So I felt a little conflicted after seeing Matt Gone on the cover of Whatever Week (guy-with-uncomfortable-amount-of-tats who'll be featured in Marking Portland: The Art of Tattoo— an exhibit of tattoo pics at the Portland Art Museum). Conflicted because face tats and shit like that have traditionally registered as unconventional, but when paraded for shock value they start to feel kinda normal— failing to wow me where they're intended to.
Was I being pushed by shock value and museum-status towards adopting this guy's skin as a definitive unconventional work of art? I spiraled into an assessment of the artistic merit of his tattoo choices: "Yes, he definitely needed that checkerboard tattooed on his face. Um, and his chest, back, legs, feet, arms and ass. If he had only done his palms then I'd know this guy likes checkers-- don't leave me hangin' Checkerboard-face!"
Thing is, Portland is a tattoo town, everyone's got 'em and anyone with working eyes knows this. Hell, I've got one. While the sheer loudness of Matt Gone's appearance is traditionally unconventional, full-body tats read like a misguided shot at claiming the title of Weirdest Weirdy— not only conforming to Portland's weird paradigm (where strange is the norm), but ultimately begging the realization that Gone's full-body tattoo and others like it are quickly becoming conventional. After all, they're getting museumed— as far as acceptance within society goes you pretty much can't beat that.
So if enormous tats are conventional, what isn't?
While it's no Stratego board inked to your forehead, 4t: Forty Ounces of Radness at Tender Loving Empire displays its own take on our available artistic mediums. Forty ounce beer bottles were decorated by a whole slew of folks— the website for the event advertised 40 participating artists. Many did what you'd expect, painting a design directly onto their 40 oz, while others took a sculptural approach, adding 3D elements to their bottle.
Representing the lighthearted, Lisa Simpson's 40 oz was packed with flaccid stuffed animals, looking ready to explode out of the bottle. In a similar vein, P.B. Rowlie's contribution used the bottle for the body of a purple owl with reading glasses. Rowlie's owl looked almost animatronic, like it was a button-push away from lighting up and jerkily flapping its wings while reading a children's story— which is sorta ironic when considering the medium.
Melissa Kojima's "Les Fleurs Du Mal" looked kinda like a Grateful Dead t-shirt growing from the surface of a bottle. 3D roses rise from the glass, blossoming into skulls with petals for hair. On the intended face of the piece, a cartoon Dracula was painted with a bat's body, ready to flap off into the garden of skull-flowers.
Simple and inventive, Jessica Bonin's "Belly of the Beast" is filled with gravel, soil, water and real clovers sprouting up into the bottle neck. As a cap to this mini greenhouse, the bust of a bear was molded onto the bottle.
While these decorated 40 oz bottles didn't register as weird, they might be more unconventional than Checkerboard-face simply because of that fact. One thing is for sure, the beer bottles definitely aren't creepy like Matt Gone, and as a whole feel fun, reflecting the creative process— you gotta drink the beer first, right? In any case, I'm going to keep my eye out for more unconventional canvases (and ones that have become normal under Portland's paradigm of weird).
I stole the image on the right from Tom Keating's blog— the 40 bottle in the picture is his contribution to the Tender Loving Empire show, which closes on the 30th of this month.
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!