Have you ever thought about the meaning of your tattoos? Or, have you ever thought about the meaning that your tattoos could take on?
I usually, as an example, try to persuade and explain to people why they should not tattoo subjects that represent things that are out of their control. I’m really against tattooing names of girlfriends, band names, football teams or political views, because things change. Your girlfriend can leave you, your band can change style to a point that you can’t stand it, your football team can be relegated to League 2 and your politicians will definitely turn out to be corrupt. But, could the same thing happen with a portrait of a pet?
It is obvious that tattoos have meanings. It’s undeniable. They have meanings even if the silliness of tattooing something that lacks a particular meaning is the actual meaning. When people ask me which of my tattoos have a meaning and I think about it, I realise that all my tattoos have one, but I usually tell them the least silly ones!
Something happened to me this week and made me think more about it. It’s a story that I heard. Before continuing, I must say that I have a portrait of my cat on my thigh, done by the talented Enzo Barbareschi. It is very meaningful to me as the cat and I are very close (if you have a cat, or other pets, you may understand that). At that time he said he had never tattooed a cat portrait, instead, he had done loads of dog pet tattoos as people used to prefer to tattoo dogs rather than cats. That has now changed slightly.
Sometimes, as tattooists, we don’t ask much about the meaning behind our customers’ choice of subjects, because it can be something too personal or too silly to ask about. Depending on the level of empathy between the two – the customer and the tattooist – you can have more of a deep insight into that.
I’ve been tattooing Chris and Charlotte for a few years by now. I tattooed Charlotte’s sister’s first tattoo too, and have done all of Chris’ tattoos since his first. Now he’s got a full sleeve, which is related to his wife, and now we have started his second sleeve, that so far is related to his pets. They have no kids and the pets are their family. They have a few pets – cats and dogs. A dog. Well, the dog is not around anymore.
The first portrait Chris asked me to do was of his young Border Collie named Roxy. She was a beautiful dog, and he supplied me with a few great photos of her in their sunny green backyard. Perfect material for a perfect tattoo.
When I think about placement for a tattoo, I think of the body as having prime areas, good areas and not-so-great areas for a portrait. Let’s just say that you wouldn’t choose to have a portrait of your mother on your bum cheeks, or the portrait of your father on foot. I’d suggest that you tattoo them where you can easily see, where you can easily show people, be proud of it and get the most enjoyment out of your piece. So did Chris, choosing the top of his left arm for the portrait of his pet dog.
After having that portrait done, he later came for a funny portrait of his cat named Catface, and last week he came in for another portrait of his other cat named Kitten, wearing a Mexican wrestling mask!
I follow Chris and Charlotte on social media and noticed that Roxy has passed, however, the reason for that didn’t matter much to me at the time and I only thought about their loss. I wasn’t aware that Roxy was around 1 year old at the time of the tattoo, so I had assumed she was older and had died of natural causes. But she didn’t.
As I was getting ready to tattoo Chris again, I asked him if they had a good summer, and that’s when he told me about Roxy.
“Not so good,” he said.
Roxy had developed some kind of mental illness that would come and go randomly, switching with no apparent reason between a lovely dog and a snarling and growling one.
A crucial fact in this family’s life was when Charlotte was bitten by Roxy. For no apparent reason, while Roxy was asleep being petted by Charlotte, she suddenly woke up and bit her owner in the face, seriously cutting her upper lips in 2 places. It must have been a dramatic moment for both. Charlotte wasn’t initially aware of the gravity of the situation. She could have lost her nose.
Two months have passed since then, Charlotte has recovered and the scars can barely be seen due to great prompt treatment by the NHS.
While Chris was telling me all this, I started to wonder what his (and Charlotte’s) thoughts would now be towards Roxy, and more specifically about Roxy’s portrait on his upper arm. At the moment I thought about what would have been if Charlotte had lost her nose, or an eye, or an ear…
And what about the unfortunate tragic possibility of this dog attacking a child? Poor Roxy, bless her, she was ill, but what would have been the fate of this tattoo, and the feelings towards the portrait? Would Chris still be happy to live with it? And Charlotte? Would she be ok looking at the portrait of the dog that could have damaged her face permanently? I’m not defending any points here. I’m only raising some questions, as this sad story made me think about it.
Roxy has been put to sleep at home. She is dearly missed.
Now what’s left is memories, a little scar and a tattoo.