British Tattoo Art Exhibition

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One of the things that makes Cornwall so special is it’s rich history. Nowhere breathes life into the past as well as the National Maritime Museum Cornwall.

During your next visit to Watergate Bay, you could see the work of cutting edge designers, leading academics and major private collectors at British Tattoo Art Revealed.

Until next January, the Falmouth based museum will play host to a new exhibition: “a genuinely ground-breaking and comprehensive history of British tattooing”.


It tells a story that challenges long-standing myths and pre-conceptions about tattooing when it comes to class, gender and age, whilst at the same time giving a voice to and celebrating the astonishingly rich artistic heritage of tattooing as an art form in the UK.

Read on for highlights chosen by Co-curators Derryth Ridge and Stuart Slade of National Maritime Museum Cornwall.

1. The 100 Hands installation

Tattoos are a living and uniquely three dimensional form of art. The Museum has responded 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. As a whole, the quality and diversity of this work is astonishing.

This exhibit represents a major achievement for any Museum, and creates an important artistic legacy for future generations – an archival ‘snapshot’ of a form of art all too often lost to the ravages of time.

2. The Sailor Knight banner

Travelling tattoo banner. A rare surviving artefact from around the 1920s showing exquisite artistic talent. A precious relic of tattooing’s rich history.

The exhibition showcases the largest collection of original British tattoo objects ever displayed to the general public.

3. Aimée Cornwell’s commission

The exhibition also includes three major contemporary art commissions from three tattoo artists working in three very different tattoo traditions. Each artist will create a unique design on a hyper realistic body sculpture which will speak to the historic artifacts and artworks around it.

In response to stories in the exhibition about Captain Cook’s voyages to the Pacific, 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.

4. Master tattoo artist Lal Hardy’s recreated studio

Tattoo artist Lal Hardy has lent some of his personal collection of tattoo memorabilia to the exhibition. Considered the ‘king of tattooists’, Hardy is known for his tattoos of the punk generation and still runs a hugely popular tattoo parlour in London today.

Lal’s interest in tattooing began through his family who had tattoos, and was further ignited by the Teddy Boy & Punk Rock revival during the late 70’s/early 80’s. During this time Lal found the perfect niche in tattooing designs onto the flesh of large quantities of the London masses. Lal first opened the doors to New Wave Tattoo in 1979 and is still tattooing there today.

5. Over 400 artefacts and artworks

British Tattoo Art Revealed features over 400 artefacts & artworks including memorabilia donated by Alex Binnie @abinniepaperandskin from his renowned shop ‘Into You’ which sadly closed in 2016. Photo Paul Abbitt