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Finer points of creativity

Tattooing colors debate over what constitutes art

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

E.J. Banas, of Utica, left, is tatooed by Josh Payne Tuesday at Ascend Gallery in Cortland. “It’s going to be awesome,” Banas said.

E.J. Banas sat Tuesday in a chair at Ascend Gallery on Central Avenue in Cortland and received a tattoo on his arm.

The tattoo, a Japanese-style snake with flowers, covered a portion of Banas’ forearm. “This is huge for me,” Banas said.

The art would help show off a part of his body he was always self conscious about. Banas, of Utica, has a condition that causes fatty deposits to grow on his body.

Artist Josh Payne was tattooing Banas. “I want to show the world art that is beautiful,” said Payne, who has been tattooing for 15 years.

Even before Payne had finished the tattoo Banas was eager to have something to show people and to be proud of. “It’s going to be awesome,” Banas said.

A week before Banas sat in the chair to get tattooed, Payne shared a stage in Las Vegas with two other tattoo artists on the T.V. show “Ink Master” as they waited for their tattoos to be critiqued and see who would win the title of ink master, $100,000 and a feature in “Ink Magazine.”

The sample of Josh Payne’s work shows tattoos are not all skulls, flowers or eagles. The portrait Payne tattooed could resemble a piece of art seen in a gallery.

The final tattoo featured a battle royale scene between a dragon, eagle and snake tattooed on a person’s chest. Spoiler alert — Payne won.

Tattoos are commercial, even a sensationalized form, but others might see the artwork blur the lines of fine art — the same field as an oil painting hanging in a museum.

However, while the show highlights the culture and world around tattoos, not everyone likes it. Some do like what the show does with the tattoo world. “One cool thing is it’s opening eyes up (to tattooing),” said Chris Mac, a tattoo artist at Sacred Art Tattoo in Cortland.

One medium to another

Payne, the winner of Paramount Network’s season 10 of “Ink Master,” has been trying to stay out of the public eye following the season finale March 24. “I just hung out with family and friends,” he said Tuesday afternoon at Ascend Gallery 15 Central Ave. in Cortland.

Tuesday was his first day back to work since his big win.

This tattoo by artist Josh Payne depicts a snake coated in an array of colors. The tattoo on the subject’s arm shows off a use of bold lines and color.

Originally from Newark Valley, Tioga County, Payne, a 31-year-old tattoo artist competed against 24 other tattoo artists to reach the finale and win.

“I had an absolute blast doing the show,” Payne said. “but it really feels good to be back here.”

Since his return to Cortland, Payne said things have been “overwhelmingly positive.”

“I got to show people around here that if they bust their ass,” good things can happen, Payne said.

But is that fine art?

‘Art can be anything’

A New York Times article from 2013 said it best ,said Melissa Sarat, a painter and fine artist in Cortland. “Art can be anything.”

Sarat, who is in her 60s, specializes in oil paintings. She described her work as large-scale allegorical paintings. Her paintings consist of a variety of subjects from fruit and flowers to people.

She has been creating art since she was a child.

What makes art fine art is a perception, one Sarat has difficulty explaining. She considers her work fine art, but couldn’t really explain why. “I think with my work, I work to put down and portray a vision of my reality,” Sarat said.

The New York Times article Sarat referenced, “Tattooing Makes Transition From Cult to Fine Art,” said that up until recently, or 2013 when the article was written, the integration of tattoos into the art world was mostly within the performance art category. However, tattoos have moved away from that. They’re no longer part of the cult scene and have been embraced by the art world, particularly in areas where art and fashion meet.

Artists go inside themselves. Sarat said. As they look at the world outside, they filter it through their selves. That’s the art, and a tattoo artist can do it, as well.

However, what makes art fine art is up to debate, Sarat said. Put a group of artists together and they’ll debate.

Is it fine art because it’s oil on canvas rather than ink on skin? What about acrylics, or watercolors, or sculpture? Is it commercial art simply because people pay for it? Then what about portrait painters who work on commission?

If anything, the difference between fine art and commercial art is the role of the artist in creating the message. If the artist creates or interprets the message, that’s fine art. If the artist simply applies it to the canvas — skin or cloth or paper — that’s commercial art.

Art can be a piece drawn in the mud or dirt with a stick or cave paintings even drawings on the walls of a prison cell, Sarat said. “Art can be done in any kind of way,” she said.

Artists and tattooers

Mac and Carrie Kash, owner of Sacret Art Tattoo, phrase it a little differently, specific to their medium: There are artists, and there are tattooers.

Tattoo was once a fine art, then grew commercialized as apparently every college girl decided they needed one, she said. It’s become a sensation.

However, Mac said, tattoos are no longer just a Tasmanian devil chasing a roadrunner. People can now get a portrait of a their grandmother holding their child, or an allegorical image of courage and strength known as the Koi fish.

“It’s come a long ways,” Mac said.

Mac added that tattoos are also no longer limited to dated designs. “We’re not doing flashwork,” Kash said.

The window is no longer small, he said, it’s expansive as different artists develop their own specialties.

And that’s the difference between an artist and a tattooer. Mac said some people express their art through the tattoos while other do a tattoo just for the sale.

“Tattooing has become another medium,” Mac said.

Payne said that while the application process of tattoos are still the same, artists can explore new techniques, ideas and messages.

An opportunity Payne might have come October is a trip to Israel and the chance to tattoo people who were victims of violence. “We (tattoo artists) are getting to use our art to help people through times like that,” Payne said. “It’s a really incredible thing.”

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