Hot! 101 Most Influential People in Tattoo (No. 15)—Guy Aitchison

Guy Aitchison

Just as a reminder, folks on this 101 list are there because of their influence on the current tattoo scene, not necessarily because I’m crazy for their artwork. This is about power, not just artistic ability. I’m probably going to get the shit for this, but, to me, Guy Aitchison (pronounced Ā-cha-son, with a long A, like “acorn”) is tattoo’s version of Michael Flatley, the Irish-American choreographer who invented the dance phenomenon Riverdance. Aitchison, like Flatley, took a basic form (in Aitchison’s case, tattooing; in Flatley’s case, Irish dance) and made it into something some folks in this often surprising world of body art consider “bigger, better and more exciting” than anything that had come before.

Flatley, a Chicago boy, who, by the way, holds the record for something outrageous like tapping over thirty-five taps per second, got famous by reworking a fairly repetitive traditional dance style and turned it into something more akin to Circ de Soleil than its more structured and historic antecedents. Similarly, Aitchison began tattooing in 1988 and, relatively quickly, established himself among the pantheon of tattoo notables, leaving behind traditional, Sailor-Jerry-Collins-based simplicity and adapting his own particular painting style to designs he energetically transplanted to people’s skin. Primarily abstract in nature, with lots of depth-of-field, many in the tattoo world simply described him as “the guy who does the whirlpools.” Yes, much of his work features infinitely resolving circles and cornucopias of color. And lots of people like that. Paul Booth, for example. And Filip Leu. Two of the most prestigious tattoo artists in the world. While, personally, I don’t care for Aitchison’s swirls and whirls, I figured if Booth and Leu said he was good, he must be.

I guess what significantly added to Aitcheson’s cred was his lectures and seminars. He worked very hard to create a tight little universe of classes, books, websites and other various jams and jellies, all for an ardent fan base thirsting for Guy’s trademark vortexes and chaos-es of color. Maybe “chaos” is a bad work. It’s more like Van Gogh on acid: controlled but flamboyant. Me, I prefer a mermaid in a hula skirt, when it comes to tattoos. Aitchison, however, doesn’t really draw mermaids, or dragons, for that matter. At least not in the traditional tattoo sense. Guy’s reputation was, instead  built on his characteristic splashes of color and painterly hallucinations. Needless to say, bringing this unique approach into the tattoo mainstream is quite an achievement and has won him a tremendous amount of acclaim.

So, if you are into Aitchison, there are several excellent books, tapes, clothing and others related jams and jellies that you can obtain by perusing his remarkable website. When it comes to creating a style and coming up with all the facets and subtleties associated in support of that style, Aitchison has a lock on it. He’s an excellent entrepreneur, that’s for sure. I think what opened my eyes was a gallery show he held several years ago in Venice, California. I heard about it through the grapevine and thought I’d see what his paintings on canvas looked like. Two things I noticed: (1) his paintings on canvas were exactly like his tattoos and (2) Guy was the only person in the entire gallery who was a tattoo artist. Maybe he scared them all away.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the well written article.
    What I liked most, for me, was that it came from a sense of balance. I think that Mr. Atchinson did change the direction of tattooing for quite a few people (customers and tattooers alike) once they saw his work in the same manner that Tom Ptolemy may have done for the UK scene and Mick from Zurich and Felix or Filip Leu has done for the continent. It is not always that you have to like someone’s work (be it music, film, art, architecture or WHY) it really is more, at least in my opinion, of what does it do or how does it influence others?
    I believe Guy’s sister’s work is most excellent and no doubt he was an influence on her.

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