In 2004 artist Adam Guyot lost his father to lung cancer. Soon after, he had a powerful vision within a dream: a T-shirt that said, “Tattoos Cure Cancer.” When he woke up, he thought someday he might use the idea to do something good, and for the past five years he’s been doing exactly that.
“What began as a T-shirt idea turned into a combo of merchandise designed by tattoo artists and live tattoo events to raise money,” Guyot says of the charity he founded. “It took almost a decade to finally get the ball rolling, and in 2013 Tattoos Cure Cancer became a legitimate 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.”
Since 2013 TCC has donated more than $100,000 to children’s hospitals and directly to people fighting cancer. The nonprofit has done events at tattoo shops and multiple tattoo conventions, as well as selling T-shirts and other merchandise designed by renowned artists.
This Sunday, as he's done for the past few years during Cancer Awareness Month (October), Guyot’s shop, Eternal Art Tattoo, will host a benefit, his biggest to date, with 20 artists from around L.A. and all over the country coming together to help raise money to fight cancer.
“It’s very difficult to find a person who hasn’t been affected by cancer in one way or another,” says Guyot. “ Most of the people I have tattooed through [this event] either have a family member or friend who has or had cancer, or they have or have had it themselves. Sometimes it’s a very emotional thing hearing people’s stories of loss or of hope. I have tattooed people who were diagnosed with only months to live who are celebrating living years past their diagnosis. I have tattooed people in memory of friends and family lost.”
For Guyot, connecting the self-expression of permanently inking one’s body with the struggle, hope and tribute represented by tattoos was a natural way to spread awareness and provide support. “Tattooing itself is a very intimate art form," he says. “You have to physically touch people and you leave a bit of yourself in each tattoo. Sometimes you take a bit of them with you as well. I have met some of the greatest people traveling around the country tattooing cancer ribbons."
The classic ribbon is one of the most popular designs representing various kinds of cancers. Different colors indicate types and parts of the body stricken by the disease (pink for breast cancer, gray for brain cancer, dark blue for colon cancer, black for melanoma, to name a few). For tattoos, “flash” designs incorporating these ribbons are popular with survivors and as remembrances, but Guyot keeps the options open. “Our first event was a small flash sheet of $50 ribbons. Since then, other tattoo artists from all over the world have donated designs for flash and merchandise,” Guyot explains. “We have many designs based on cancer ribbons but we also have designs that aren’t necessarily cancer-related for those who want to support the cause but not wear a ribbon tattoo.”
“Art is one of the most powerful things on the planet,” Guyot continues. “It crosses barriers of race and language. It connects to us on a whole and individually. People choose all styles of artwork to decorate themselves but a lot of times it symbolizes something important to them. The ribbon tattoos help to show a common solidarity as a people to stand against this disease; to memorialize a friend or loved one who is lost or who has won the fight. But every person is different and to generalize the reasons why people get what they get would disrespect the individual stories.”
In addition to the annual event, Guyot says he’s working on TCC’s website so that the nonprofit and those who want to support it can go global. He hopes to see patrons be able to download a design, pay through the site and then walk into a local shop, where a network of artists have agreed to donate their time to the cause.
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“It is going to change everything and hopefully take us from donating tens of thousands a year to hundreds of thousands a year,” Guyot says. “The tattoo community as a whole has embraced our cause and I am so honored each and every time another tattooer supports it. It’s bigger than all of us and we get to do what we love to help people. There is no downside."
As for this Sunday’s benefit, expect a high-energy day filled with a chorus of nonstop tattoo gun buzzing as featured artists including Aaron Leroi, Pete Fortune, Ricky Evans, Joey Nichols, Ian Jones, Justin Larson, Lefty Lipoma, Omar Edmison, Mike Godfrey, Chris Bass, Darlene Brown, Adam Fuqua, Yanni Vera, Big 5, Justin Ferreira, Andy Tassone, Greg James and Will Klein work on guests. There probably will be lines, but Guyot says they have a system down pretty well to minimize the wait time. All sorts of tattoo designs will be available for people to choose from and the costs will range from $50 to $150. Merchandise and raffles, for those who want to support but not get tattooed, also will be available.
“The greatest thing about this organization is that it utilizes the art form that has given me everything to be able to give back,” Guyot says humbly. “Which makes it easy for other artists to get on board because we aren’t asking you to open your wallet to be a part. You can donate your time or some artwork and really make a difference.”
Tattoos Cure Cancer benefit at Eternal Art Tattoo, 18760 Flying Tiger Drive, Canyon Country. Sunday, Oct. 14, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. More info at tattooscurecancer.com/index.php.