TwoThreeNine sat down with local artist Karen Tharp and tattoo artist Mark Stewart to unravel their thoughts about what art from the 239 entails. Tharp who recently moved back to Fort Myers after graduating from Florida State finds inspiration from the flora in the 239. She forms ideas from the feelings she has toward moving back home and all the people she has met and shared experiences with. Stewart is inspired by a variety of past and present tattooists. He is a firm believer in improving a design as to make it his own while staying true to the original. Skateboarding for most of his life, Stewart is also creatively stimulated from the art and images associated with skateboarding.
‘If you could describe the style that comes out of our area, what kind of qualities does it possess?’
Karen Tharp: Bright. Colors. Lizards. Waves. Lord, the style here is a lot to look at. When I think of a quintessential SoFla color scheme, for some reason I picture a metal lizard I saw a few years back at a craft fair. I think it represents the majority of art here really well. The lizard had a hot pink head, a bright blue body, an acid green tail, and a thick egg-yolk stripe flowing down its back, with lavender and navy dots all over it. Somehow, the lizard pulled this color scheme off (much like that cool kid who didn’t look awkward on clash day in middle school, they just owned their paisley-plaid combo), and I remember him and his comrades selling very well (they were a few feet long and meant to be hung on the wall). When I think of Florida art I see colors before shapes, as many artists either try to capture a sunset spectrum or the brightest flora around. Then, the entirety of the fauna here is represented – from dolphins to alligators to birds, birds, and more birds. I think the look of SoFla is so visually enticing and overwhelming that all the art is trying to capture it in some way or another… and things get out of hand sometimes.
‘What is your personal tattooing style?’
Mark Stewart: My personal tattooing style is mainly American traditional tattoos and my own version of it. I love all the classic designs like eagles and ships and roses. They are timeless designs that people have been getting for over 50 years and will continue to get for years to come. I’m not into what’s trendy at the time because you don’t want what’s cool today may not be cool tomorrow and definitely not a year from now. Although it’s not what I think people should get doesn’t mean I won’t do it. I always do a consultation with all of my clients to ensure that they are turning their idea into the best tattoo possible. I also love doing traditional Japanese tattoos. Japanese tattooing has been around way longer than American style tattooing and will continue to be timeless. Japanese tattooing is great for large scale pieces. I just finished a few arm sleeves and am currently working on an entire Japanese dragon leg sleeve from waist to ankle.
‘Can you talk a little about what kind of art you make?’
Karen Tharp: Think of an intricate pen-drawing; now think of that same image cut out of a sheet of paper. That’s what I do, I cut paper really intricately. Going to art school is a really interesting thing because it pushes you to try a baffling number of mediums, and then you get oddly obsessed with one and continue it as a pseudo-career, and then you have awkward I-cut-paper conversations with new friends.
‘Why do you think tattooing should be seen as an art rather than a trend?
Mark Stewart: Tattooing should definitely be seen as an art rather than a trend because it has been around for centuries from ancient tribes to Japanese warriors to sailors in world war. It has become trendy with TV shows and everyone thinking they can open a shop and make a buck, but that will all die off and the true respectable tattooists will remain. Every tattoo I do and every one at my shop is custom and drawn up for each individual customer, we never do the same thing twice.
‘What is a favorite piece you have made so far and why?’
Karen Tharp: “Penelope” is my favorite so far, it is an oval 13 x 9 sheet of paper that took around 50 hours to cut, and is part of a body of work named Flora, which showed at Cool Hand Luc’s a few months ago. The piece circles around the idea of Penelope from the Odyssey, though I vary rarely reference literature in my work because I love for anyone to be able to understand and enjoy a piece without having some previous knowledge. So, in the story, Penelope is weaving a burial shroud as a way to put off agreeing to be married to one of many eager suitors as she waits for her love, Odysseus, to return. Each day she weaves, and by night she takes it all apart to put off finishing. I love the inherent tedium in her process, and the text within the piece reads “It’s kind of like Penelope, only I’m not waiting for you to come back.” Within the piece I cut a Royal Ponderosa, which is my favorite tree in this town.
‘What is a favorite piece you have done so far and why?’
Mark Stewart: My favorite tattoo I have done so far is the leg sleeve I did on my friend Erin. Mostly because it was fun to do and the first entire leg I have ever done and it has won us many awards. She is a great friend and client and made the tattoo really fun to work on. My job is my passion and my favorite thing to do. How many people do you know that can say that?
‘What future plans do you have for you and your artwork? Do you have any upcoming showings or exhibits?’
Karen Tharp: Currently, I’m embarking upon a new body of work named Panorama. I’ve asked friends all over the world to take a panoramic stream of pictures in the place they live, and I am cutting these streams of images into really wide panoramic images. I feel it’s a way to stay connected with everyone even though we’re so very spread out. I intend to show this body of work somewhere in South Florida this spring or summer.
‘What influenced or interested you to start tattooing?’
Mark Stewart: I have been drawing and painting since I can remember. So I definitely wanted to do something with art as a career. My sister got me into tattoos and since I couldn’t afford to go to art school, tattooing seemed like a good idea. My sister also helped me land my apprenticeship. I have now been tattooing for 9 years and have owned my own shop for 6.