Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed

17 March 2017 – 7 January 2018

“Tattooing is a magical, romantic, exciting and often-misunderstood art-form, and this exhibition aims to communicate some of that magic to visitors.” Dr Matt Lodder, guest curator.

The exhibition is genuinely ground-breaking
Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed is a genuinely ground-breaking and comprehensive history of British tattooing, featuring cutting edge designers, leading academics and major private collectors. This is the largest gathering of real objects and original tattoo artwork ever assembled in the UK featuring over 400 original artworks, photographs and historic artefacts.

Image: Detail from rare Sailor Knight flash banner courtesy of Neil Hopkin-Thomas. Photo Paul Abbitt
Image: Detail from rare Sailor Knight flash banner courtesy of Neil Hopkin-Thomas. Photo Paul Abbitt

Celebrating the rich artistic heritage
The exhibition challenges long-standing myths and pre-conceptions about tattooing when it comes to class, gender and age, whilst at the same time celebrating the astonishingly rich artistic heritage of tattooing in the UK.

Showcasing the work of major tattoo artists…
The exhibition showcases the work of major tattoo artists from George Burchett, via the Bristol Tattoo Club, to Alex Binnie and Lal Hardy

Private collection displays
The exhibition features items from three of the most important private collections of tattoo material in Britain, loaned by collectors Jimmie Skuse, Paul “Rambo” Ramsbottom and Willy Robinson, providing a rare opportunity to display original artwork and artefacts not otherwise on public display.

Jessie Knight
The exhibition also delves into previously unseen private archives that reveal hidden histories, including the incredible real story of Britain’s pioneering female tattoo artist, Jessie Knight.

Image: The Jessie Knight archive courtesy of Neil Hopkin-Thomas. Photo: Paul Abbitt
Image: The Jessie Knight archive courtesy of Neil Hopkin-Thomas. Photo: Paul Abbitt

The 100 Hands Project
Tattoos are a living and uniquely three dimensional form of art. The museum responds to this by commissioning an innovative installation which literally brings the art off the gallery wall to create a ‘sculptural map’ of British tattoo art today. The ‘100 Hands Project’, curated by Alice Snape of ‘Things and Ink’ magazine, is based around one hundred silicone arms, each tattooed with an original design by 100 of the leading tattoo artists working across the UK.

Image: The 100 Hands installation features original designs by 100 of the top tattoo artists working in the UK today. Photo: Luke Abbitt
Image: The 100 Hands installation features original designs by 100 of the top tattoo artists working in the UK today. Photo: Luke Abbitt

Contemporary art commissions
The exhibition also includes three major contemporary art commissions from three tattoo artists working in three very different tattoo traditions. Tihoti Faara Barff’s work celebrates the modern revival of Tahitian tattooing; Matt Houston’s commission is a heroic celebration of the sailor tattoo; and Aimée Cornwell, a second-generation artist and rising star in the tattoo world, illustrates how tattooing is breaking down different artistic boundaries with her own form of fantasia.

Image: Matt Houston's commission on hyperrealistic body part. Photo: Paul Abbitt
Image: Matt Houston’s commission on hyperrealistic body part. Photo: Paul Abbitt

The darker side
Other collaborators include Dr Gemma Angel, (Research Fellow, Cornell University and University College London) who provides an insight into the darker side of tattoo collections with a rare display of tattooing on preserved human skin from the Wellcome Collection’s medical skin collection, on loan to the Science Museum.


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Exhibition partners:

Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed has been created with the support of many organisations and individuals.

Funders: Arts Council England | Garfield Weston Foundation Sir John Fisher Foundation | Heritage Lottery Fund |

Institutional Lenders: Science Museum Group | Wellcome Collection | Museum of London | National Maritime Museum, London | Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford | Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge | Cornwall Record Office | Royal Institution of Cornwall

Partners: Royal Museums Greenwich | University of Essex | Falmouth University | Thinksee 3D | Gorton Studios | A Pound of Flesh | Storylines | Royal British Legion | Battling On | FXU | Sailor Jerry

Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed has been curated for the National Maritime Museum Cornwall by Dr Matt Lodder, lecturer in Contemporary Art History and Director of American Studies at the University of Essex, supported by co-curators Stuart Slade and Derryth Ridge of National Maritime Museum Cornwall.