When we started the Featured Artist Program, our goal was to highlight the creative breadth and depth of tattooing today. One of the first people we called was Savannah Colleen.
Savannah Colleen is good. Really good. Having apprenticed under Russ Abbott at Ink & Dagger and joining that shop as an artist full time less than 3 years ago, Savannah has become a known entity in many tattooing circles. As we wrote in our description of Savannah's work, she "explores the intersection of high art, nature, ornamental design, and the human form." This description does her a disservice- we blame the space on the back of the box.
Savannah Colleen, who is primarily situated a ornamental blackworker, draws from myriad sources. Most evident in her work is the influence of the pre-war Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements- like her artistic forebears, she utilizes abstracted and essentialized organic forms for ornamental and representational purposes. That the Arts and Crafts movement was ultimately a syncretic folk art movement which drew from sources as varied as the dying Delftware industry (itself borrowing heavily from if not outright copying Ming Wanli and Qing era blue and white work), late Dark Age manuscript illumination, Persian carpetry knotting, and İznik pottery helps explain some of the tremendous variety of forms that Savannah seems comfortable tattooing.
But even that description shortchanges Savannah, as it could be read to suggest that she is simply following the well-trod path of others. While some of her recent full and half-sleeve magnolias are clearly part of the same artistic tradition that produced William Morris' "Tulip and Willow" wood-blocks for fabric or John Dearle's "Artichoke" motifs, Savannah moves past the rote repetition of organic design forms. In fact, it is Savannah's humor and self-awareness highlights the clarity of her artistic voice. A clear example of this is a recent outer space half-sleeve; a perfectly executed astronaut's skull ensconced in delicate peonies is a comical atomic age memento mori that at once embraces the progenitor art form while poking fun at the forms self-seriousness.
Nonetheless, there are two clear philosophical through-lines from the standpoint of praxis and purpose between the Arts and Crafts movement and Savannah Colleen's work today.
First, like many Arts and Crafts designers, Savannah Colleen is something of a Luddite. While she doesn't reject tattoo machines, she remains very committed to analog drawing and stenciling practices. Savannah's light table is a focal point of her craft. As C.R. Ashbee, a major figure in late 19th-Century design, noted, "We do not reject the machine, we welcome it. But we would desire to see it mastered." It is precisely this mastery of the (tattoo) machine that clearly defines Savannah Colleen's practice. An impeccable line, a vaporous stipple, the occasional wash of color or seamless gray-wash gradation- Savannah tattoos like someone with tremendously more experience than she has. This grasp and mastery of tattooing technique is unusual and suggests that Savannah Colleen is nowhere near her technical plateau.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, Savannah seems to live and breathe the words of architect Owen Jones, who said "Ornament ... must be secondary to the thing decorated." This is no more evident than the piece Savannah submitted to us. When we began contacting tattoo artists, we set no restrictions on the artwork. Artists were free to submit whatever work they chose. Savannah Colleen submitted an image that shows a full bodysuit. This, we believe, explains the way Savannah Colleen understands tattooing: an art form that serves to compliment and accentuate the human body. An art form that derives elevated meaning in context. Or to paraphrase Jones, "the tattoo... must be secondary to the person."
Ultimately, we would like to thank Savannah Colleen deeply for working with us and allowing us to showcase her work. It has been a true honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to collaborate with her, and it has taken tremendous amounts of patience to keep quiet about this box.
Savannah Colleen's home studio is Ink & Dagger in Atlanta. She will be tattooing in Oakland and Los Angeles in April, New York City in June, and Portland in July. Contact her for availability.