BIG READ: Are tattoos still taboo?Â

Deemed distasteful or downright unnecessary to some, the subject of tattoos has long caused certain factions of society to butt heads.Â

Friday, 17th August 2018, 5:30 pm
Updated Sunday, 2nd September 2018, 10:09 pm
Derryth Ridges at the British Tattoo Art Revealed exhibition at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, in Portsmouth

  Whether you love them, hate them or are blissfully indifferent, long-dwelling stereotypes surround the notion of what kind of person it takes to have permanent art on their skin. 

Sailors, soldiers, the working class and historically, even  freak shows, are a few of the groups that would, at one time, have leapt to mind when thinking of tattoos.  

But have opinions on needlework ultimately changed '“ and is there still a taboo about tattoos? 

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Pompey super fan John Westwood

With between 35 and 40 tattoos to her name, it is safe to say Derryth Ridge '“ whose thigh inking is pictured on the front page '“ is a  well-versed supporter of this form of visual expression. 

And as the co-curator of the largest ever tattoo-related exhibition in a British museum, currently on-display at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, she says she has seen attitudes on tattoos change before her eyes. 

'˜The British Tattoo Art Revealed exhibition originates from the National Maritime Museum in Cornwall but is in Portsmouth as part of its tour, until January 6,' the 37-year-old explains. 

'˜We were met with quite a lot of resistance when we pitched the idea initially, as the museum in the west country is mainly volunteer-led and many of those people are of retirement age. 

Managing director of Dynamite Recruitment Solutions, Matt Fox

'˜They didn't understand why the museum would be telling this story and didn't previously appreciate the history behind it '“ but the moment they saw the exhibition in its entirety, all that absolutely changed.' 

Boasting more than 300 artefacts, the display aims to provide a comprehensive history of tattooing in Britain '“ shining a light on the armed forces' relationship with the art, as well as techniques adopted throughout the years to create it. 

Such a show, to Derryth and many other enthusiasts, is awe-inspiring '“ but she appreciates it would not appeal to everyone. 

'˜I adore the way tattoos look and the artwork that goes into them, but some people really dislike them '“ even my dad doesn't care for mine at all,' she says. 

'˜But that's all down to opinion and I respect that completely. If everybody was into the same things or shared the same beliefs this world would be extremely boring. 

'˜Tattoos have become far more accepted than they once were, but of course they won't be everybody's cup of tea.' 

One man renowned in Portsmouth and beyond for his inkings is John Westwood '“ a Petersfield  bookseller by trade and a Pompey fanatic when match day comes around. 

This contrast of interests '“ along with his collection of more than 90 Portsmouth Football Club tattoos '“ gives him a '˜Jekyll and Hyde' persona, he  confesses, but the intrigue is not appreciated by everybody. 

'˜Years ago tattoos were, and in some places still could be I suppose, seen as something for the undesirables,' the 55-year-old explains. 

'˜My passion is Pompey, and I have about 95 Pompey tattoos. But while I see this art as something meaningful, something that can make a boring body exciting, people who perhaps are more traditional just don't understand it and can give me funny looks every now and again.' 

While John says he couldn't care less about the eye of judgement being cast upon him, he believes there is still a line which must be drawn between the self-expression of ink and its overlap with professionalism. 

'˜Working in the business of books, I tend to serve a lot of people of a more mature age or traditional background, so I keep my tattoos covered up and tend to stay very 'yes sir, yes sir, three bags full, sir'. That's what I believe to be professional.

'˜But saying that, attitudes have changed without a doubt '“ and who knows where we'll be years down the line.' 

Matt Fox, who directs Dynamite Recruitment Solutions at Lakeside North Harbour, says the popularity of tattoos and the changing job market have influenced the mindset of potential employers over time. 

'˜Look back 10 or 15 years and work was very much a place where you were expected to conform. T here was a belief you should dress and behave in a certain way to match that environment,' he says. 

'˜But there is much more pressure on employers now to operate a business that is attractive for people to work in because the availability of talent is at an all-time low.

'˜That not only includes the provision of certain funky facilities '“ astro-turfed canteen areas, picnic tables in the office, table football and pool '“ but the acceptance of tattoos too.

'˜Where there used to be an attitude that anyone with a tattoo  'would be lucky to get in here looking like that', they are definitely more accepted nowadays.' 

Despite this increasingly liberal framework, job seekers who thrive on self-expression must still remain sensible '“ but the key to the hunt is '˜common sense'. 

Matt said: '˜Obviously, if you're looking to get into an industry like law or finance '“ or any other, let's be honest '“ it would be ridiculous to expect to be able to roll up to work with an expletive tattooed on your forehead.'

As the tattoo or taboo debate rages on, one thing which is clear, says Portsmouth artist Brandon Sammut, 22, is the growing exposure of his industry and its fans. 

'˜Thanks to social media, artists across the world can connect and share their amazing talent with anyone. That's opening peoples' eyes to tattooing as an art form, and I love that.'