From recycled cigarette butts and used tires to bubble gum, art institutions recognize and display pieces created in a wide variety of media. Tattoo artists are striving to make sure their work is similarly acknowledged.
That drive to bridge the worlds of fine art and skin art is the impetus behind "'Til Death," an art show opening tonight at Triple 7 Studio, a tattoo shop on M.L. King Boulevard.
The exhibition, which will be on display through March, will feature about 15 artists and 45 works, including paintings, sketches, sculpture and pen-and-ink drawings based on interpretations of the theme of love ('til death do us part).
About half the artists on display also tattoo at local studios, and the hope is to demonstrate that tattooing as a medium is changing, said organizer and Triple 7 tattoo artist Jennifer Edge.
"We're trying to merge the communities," Edge said. "It's allowing people to see that (tattooing) is still art, just carried in a different way.
"We've joked about putting that on the wall (of the studio), that 'Art is the reason.'"
This is the second show the studio has hosted. The first, which was held in November, exhibited works based on a Day of the Dead theme.
The interpretations this time are even more diverse, from humorous to macabre to romantic, said Edge, who has five pieces in the show she said are more sentimental than dark.
All the pieces in the exhibition will be available for sale. Prices will range from $300-$400.
Triple 7 owner Brent Humphreys said he will continue to host art shows in the studio and is already planning two more this year.
IF YOU GO
• What: "'Til Death" art exhibit.
• When: Opening 8 p.m.-midnight, today. Gallery open through March 31.
• Where: Triple 7 Studio, 233 E. M.L. King Blvd.
• Admission: Free.
• Phone: 702-5401.
• Website: www.tattoochattanooga.com
The downtown Marriott Hotel, 2 Carter Plaza, will host March 11-13 the first Chattanooga Full Moon Tattoo and Horror Fest. The festival will include about 30 tattoo booths, along with a schedule of events that includes appearances by horror movie actors, tattoo contests, seminars and live entertainment. One-day passes are $15; two-day passes are $25; three-day passes are $35. For more information, visit www.fullmooninc.net.
Both Humphreys and Edge came to tattooing as a way to create art while still taking home a regular paycheck. By offering local artists, tattoo and traditional, a chance to get their work in the public eye, Humphreys said he hopes to give them the same opportunity.
"Many of these artists who bring art in have to sit in a cubicle or serve people alcohol for dinner when they'd rather be at home painting," he said. "It's really hard to create a bridge from it being a hobby to being a job, so I'm trying to create that bridge."
Humphreys added that he hopes the shows will have a reciprocal effect for the traditional artists as well.
"The average person has lost an appreciation for fine art, but now, tattooing has gotten them inspired," he said. "The same people who spend $1,000 on a tattoo are also spending $500 on that same tattoo artist's original art. I've seen it happen in other cities, and I'm hoping that it can happen here."
Humphreys' non-tattooing art deals primarily in portraiture, added that his and Edge's familiarity with fine arts reflects a growing trend in the tattoo industry.
For Edge's birthday last year, Humphreys tattooed a depiction of Jacques-Louis David's neoclassical painting "The Death of Marat" on her right forearm. With more traditional artists working in custom shops like Triple 7, that level of quality is becoming more common, Edge said.
"You see people go in and walk out with a painting on their arm," she said. "If I was 18 and had known then that this is what I wanted to do, I would be covered in (paintings by Jacques-Louis) David."
Tattoo artists with fine-arts backgrounds is just one component contributing to tattoos becoming more mainstream. The increasing popularity of reality TV programs like "Ink Wars" and "Miami Ink" is also altering the public's perceptions, artists said.
"People see these shows and realize that you don't have to be a thug or a biker to come in and get a tattoo," said tattoo artist Jake Eaves, who will have three pieces in "'Til Death."
A life-long artist, Eaves began working at American Ink on Brainerd Road two years ago. He said there has been an influx of customers since programs about tattooing culture began airing.
"We have police officers and doctors and teachers-respectable members of the community- who are coming in and getting beautiful tattoos. It's really good for business."