With ‘Beyond the Tattoo,’ Mark Corliss showcases the art of tattooing—and proves it’s more than skin deep
When thinking of art in the traditional sense, tattooing probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. It is nonetheless a legitimate—quite an admirable—art form, one of the most intimate forms of artistic expression.
“If you’re a painter, you buy your canvas, but with tattooing, your clients have to come to you—your canvas is coming to you saying ‘Please do this for me,’ and that’s so cool,” says tattoo artist Mark Corliss, owner of Spilt Milk Tattoo in Hyannis. “It’s such a different world that not a lot of people know about,” he says of tattooing, “and I think once they get a little taste of it they’re like, ‘Wow, this is pretty neat.’”
Corliss hopes to give people a better understanding of his world this summer through his exhibit “Beyond the Tattoo,” running June 21 through August 5 at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis. On display are life-size photo prints of his large-scale Japanese-style tattoos, which cover an entire person’s back and, in many cases, extend down their arms. An opening reception will be held Thursday, June 21 from 5:30-7 p.m., during which several of Corliss’ clients will be on hand to model their impressive tattoos.
Also featured in the exhibit are images of the 3D nipples Corliss tattoos on breast cancer survivors who have undergone mastectomies. He says he started doing the nipple designs about five years ago, when a client of his wanted hydrangea tattoos to cover her mastectomy scars and also asked for nipples. “I had never done anything like that before. I remember literally saying, ‘I do dragons,’” he recalls. After doing some research, he was able to come up with a design both he and the client loved, and he’s been providing nipple tattoos, free of charge, ever since.
“When I’m done and they look in the mirror, the look on their face is priceless,” he says. “It shows that tattooing can be healing, and art can heal people.”
In addition to his exhibit, Corliss plans to tattoo a client live at the museum, giving the public a chance to see the tattooing process firsthand—a process that, altogether, can take Corliss up to 50 hours to complete. “It’s such an honor,” he says of tattooing people. “The hours and the time, for both of us, is extreme, but as an artist, I’m just very grateful.”