Tattoo’s a silent narrative

 The acceptance of the tattoo has changed, it has become a part of modern culture, adorning the bodies of old and young alike.  The commonality they all hold is that beneath the ink lays a memory an experience that has been etched on their skin for life. Tattoo’s historically were viewed as  antisocial and that people that chose to get them were hitting back at society. What strikes me the most is the clear indicator that it is a way of fitting in, wanting to belong, looking at the history there appear to be groups of people who got tattoos regardless of who they were in society and wanting to gain an individualistic mark, they became part of a group, a group that is inked with emotion.

Woman_with_upper_body_tattooed_1907_cph.3a01441

[images online] Available at ://www.nerdlikeyou.com/sailors-savages-spies-brief-history-tattoos/ [Accessed 30th December 2014]

Gerald Grumet, (1983) wrote a interesting paper ‘Psychodynamic Implications of Tattoo’s,’ the paper although old and a lot of the information is now outdated he acknowledged the significance of the tattoo, over time and as a emotional indicator.

Grumet starts with an overview of the history of tattooing touching on the stone age 12000 B.C stating

“in many savage tribes it was custom to accompany bereavement by slashing the body as evidence of grief and rubbish ashes into the cuts, leaving carbon deposits in the skin. ” (Grumet 1983, p.482)

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[images online] Available at://teulugar.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/history-of-tattoos.html[Accessed 30th December 2014]

Grumet acknowledges the depth and wide spread use of tattoos in many cultures spanning centuries, used to mark

“puberty ritual, religious emblem, or love charm; protection against danger; sign of mourning for the departed;identification with special qualities of a totemic animal or symbol…” (Grumet 1983, p.483)

Using tattoos in my character I wanted, to depict life experience by the sheer quantity of tattoos and how a place and experience becomes etched in you mind, body and soul, and now etched with ink, a visual for the world to see, like seaman who gained tattoos as a visual representation of the distances they have travelled and the challenges they have faced at sea.

history-of-tattoos-2

[images online] Available at://teulugar.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/history-of-tattoos.html[Accessed 30th December 2014]

“… a tattoo worn on the skin for many years often assumes symbolic importance becoming a reservoir of emotionally charged memories and talismanic meanings for its bearer.”(Grumet 1983, p.489)

This illustration by Mike Koubou resonates life and experience though the tattoo’s and the use of the skeletal form.  The way Koubou uses a simple colour pallet and fine penmanship bring the character to life, although he is not.

the_gentleman_becomes_a_hipster_

[images online] Available at ://www.mikekoubou.com/illustration.php [Accessed 30th December 2014]

I believe that tattoos are a visual map to someones life, not always to be taken literally, but if spoken about you might happen upon a story which holds deep significance for the tattoo. Used as a way to mark an experience or a significant life event, each tattoo no matter how it may appear as irrelevant is a visual mark and holds a significant narrative.

The design of the tattoo’s is paramount within the character to depict without the use of words his life experiences.

References

  • Grumet, G,(1983), ‘Psychodynamic Implications of Tattoos’, American Orhopsychiatric Association 53 (3) 482-492
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Picturebooks without words

Trauma and illustration, picturebooks that explore trauma through narrative, does this narrative require text or is it enough for the illustrations to speak alone to the viewer. In allowing the illustrations to stand alone, does it allow the viewer to create their own narrative, align their own experiences within the narrative of the illustrations, or does the text give them a foundation in with they can build their narrative from and again align to their own personal experiences.

Reflecting on my Art Therapy clinical work, it is focused on providing a space where emotions and experiences can be explored using art as the narrative, as words can be to hard to find to truly express how the client is feeling. In Psychology Today a article Children’s Art as Visual NarrativeMalchiodi (2014) states,

“We now know that non-verbal expressive arts like simple drawing, painting and constructing are effective restorative experiences. Language, a function of declarative memory, is often inaccessible to trauma survivors of any age if the event has been particularly disturbing.”
(Malchiodi 2014)
As I work through these thoughts I feel there is not a definitive answer, as a Art Therapist the client tells their story in their own words, as an illustrator does the same principal remains when creating books focusing on traumatic experiences.
Shaun Tan’s book ‘The Red Tree‘ (2014), depicts a story of a girl’s  world full of dark thoughts and feelings. Tan uses little text or no text, in the book. Text that is used is either interwoven into the illustration or carefully placed on the page pulling the viewer to the image first. Tan expresses his understanding of expressing emotions through illustration
“I’d also been increasingly aware that illustration is a powerful way of expressing of feeling as well as ideas, partly because it is outside of verbal language, as many emotions can be hard to articulate in words. I thought it would therefore be interesting to produce an illustrated book that is all about feelings, unframed any storyline context, in some sense going ‘directly to the source’.”
(Tan, S,  n.d)
red-tree3

[images online] Available at://www.shauntan.net/books.html [Accessed 16th December 2014]

As my works shifts and changes, I am sure so will the use of text, with some work needing more and some requiring less or even none at all. It feels as though it will be subjective to each work produced, and not a exact template for each book or even each page.

