Some things do not need an explanation.
I get asked about this tattoo more often than I prefer.
|This was taken moments after it was finished. It is lighter now. Blurrier around the edges, and the ink is gray.|
I never have time to tell it's full story. Usually, I'm not given the chance. I'm simply asked to turn or to lift a short sleeve or to otherwise accommodate the curiosity of a non-acquaintance gawker whose short attention span will momentarily be focused upon my body. I typically acquiesce.
"What is it?"
"Is it a cover up?"
Once, a dad, standing behind me in a line at the Minnesota state fair, nodded down knowingly to his pre-teen son to incorrectly but authoritatively state, "That's a cover up. She used to have something else."
To which I turned, and returned, "It's not a cover up."
Most recently, in a supermarket, a brief disagreement between the checker and the bag boy regarding the honesty of my answer to the cover up question.
Bag boy: "Well, I guess some wouldn't want to admit if it was, if they made a mistake."
Checker: "No, usually people tell you if it's a cover up."
Me: What the hell is this conversation? Can I please leave? Can I run from here with my almond milk as fast as possible? In the delicate balance I'm maintaining between grimacing silence and faux-polite yet sarcastic laughter, is my irritation registering?
Later: Was I too bitchy?
It's just that it's not a cover up, and I hadn't thought about that misread before I made this decision. I do not want people to think this is part of some mistake or accident. (They do anyhow.) This was a decision. An impulsive one, but a decision no less. An image was chosen.
That images is a fashion illustration.
It comes from a book found by a friend inside of Powell's Books in Portland. Powell's is wonderful place. Two best friends and I were certain we could find tattoo inspiration in Powell's.
It was decided that we would all three get fashion illustrations as tattoos. I had narrowed it down to a couple, but this one was the one. The more I looked at it, the more I liked this idea of a blobby black blob shadow of a lady. She would grace the back of my arm.
And so we found a lovely tattoo shop.
I was in the loveliest tattoo shop, with my lovely friends, getting an ugly tattoo. It's not actually ugly, just, you know, unconventional?
The image itself is an illustration by Mats Gustafson from Italian Vogue, 1997. On the Mats Gustafson page on Fashion Illustration Gallery, I also found this. Which I also like.
The illustration that is on my arm is of a fleeting moment during a Comme des Garcons runway show for the Spring 1997 line, the "Lumps and Bumps" collection. I believe that the illustration is based on the center image, below. Or, at least it is likely based on some other version of that particular dress. And I like to believe, though I cannot be sure, that the image is of her walking away, as seen from the back (with plush kidney and candy corn attached).
This is forever on my arm. I can't explain it well when people speak to me about it. But recently I found validation. I've been spending much more time than ever before with girl children. There are four of them presently in my life, two sets of sisters who are part of two different families. Separately, I've been told, "I like the princess the best," and, "I like the lady." One is four, the other six. They are incredibly interested in seeing my tattoos. I liked the princess compliment. My young friend was able to see past the dark, shadowed, asymmetrical surface of ink embedded in skin, straight through to the billows of silk and tulle that fill out the imaginary skirt on this shadow of a woman's form.
A tattoo of an illustration of a runway photo of a dress that forms part of a collection borne of a vision and a dream. These shapes and forms remind me of how consciousness and the unconscious spark into a potential to create something extraordinary and thoughtful, singular and still somehow familiar. The trace of creativity is handed over from one person to another in this series of connections from Japan in the late 1990s, to my upper arm in the middle of nowhere in 2012. The impression on my skin is not about reproduction or simulacra, but a remembrance of an attractive idea.
Maybe now I can stop worrying what other people think of it.