Why you should care
That skull inked on someone’s arm might also look good on a wall.
Close your eyes and imagine a tattoo artist at work. What do you see? Maybe a brawny guy hunched over a client in a sterile-looking studio, gripping their arm as he applies a scowling skull, a Japanese-style dragon or perhaps even some brightly colored flowers? Either way, “fine art” probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
But that’s what publisher Raking Light Projects sees. From intricate woodcuts and colorful screen prints to glossy photo books and original artwork, the company hawks work from artists that transcends the boundaries of what most normally consider “tattoo art.”
Like the geometric, macabre creations of Texas-based artist Thomas Hooper, who saturates his original paintings with dark, dynamic colors that evoke an ominous intergalactic fantasy. Or Robert Ryan, a New Jersey tattooer whose psychedelic interpretations of classic tattoo themes — like skulls and tigers — as well as South Asian religious motifs, burst off the prints in bold hues and kaleidoscopic patterns. And in the colorful travelogue 50 States, where Chad Koeplinger of Nashville, Tennessee, documents in words and images his journey tattooing clients across America. A tattoo fanatic, I was first attracted by an artist I recognized — and then surprised by the sheer variety of artists available. Prints start at between $30–$75 (original artwork ranges from hundreds to thousands of dollars).
I like the immediacy of it, and I think that it works in a fine art context as well as a tattoo context.
Andrew Fingerhut, Raking Light Projects
A brainchild of entrepreneur Andrew Fingerhut and renowned West Coast tattooer Eddy Deutsche, Raking Light was conceived in Los Angeles around seven years ago. A longtime client of Deutsche’s, Fingerhut saw the true artistry in tattoos — beyond the ubiquitous stencils that typically adorn studio walls — and wanted to share the art with a wider audience, in book and print formats. These days, the company, which works with printers based in several cities across the country, handpicks the artists and splits the profits with them. Raking Light prioritizes traditional hands-on methods, such as letterpress and screen printing, though it also produces digital prints when the art calls for it.
The goal, Fingerhut says, is to get the work “in front of a wider audience,” and not just those interested in tattoos in their typical form. But it’s a two-way street: Raking Light also hopes to expose ink lovers to the possibilities of tattoos as fine art. Fingerhut, who grew up going to museums with his artistically inclined mother, says much of it never quite sank in for him. Tattoo-based art, he says, is different: “I like the immediacy of it, and I think that it works in a fine art context as well as a tattoo context.” That’s why he believes it’s capable of drawing a wider crowd. “It just opens up a lot more avenues,” Fingerhut adds, “and I think that’s a positive thing to do.”
Fingerhut hopes to one day open a brick-and-mortar gallery where viewers can appreciate these artists’ work in the, ahem, flesh. Because if there’s anything the company wants to show, it’s that this stuff can look equally cool gracing the walls of your home as it does on your skin.