San Francisco based Justin Kerson opens a solo exhibition this Saturday, June 14th entitled Blood & Ink at White Walls Gallery in SF. We got talking to the artist a few weeks back about the show and were intrigued about his process of taking imprints of freshly made tattoos to create unique artworks. Wanting to delve a little deeper into this unique take on art making and tattoo culture, AM asked Kerson a few questions…
Arrested Motion (AM): So Justin, can you tell our readers a little about your background?
Justin Kerson (JK): Sure. So I’m a 31-year-old 4th generation artist, born and raised in Northern California. About 5 years ago, I started my own collaborative art business called Tott Global. We create classic games and novelties items like dice, dominoes, jigsaw puzzles, playing cards, and now oven bag cookware. I do collaborations with some of the most innovative contemporary artists of our time. I really do enjoy bringing artists together to strengthen our art community. My show, Blood and Ink, is also another collaborative project that I’m proud to present to the art community here in San Francisco.
AM: We met in San Francisco recently and we talked a little about your process for your upcoming Blood & Ink exhibition at White Walls Gallery. Can you explain a little about the show?
JK: Tattooing is one of the oldest forms of art. I’m just taking something that already exists and expanding on the idea. Since tattoos become apart of someone’s body, it no longer allows the art to have any tangible resale value. So by transferring it to a fabric, I have taken art off the body and made it a piece that can be sold and resold without expiration. Eventually I’d like for everyone to be able to have prints of their tattoos, especially if you get a tattoo dedicated to someone, it would be nice to have a print to actually hand over as a gift.
AM: You’re effectively making direct transfer prints from the residual process of tattooing like some rudimentary Xerox machine?!
JK: In a slightly more demented way, yeah, pretty much. Lol.
AM: I’ve never come across such a method of preservation before. Where did the inspiration or motivation for the exhibition come from?
JK: Honestly, I came across the concept on accident. After getting tattooed, the open wound requires a lot of antiseptic, so while I was sleeping, the tattoo transferred and smeared all over my Versace sheets, completely wrecking them. But by ruining them, I realized how well tattoos could transfer to fabric and produce these interestingly grotesque images. Thus leading me to my idea for this show.
AM: I presume you are familiar with the Polish prison tattoos that were preserved for identification purposes? Your exhibition puts an artistic twist on a fairly macabre practice from the past… A modern day ‘Shroud’, you might say…?
JK: I am aware prison tattoos at one point were preserved in a pretty morbid way. So yeah, I guess you can say I’m using an old ‘macabre’ ritual and turning it into something more aesthetically appealing, and less painful. As for a shroud, I’m not sure I would classify my prints as something as holy as a modern day shroud, but the idea is definitely similar.
AM: Whilst I was searching for information about the show, I came across a tattoo shop in Amsterdam that offers a service to preserve your tattoo once you die. You hear about this at all?
JK: Wow that’s great! I didn’t know this existed, but I’ve always wanted to do this! Thanks for sharing!
AM: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy huh? Can you explain how you hooked up with the donors for the exhibition? Did you contact tattoo artists, or find people directly that were planning on getting tattooed?
JK: I just went to friends and tattoo artists and talked to them about my concept, found people who were willing to let me transfer their tattoo to fabric for my prints, and then from there I chose the best pieces I felt that really represented my concept. Getting a tattoo requires you to completely give artistic trust to the person tattooing you.
AM: I’m curious what your strike rate was – what was the ratio of yes and no responses?
JK: Well when I asked my homies, they were down. But when I tried reaching out to the public about getting a free tattoo, people were definitely interested, but the follow through was the hardest part.
AM: And you attended all the sessions?
JK: Yeah I had to, I needed to get the prints fresh off their tattooed bodies.
AM: It’s quite widely known that tattoo artists say that that a tattoo lasts for a lifetime, plus 6 months. Your method of preservation is destined to last longer of course. Only your way doesn’t involve formaldehyde!
JK: Right! It’s also instant, and less gruesome in my opinion. But don’t get me wrong; I plan to have my body skinned at the end of this tall tale as well.
AM: Looks like a trip to Amsterdam is on the cards then! Do you know if some of your subjects will be in attendance at the exhibition?
JK: I would hope so! This show really was a collaborative project, from the artists who drew up the tattoos to those who allowed us to tattoo them. For them to go through the pain, and process of getting the tattoo for the show, I would really hope they would want to come see it all come together.
AM: Thanks for taking time to talk to us Justin. Wishing you the best of luck with the exhibition!
JK: Of course! Thank you as well for taking the time to interview me on my show!