“The world is divided into two kinds of people: those who have tattoos, and those who are afraid of people with tattoos.” Psychologist Michael Mantell opened his 2009 article, “The Psychology of Tattoos,” with this sweeping statement. Today, Shannon Guttierez is working to change that.
Since 2005, Guttierez’s company, GForce Productions, has been bringing Alternative Arts Festivals to cities across the country. “We were doing doctor and lawyer symposiums, and it just wasn’t our lifestyle. It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t unique — it was just monotonous,” Guttierez says. “(We) went to the tattoo show about seven years ago … since then, (it) has become our life. We eat, breath and die tattoos.”
Based in Austin, Texas, GForce and Immersed in Ink magazine bring their festivals to cities throughout the United States, promoting the art form of tattoos. This is their second time in Louisville, and Guttierez says they’re thrilled to be back. “We did Louisville last year, and … were received very well. The turnout was amazing; everybody had a great time and was begging us to come back. So Louisville is definitely going to be a mainstay on our tour.”
The three-day event includes tattooing and piercing by award-winning artists from around the world, a bouncy castle for the kids, sideshows and human suspension.
The squeamish might want to forgo the human suspension. This ritualistic act involves inserting hooks into the skin and hanging the subject from said hooks. As Guttierez explains, “It’s eye-opening, it’s jaw-dropping. (There) is a ritualistic type feeling that you get, (an) out-of-body experience … But by bringing it into the mainstream and actually people seeing it, it gives a wow factor. We do a lot of festivals in nice hotel ballrooms, and I always hear, ‘I never thought I’d see that in our grand ballroom.’”
If you’re squirming at the thought of watching a living person strung up like meat in a slaughterhouse, there’s still plenty at the convention for you. “We do have entertainment that goes on throughout the day, but all you have to do is separate yourself from that stage, and then you don’t have to worry,” Guttierez says. In addition to human suspension, there will be live sideshow entertainment by Rob Hill and The Original Synners, whom Guttierez describes as wonderful people, full of flash and pizzazz, but also funny and very down to earth. “We’re going for things the audience can interact and laugh (with) and also have that ‘Wow, oh my gosh, he really just did that.’”
All of this comes together in an event aimed at raising awareness for tattooing as art and a means of personal expression. Guttierez is passionate about this cause. “(Tattooing) used to have a stigma of criminals and jail, where you got tattooed in prison. Today, we’re tattooing soccer moms; we’re tattooing 70-year-olds that have never had a tattoo before. And we still have a long way to go.”
A 2007 BBC article titled “So Why Do Normal People Get Tattoos?” attributed the art form’s recent rise in popularity to middle-class rebellion and feminism, as well as tighter safety regulations. Guttierez credits the media and the increasing number of popular celebrities and athletes getting inked. He also gushes about the growth of the art form itself, as evidenced by the more than 100 world-class artists attending this week’s festival.
In his article, Michael Mantell praised tattoo lovers as “a proud lot (with) a strong sense of identity they have no intention of hiding. (Unafraid of) public opinion, (they) would love to let others know what they believe in.” Guttierez agrees: “If you buy a painting, you put that up in a gallery or hang it on a wall, and, I mean, how often do you really look at it? Nobody else sees it — you kind of keep it to yourself. Whereas, with a tattoo, you’re expressing yourself to everybody without ever even opening your mouth.”
Unlike more traditional art, tattoos become part of you, a constant visual reminder of who you are and the investment you chose to make. Guttierez hopes to show people the beauty of this alternative art form, helping people see that tattoos aren’t scary or dangerous. “It’s not something to look down upon. It’s just people trying to express themselves.”
Alternative Arts Festival
Kentucky International Convention Center
221 S. Fourth St.
$20/day, $35/weekend; 1-9 p.m. (Fri.), 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. (Sat.), noon-8 p.m. (Sun.)