The taboo of the tattoo certainly isn't what it used to be. Whether you've seen them on your favorite celebrity or musician or your next-door neighbor, or have watched a tattoo-shop reality show, it's apparent that more and more people are going under the gun to get some epidermal artwork.
"I've seen it change it so fast," said Tommy Ray Cornett, owner of Bleed Blue Tattoo and Piercing in Lexington. "It's almost like it's going through its renaissance."
That said, Cornett and other shop owners will tell you that tattoo fever hasn't caught on quite as strongly in the Bluegrass State, and a lack of tattoo festivals and conventions in Kentucky drives the point home.
But this weekend, Central Kentucky's presence in the tattoo landscape will take a step forward with the first Bluegrass Ink n' Arts Festival at The Lexington Center's Heritage Hall.
The festival got its start when Cornett, who also works for a local mixed-martial arts promotion company and through Artful Designs, wanted to put an event together that would highlight the region's tattoo talent.
"There's nothing really in Kentucky. There's been a couple of shows here and there, ... but they never really make a splash," he said.
The Bluegrass Ink n' Arts Festival will feature Bleed Blue, along with local shops including Studio Ink Tattoo and Charmed Life Tattoo. In addition, 12 other shops will have booths at the event, including regional tattoo businesses and nationally renowned All or Nothing Tattoo, based in Atlanta. Plus, tattoo legend Lyle Tuttle will be in attendance for the entire festival, offering a machine seminar for artists.
Scott Sheene, manager of Studio Ink Tattoo in Lexington, has been a tattoo artist for eight years and has traveled with Studio Ink to tattoo conventions all across the country and in England. Sheene sees the Bluegrass Ink n' Arts Festival as a chance for everyone — not just ink addicts — to see what today's tattoo artists can create.
"There's a whole lot of people out there that still see tattoo as a limited medium," Sheene said. "You're really kind of opening people's eyes."
The Bluegrass Ink n' Arts Festival will feature tattoo contests each day for black-and-gray and color work. Live music will be featured each evening, with a local and regional music lineup ranging from bluegrass to hard rock. Cornett called it as "one of the most diverse mixes of music I think I've ever seen."
Along with the tunes, the fest will have a roller derby bout featuring the Roller Girls of Central Kentucky playing a team from Knoxville, a Miss Bluegrass Ink n' Arts pageant, sideshows and a burlesque troupe (albeit a tame version, because organizers would like this to be a family event). And alongside the tattoo booths and vendors will be representatives from Lexington arts and crafts and other businesses, which Cornett said was meant to give the event a distinctive touch.
"I kind of want to make this one a little more homey, kind of showcase the Bluegrass and an indigenous vibe to it for people outside the state," he said.
Obviously, Cornett would like to turn this into an annual event that brings attention to local tattoo artists and businesses. But he said it's also a way to put tattoo art in the conversation with other media in the art world.
"There's a bit of a divide between tattoo arts and regular fine arts," Cornett said. "I'd like to try to bridge that gap a little bit."