob used the abstract expressionists as a starting point for her tattoo designs. After experimenting with that concept in tattoo form, she's using the tattooing needle as the medium to further develop her vision — on everything but skin. "Four or five years ago," she says from Brooklyn, "I started to put into action all the weird ideas I'd had about how I could expand on what I'd been doing."

The artist who tattooed skin for 14 years before deciding to give fruit her attention shares her thoughts on art and business.

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Style: What spurred your interest in tattooing originally? 

Wachob: I only knew of a handful of women tattooing at the time.

What are the best and worst things about the increase in people getting tattooed?

More people getting tattooed means that we all stay busy. I'm not sure there's a downside to that! It seems like a waste of energy to lament about change or how things used to be in the industry.

When did you start working on fruit and why?

Fruit was the first thing that I ever tattooed, and I messed up a whole lot of oranges before I was ready to put a needle to anyone's skin. I wanted to revisit the surface of an orange and approach it as an object rather than as a practice material. Fruit, leather, canvas. ... A tattoo can be so much more than just a design put into skin.

Doesn't the fruit rot?

They do rot. But I like that ephemeral quality; it's bittersweet. So beautiful only for a moment, because they are destined to decay. I've looked into different ways to preserve the oranges but have had no success other than with photography.

How is your work different when it's not on skin?

When I tattoo people, I have to be very controlled, precise and deliberate in my motions. Human skin is a delicate organ, and you have to be sure not to overwork it. Tattooing other surfaces, I can be more aggressive with my movements because I don't have to worry about damaging the surface.

I also have more freedom in the way the design turns out. It's not imperative to know where the composition is going; it can be more of an intuitive process rather than something that has to be drafted from beginning to end.

What was your goal for this show?

 I'd like to open people's minds about the tattoo medium as an art form.

 How do you see your art evolving?

 Bigger, denser, darker, and even more experimental and unorthodox. 

How many tattoos do you have?

Too many to count. S

"Beyond Skin: a New Vision of Tattooing" is on view at Ghostprint Gallery through Aug. 31. For information, call 344-1557 or go to ghostprintgallery.com.

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