Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed at The Historic Dockyard Chatham

On display in the No.1 Smithery gallery until September 2020, this exhibition offers a ground-breaking and comprehensive history of British tattooing, featuring cutting edge designers, leading academics and major private collectors to tell a story that challenges long-standing myths and pre-conceptions about tattooing when it comes to class, gender and age, whilst at the same time giving a voice to and celebrating the astonishingly rich artistic heritage of tattooing as an art form in the UK.  

Showcasing the work of major tattoo artists from George Burchett, via the Bristol Tattoo Club, to Alex Binnie and Lal Hardy this is the largest gathering of real objects and original tattoo artwork ever assembled in the United Kingdom. The exhibition features items from three of the most important private collections of tattoo material in Britain, belonging to Willy Robinson, Jimmy Skuse, and Paul ‘Rambo’ Ramsbottom, providing a rare opportunity to display original artwork and artefacts not otherwise on public display. The exhibition also delves into previously unseen private archives that reveal hidden histories, including the incredible real story of Britain’s pioneering female tattoo artist, Jessie Knight.  

Tattoos are a living and uniquely three-dimensional form of art. The exhibition has responded to this with an innovative installation which literally brings the art off the gallery wall to create a ‘sculptural map’ of British tattoo art today. The ‘100 Hands Project’, curated by Alice Snape of ‘Things and Ink’ magazine, is based around one hundred silicone arms, each tattooed with an original design by 100 of the leading tattoo artists working across the UK. The exhibit creates an important artistic legacy for future generations – an archival ‘snapshot’ of a form of art all too often lost to the ravages of time. 

The exhibition also includes three major contemporary art commissions from three tattoo artists working in three very different tattoo traditions. Each artist has created a unique design on a hyper realistic body sculpture which speaks to the historic artefacts and artworks around it. Tihoti Faara Barff’s work celebrates the modern revival of Tahitian tattooing; Matt Houston’s commission is a heroic celebration of the sailor tattoo; and Aimée Cornwell, a second-generation artist and rising star in the tattoo world, illustrates how tattooing is breaking down different artistic boundaries with her own form of fantasia. 

It is estimated that about one in five of the UK population is tattooed and this figure rises to one in three for young adults. And yet, whilst the visibility of tattooing in contemporary culture may feel like something new, tattoos and tattoo art have always held a significant place in Britain’s history and historical imagination. 

The exhibition explores this history in depth and shows that while the word tattoo may have come into the English language following Captain Cook’s voyage, this was not the start of the story of British tattooing. While showcasing the rich maritime heritage of tattoos, the exhibition also shows how people from all areas of society have always been tattooed. From ruffians to royalty; from sailors to socialites; from pilgrims to punks: tattoos have been etched into bodies throughout British history. 

The exhibition features over 400 original artworks, photographs and historic artifacts. 

Address

The Historic Dockyard Chatham
Dock Road
Chatham
Kent
ME4 4TZ

Entry Price

Entry into the exhibition is included in your entry ticket to the Dockyard.