Apr 092011

Somewhere in the late 1980’s I learned about a forensic phenomenon known as “powder tattooing” from reading Vincent DiMaio’s classic text Gunshot Wounds. In some cases it’s possible to estimate how close the muzzle of a firearm was to a wound if unburned propellant residue is found embedded into the tissues surrounding the wound. I read DiMaio’s book around the time I read the now-classic ReSearch book Modern Primitives. It began to dawn on me that traditional tattooing is actually somewhat limited in the tools it uses. Very simply liquid pigments are pushed into the dermis using either a hand-held tool or with a reciprocating electromechanical device. A single needle can be used, or a group of needles.

As the Modern Primitive subculture progressed, people began to push the envelope in all sorts of ways, mostly with piercings and implants. Tattooing has certainly become more common, yet the technology hasn’t really progressed since the tattoo gun was invented by Thomas Edison. I should like to make a modest proposal, namely that it’s time to push the envelope and embark on a new kind of body modification. This would be powder tattooing as art.

First off, you can’t actually shoot your clients with real bullets, as this tends to diminish repeat business. Instead of using lead bullets, I propose that powdered pigments be used. These pigments would be fired from real firearms, at ranges close to the subject’s skin in order to push the pigments into the dermis. Modern metallic cartridges could be used, although the specialized rounds would have to be hand loaded. Perhaps the pigments would need to be held together with an adhesive binder of some kind, in order for the projectile to be held securely in the cartridge. The technology of tablet manufacturing is well established, and could be adapted to creating pigment projectiles.

In powder tattooing, a whole range of variables opens up which includes the caliber of firearm, the length of the barrel, the distance of the muzzle to the skin, the exact composition of the pigment, the angle of the barrel to the skin, and the brand and mass of the propellant charge. The skin that is not to be tattooed would be covered with a metallic or Kevlar mask.

Imagine you’re an outlaw biker, a real one-percenter, and you want a nice little rose on your ankle. You start off by taping a mask that defines the outline of the rose to your skin. We first apply black pigment, so colored areas are blocked off with adhesive-backed masks. You and the “Shootist” put in earplugs and don eye protection. Safety first! The shootist starts off with a .357 Magnum with a 6” barrel. The “round” is plain black tattoo ink propelled with 4 grains of Hercules powder. The shootist measures the distance to the target, and fires. The distribution of powder will tend to concentrate in the center, so touch-ups would need to be applied to the perimeter. Additional masks could be applied to the center so the periphery is exposed.

Now for the green leaves and the red petals. A new mask is applied that isolates the green leaves. Note that this process is analogous to Japanese woodblock printing in that an entire color is applied at one time. Undoubtedly hipsters will get The Great Wave off Kanagawa ASAP… Since the green is small and isolated, the shootist shifts to a Ruger MKII in .22 caliber. This is a semiautomatic handgun, so the bolt will probably have to be hand-cycled, as we are using “light loads.” This time the shootist moves in very close, perhaps within in inch. The shootist keeps the colors consistent, and goes with Green Dot propellant. Bang! Now we have some sweet leaves…

Now for the tricky part, the red petals. Again, a third mask is applied, which isolates the petals. This element occupies more area than the leaves, so we want greater dispersion. A Charter Arms .44 Bulldog is chosen for its large caliber and short barrel. 5 grains of Red Dot blasts the persimmon pigment into the dermis in a “one shot stop.” No need to double tap this baby…

Though entire patches of color are applied at one time as in Japanese woodblock printing, art aficionados will probably notice the results have a somewhat “stippled” appearance. This results in a more pointillist style. Perhaps in the future, a re-make of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off will be made which features a scene of an entranced teenager starting at a man’s bare back, stippled in the style of Seurat…

As with all things underground eventually the mainstream co-opts the cutting edge, and what was once outre’ becomes ordinary. Some of the old school Master Blasters will sell out, and soon we will see powder tats on the latest Disney pop stars. But the Jonas Brothers of the future won’t have the balls to actually be shot, so this is where pneumatic vaccination guns come in. Since smallpox was eradicated in the human population in 1979, pneumatic vaccine guns have become museum relics. Some enterprising Ed Hardy type will figure out that these can be “re-purposed” and used to inject pigment rather than vaccine. Sure, we’ll have a “crier’s corner” for those who can’t cut it, but by and large a pigment “inoculation” should be less painful than getting “the shot.”

 Posted by on 04/09/2011 Art

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