References 

Art work that allows space to create your own stories.

Charles Avery, I first came across his work in The Gallery of modern Art in Edinburgh about 10 years ago. Since then his work has reappeared in my head. I have thought what this is, but on reflection I think it is because it captures my imagination. it allows the viewer to create their own story through Avery’s beautiful, and detailed sketches.

[image online] Available at: http://generationartscotland.org/artists/charles-avery/gallery/the-place-of-the-route-of-the-ifen/

Avery, C (2007) Untitled (Place of The Route of the If’En) Pencil, ink & gouache on paper. 162.60 x 243.50 cm[image online] Available at: http://generationartscotland.org/artists/charles-avery/gallery/the-place-of-the-route-of-the-ifen/

Creating scenes that pull the eye in, roaming around from section to section, each time you look you notice something new. Using sign and symbols of everyday objects we all recognise, and we can project our own meaning onto these objects. No one viewers story would be the same.

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Avery, C (nd) Untitled ( Heidless Macgregors Bar) [images online] Available at:https://www.nationalgalleries.org/whatson/exhibitions/the-islanders-an-introduction/highlights-6048 [Accessed 5th December 2014]

Charles Avery  is a Scottish artist from Oban. He currently lives and works in London. Since 2004 he has devoted and developed his practice to develop an imaginary island. Avery uses drawing s and sculpture to explore the aspects of the island, the main market town Onomatopoeia to the Eternal forrest.

Avery gives an insight into the ‘Heidless Macgregors Bar’

‘After an afternoon ambling through the market our tourist will no doubt frequent one of the taverns around the port that provide bush meat and beer, before tottering onto the cruiser that will convey him back to Triangleland, as the Islanders disparagingly call the outside world.’

Avery 2008

These feel to me like the working of Avery’s mind, bringing the subconscious to the conscious, a wonderful imagination, depicting his thoughts and bringing them to life in his drawings. His work leaves an intrigue an invitation to pull you back too the Island again and again.

References 

  • Generation(2007),Generation-25years of Contemporary Art in Scotland. Available at:http://generationartscotland.org/artists/charles-avery/%5BAccessed 5th December 2014]
  • National Galleries of Scotland (2008),The Islanders: An introduction|Charles Avery. Available at: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/whatson/exhibitions/the-islanders-an-introduction/highlights-6048 [Accessed 5th December 2014]

Challenging subjects in picturebooks.

Wolf_Erlbruch,_Duck,_Death_and_the_Tulip

[images online] Available at: http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=2220 [Accessed 14th November 2014]

Picturebooks can often be viewed as books which contain stories that are light hearted, contain a moral or a lesson for the younger generation to learn. Often they do not handle the more challenging subjects, and when they do it can provoke reactions and avoidance from some.

When should children start to learn about the more challenging aspects of life, and what about those children who are already dealing with difficult and traumatic experiences on a daily basis, I wonder what it would be like for them to pick up a picturebook that spoke to them, resonated with a part of their life.

Wolf Erlbruch a German author and illustrator created the book Duck, Death and the Tulip (2007) (German title: Ente, Tod und Tulpe).

The story consists of two characters, a Duck who comes to know Death, and unbeknown to the duck death has been following her all her life.

DDT internals_Page_05

[images online] Available at :http://blaine.org/jules/DDT%20internals_Page_05.jpg [Accessed 14th November 2014]

Duck and Death become friends and talk about life, death and what happens after you die. Sitting in a tree after being diving together they wonder what would happen to Duck’s lake after she dies. The book comes to a close with the death of the Duck, and Death carries her to a river, placing her gently on the water, Death takes the tulip and places it on her,”For a long time he watched her. When she was lost to sight, he was almost a little moved.” 

DDT internals_Page_16

[images online] Available at: http://blaine.org/jules/DDT%20internals_Page_16.jpg [Accessed 14th November 2014]

I can imagine this is a controversial topic for a children’s books, but the way the illustrations depict the gentleness and the empathy of Death towards Duck it handles it with delicacy of Death in a beautiful way.

My work as a Art Psychotherapist working with children I witness children dealing with real challenges more than some adults do throughout there whole life.

I understand this can be hard to contemplate, so when picture books that are created tackling the harder subjects it does cause controversy, but what I pose is, whose need is it to avoid the challenging and hard subjects?

We can not rescue and protect forever, and I wonder is it better to give children an understanding through the use of a medium they know and understand, that can allow for questions to be answered with those who care for them, a healthy exploration into the difficult aspects of life. 

I feel Wolf Erlbruch deals with the emotion of death in a manner which invites a conversation and give permission to talk about something which so many try to avoid, just like Duck not knowing Death had been following her all her life until she turned around.

References

  • Danielson, J, (2013),“You can start having strange thoughts in trees”, Or, Curiously Good Books from Around the World’, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, 13th October 2013 [online] Available at:Available at :http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=2220 [Accessed 14th November 2014]
  •  Erlbruch,W (2007), Duck Death and the Tulip,New Zealand, Geko Press.