As anyone privy to even a dollop of pop culture knows, that category of things that go by the title: “art” is expansive and ever widening. And while not all creative moulds are made equal (see Portlandia’s “art project” skit from Season 3), true art—whatever its medium—retains a quality that recalls the words of that wise old philosopher, Aristotle, who affirmed: “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” Tattoos do just that; each drop of ink shoulders its own meaning for the person wearing its mark, as historians of Samoa’s tatau and Japan’s irezumi heritage can attest.
Today, with the recent surge in popularity behind this form of artistic expression (indicated by the number of wild life animals congregated on Justin Bieber’s arm), it was only a matter of time before tattoo artists sparked the ongoing trend in wall art.
In Toronto, Alex Daechsel and Hayley Schofield are ahead of the bandwagon. The founders and curators behind Knifepoint, an online gallery specializing in tattoo art, the duo boast a collection that features prints (printed on Hahnemühle fine cotton paper with archival inks) from international talents, including Belarus-native, Aleksei Kosenkov (currently based in Minsk at the Right Stuff tattoo shop), as well as local boys Kris Sharon and Curt Montgomery, artists at Toronto’s Arrowhead and Holy Noir, respectively. “We both have a great interest in tattoo artistry,” explains Daechsel. “While neither of us are skilled enough to become artists ourselves, we created Knifepoint as an outlet for our passion that we felt could fill a niche in the market.”
The latter mentioned shop, Holy Noir, is in fact, a recent extension of Daechsel’s and Schofield’s online gallery and an indication of their passion for the art form. Acting as both a tattoo studio and a gallery space, the pair’s latest venture pays homage to Knifepoint’s roster of artists, giving represented talents, such as Montgomery, the chance to hold dual residency at Holy Noir.
Between the ongoing “Tattoo” exhibit now on display at the Field Museum in Chicago (a major exhibit that also showed at Toronto’s ROM by way of the musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac in Paris) and New-York Historical Society Museum & Library’s scheduled spring 2017 exhibit, “Tattooed New York” (February 3rd-April 30th), tattoo culture is evolving and curators are paying attention. Fresh off the opening of Holy Noir, Daechsel and Schofield take a moment to share the story behind their affinity with ink and art.
To start, let’s talk about how online print shops, like Knifepoint, have changed the way “art” is perceived. What do you think has changed?
The beauty of the Internet is that it allows art to be more accessible to all art enthusiasts. Our shop is about collaborating with artists we know and love from around the world and creating affordable fine art prints—be they tattoo culture enthusiasts or the everyday appreciator of art and beauty.
Would you say art prints like these have expanded the definition of what is now categorized as “art?”
The definition of “art” hasn’t changed—art is and always has been very subjective. Rather, it has become more accessible and less “elitist,” if you will. Through the Internet and social media, creative individuals [can] showcase their work and gain exposure, while not necessarily being established as an artist in the traditional sense.
And then that changes the whole the landscape.
These platforms allow artists to reach a greater audience and redefine what was known as an art gallery or exhibit.
Were art and curating always things you were interested in? Did you both know you would pursue a career in art in one capacity or another?
We have always had an appreciation for art growing up, and over the years, [we] developed a greater interest in the history and culture of tattoo art. We have been fortunate to meet some incredibly talented artists from around the world, who have inspired us to turn our passion for tattoo artistry into this venture.
Sounds like you kind of stumbled on this path, while directed by passion.
Neither of us sought to work in this field, but were both at a point in our lives where we needed to pursue something creative… something more satisfying [that would] combine our experience and passion.
On that note, do you have a background in art?
We have no formal training in art—just an appreciation and passion for it!
What do you make of larger, more history-based art exhibits, like “Tattoos: Ritual. Identity. Obsession. Art?” shown at the ROM earlier this fall?
Tattoos are now generally widely accepted [as]… and have definitely become… somewhat of a fashion accessory, and while we love to see the art form gaining traction, knowing the history of tattooing and its ancient roots in so many cultures is very important to us. Tattooing is an art form with a rich history. We really respect the curators for putting together such an accessible [and] comprehensive exhibit.
Back to your own gallery, how do you approach curating your collection of artists? In other words, what do you look for, what generally catches your eye style-wise?
We are always combing through the Internet and social media on the hunt for new artists. We’re both drawn to “darker” artwork, but have an appreciation for all styles. We often joke that Knifepoint is a bit of a selfish endeavor—if we like it, we like it.
Do you interact much with the artists during the creation process? Do they seek your input on their work?
The process varies from artist to artist, but generally we don’t give them input unless they ask us for direction. As we curate the selection of artists we represent, we feel best having them execute their artistic endeavors… we want them to experiment, take risks, and work in the styles we love—the styles we sought them out for in the first place.
Do you think that shops that act almost like galleries, such as your own, are helping young artists get their work seen? Artists that may not have the opportunity for a solo exhibit—not just yet at least.
That would definitely be one of our ultimate goals: to give the artists we work with exposure and allow them to do what they love for a living. We have a connection to each and every artist we work with and are very driven by their individual successes.
Now that you’ve spoken about how much you care about your artists, can you describe the perfect home for a piece by one of them? What type of space do you imagine your artists’ works hanging?
Anyone who loves and appreciates both the design, as well as the quality of the print is our ideal customer! We get super excited when we receive photos of the artwork [hanging]. We love seeing it displayed in any space! And, we’d be honoured to see our prints at home in a tattoo shop.