Issue August 27, 2008

Profiles – Terry Tapp – Tattoo Artist

Submitted Photo
Submitted Photo

What do you get when you mix philosophy, tattooing and the fine arts? 

Terry Tapp.

We’ll let somebody else say it first: Tim Faulkner, owner of the self-titled gallery in Louisville, has an eye for art and artists. “I first saw Terry’s work when I stopped by his shop (Electric Devil) to get a tattoo,” he says. “The honesty in Terry’s work is the first thing that grabs the viewer. His marks can be both brutal and compassionate in the same brush stroke. Take into consideration his approach, which is both psychological and technical, and you have the ingredients for a great painter.”

Faulkner now represents the 41-year-old Tapp. 

“(He) has an open mind about what art I make,” Tapp says.

When asked to pinpoint his style, Tapp says “visionary,” albeit reluctantly. “The word doesn’t mean anything,” he says. “I try to keep my work raw and lush, like Baroque lushness. It’s hedonism.”

His first taste of artistic success and disappointment came while he was studying at Murray State University. He had a few exhibitions in Chicago. “Unfortunately, with the censorship scare that spread after (photographers) Mapplethorpe and Serrano … some work that was considered edgy — which some folks considered mine at the time — was put aside.” 

Most of his works currently on display are portraits, a medium largely considered benign. But not Tapp’s. “A lot of time my subject matter is provoking, but it’s not meant to be juvenile,” he says. “What I’m trying to do is construct a philosophical inquiry without words.”

He’s working on three illustrated books: “Stinkfly,” a philosophical thesis on the return of the messiah as a fly; a book on authoritarians titled “Rubber Monsters”; and “Lungfish,” an ongoing study about nature. Eventually he hopes to produce an anthology he calls “Tarnation.”

“I’m also putting together a show of sorts out of the tattoo shop,” he says. “It’s called ‘Sins and Needles,’ and it’s about all the nutjobs and common freaks — as we all are — who walk through my door. It’s dirty and gritty and hopefully entertaining.” —Jo Anne Triplett