Tattoos have gone utterly mainstream. Once the mark of a rock star or an inmate, they can be found on everyone from sultry Johnny Depp to wholesome Justin Bieber. As the tattoo business has grown from niche to trend, more and more artists have entered the field, sparking a renaissance of eclectic styles and techniques (not to mention way too many reality-TV shows). A new book from Gestalten, Forever: The New Tattoo, provides a snapshot of the current state of the field by profiling some of the world’s most vibrant and skillful tattooers.
Although ink has achieved newfound prevalence, this isn’t the first time it’s achieved mass popularity. Tattoo studios began to open in major cities and ports in the United States and Western Europe in the 1870s, with artists commanding hefty sums to “tattoo the most fashionable designs on an extraordinarily wide spectrum of clients from all social classes,” Matt Lodder writes in Forever’s foreword. Stylish examples filled the pages of high-end magazines, and by 1905, chic women were sporting permanent images of motorcars as signs of their avant-garde tastes. Since then, the social acceptability of tattooing has dipped and surged, without completely shedding its reputation as weird, dangerous, and deviant.
All the while, though, many tattooists have maintained that what they do is a form of art–a contentious claim for a medium that isn’t bought and sold and ages with the bodies that bear them. Regardless of their high-brow or low-brow status, tattoos carry weight as reflections of the aesthetics and fashions of their particular moments in time.
For a current sampling of tattooists, check out the slide show. The artists featured stand out for their personal styles and approaches to their craft.
Buy the book for $33 here.