Body Art Expo: At the World's Biggest Tattoo Convention, Roving Artists Charge by the Limb

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Mon, Jul 9, 2012 at 2:36 PM

click to enlarge SJ O'CONNELL
  • SJ O'Connell
See also: 10 Awesome Tattoo Artists in L.A.

Welcome to my life, tattoo

I'm a man now, thanks to you

I expect I'll regret you

But the skin graft man won't get you

You'll be there when I die


by The Who

People with tattoos are sentimental. Most of them, anyway. No one gets a tattoo just for fun. Or at least don't get every tattoo for fun. Few people look at a tattoo on their body and completely forget how and why it came to be there. They usually represent something that is or was once important to them. "I love my kids!" or "I have a very strong fondness for the Dodgers!"

At the Body Art Expo in Pomona this weekend, there was a wide cross-section of people, from teen girls accompanied by their moms to rugged old dudes with fading battleships, all of them contemplating their next permanent declaration.

The Body Art Expo, billed as the world's largest tattoo convention, was held in Pavilion Nine on the fairgrounds in Pomona. Amid the sprawling fairground's complex, cars were funneled into a small corner by the model railroad yard. Bands were set-up outside by the beer depot and the KROQ van. Inside were eight rows of tattoo artists, suppliers and other related businesses. From a distance they could be selling anything -- ShamWows, Oxiclean, velcro golf shoes. They even had the Hot Dog on a Stick window open.

click to enlarge SJ O'CONNELL
  • SJ O'Connell

Each booth was next to another with little space for more than two artists to have the necessary elbow room to work. Portfolios sat out opened to renderings of Salvador Dali or Marilyn Monroe or a fire-breathing eagle. It was a simple proposition. You pick out who you'd like to do the work, you decide what the work will be and then you provide the canvas. They provide the ink and a steady hand.

Is there any other artist that hocks their wares like this?

Stevee, a young assistant with a Highland Park-based tattoo parlor, estimated she had been to about ten tattoo expos, traveling as far as Houston to offer their west coast vibe. She explained that most of the artists got customers based on their portfolio and that she knew a fair amount of vendors from other expos. Most of the artists were locally based but there were a few banners representing Arizona and the Bay Area.

For those not satisfied with their previous decisions, there were two booths dedicated to tattoo removal. Lenore Heard sat in a corner booth offering up the services of Erase A Tat. Her bubbly persona was the most welcoming of any of the other booths -- as the scolding mom of the convention, she had no choice. Not only an employee but also a client, Heard showed us her nearly finished removal on her ankle. She probably doesn't get invited to many of the after-parties on the convention circuit.

There was also a small stage set aside in a corner for performances and a daily tattoo contest. Jabberjaw, a robust and grinning MC, gleefully flung offers for free piercings and profane t-shirts destined for detention hall into the crowd. He was quick with a joke, using probably the most inappropriate stage patter ever to open for a group of folk dancers. But when a pre-show announcement reads, "Crazy to the mainstage. Tattoo Louie is looking for you," it is fairly clear that other than the set-up, this is probably not the usual convention crowd.

See also: 10 Awesome Tattoo Artists in L.A.

Follow Sean J. O'Connell on Twitter at @CultofSOC and for more arts news follow @LAWeeklyArts and like us on Facebook.

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