It’s Saturday morning and the sun is shining as a tattooed crowd descends upon seafront venue The Brighton Centre. The multi-coloured skin of those attending can only mean one thing: it’s the 9th annual Brighton Tattoo Convention.
This year sees a change of venue for the international congregation of artists – some of the best that the world of ink has to offer. In previous years the convention was held the Hilton just a few metres down the seafront, so we’re curious as to how the new venue will play out and whether any changes will be successful.
Upon entering the building, we are confronted with The Lead Room, a car show in collaboration with JackHammer Speed Shop, featuring custom American cars that date from the 1940s up until the 1960s. We know what you’re thinking – a car show at a tattoo convention? It seems a little out of the ordinary, but it definitely works as an unexpected and spectacular entrance, and it’s something that would have been difficult to achieve in the former venue.
A selection of lifestyle stands on the ground floor piques our interest momentarily, but we quickly move on to the main attraction – the artists’ stands, upstairs. We’re pleased to report that the layout instantly seems much less cramped and easier to navigate than previous years and the purpose-built space of The Brighton Centre is the perfect location to lose yourself in the work (rather than losing yourself in the confusing layout).
On to the artists themselves, the overall standard is sky-high, with loads of different styles and techniques of tattooing from traditional machine-free tattooing (Maori Ta Moko or Icelandic stick ‘n’ pokes) to colourful neo-traditional and everything in between. Many artists offer walk-up appointments, meaning you can choose from available tattoo flash and get it done there and then if you’re feeling impulsive.
The sheer number of artists (almost 300) means there’s a lot to look at but there are other attractions, such as the barber expo, an in-house barbershop with the best talent from across the pond and at home, which includes local traditional barbers (and streetwear brand) AONO. With the worlds of tattoo art and barber lifestyle inextricably linked, they’re a good fit for the convention (this is their fourth year here).
Also worth mentioning is the exhibition of work by Valeria Marinaci, ‘Tattoo Identity – Women in the History Of Tattooing’. Whilst tattooing is often associated with masculinity, Marinaci (Higgins & co., Eastbourne) challenges this narrative with 21 depictions of tattooed women from various indigenous tribes from around the globe. It’s a fascinating investigation into the role of women as both tattooer and tattooed, and is a welcome addition to the many sights on offer.
As well as the aforementioned lifestyle stands, which include clothing, prints and jewellery (special mention to Tessa Metcalfe and her gorgeous pigeon-claw rings set with rare stones), this year feels even more plentiful in terms of tattoo merch, largely thanks to the number of artists cottoning on to the fact that people who like their designs will probably also like them in the form of stickers, prints, postcards, and even T-shirts. Chances are even if you don’t leave today with a new piece of ink, you won’t leave empty-handed.
The only downfall we could possibly think of this weekend is the lack of food and drink options available within the building. The Brighton Centre has a couple of cafes/bars within the venue, but it’s overpriced and fairly limited. The only other food we come across is vegan pakora stand Cashew, likely the only vegan option in the building (probably the reason for its presence). Pakora is delicious, but it would be nice to see a wider range available, like in previous years (this is us officially requesting a return of the vegan cake stall).
We leave the venue satisfied with our purchases and excited to book in with some newly discovered artists, albeit without any new ink ourselves. There’s always next year…
By Alice Hudson