What’s it like at a tattoo convention? Reminded me of the good ol’ rock fest days…

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The first two editions of the Heartwork Tattoo Festival came and went – and I missed them both! With quite a few friends in the industry, the excitement and conversations always steered towards the upcoming convention – but logistics are always a bitch, and I was out of Delhi on assignments during the 2015 and 2016 HTFs. But finally, the jinx was broken this year, during the 3rd edition.

All images © S Chak
All images © S Chak

I had been following the artist line up from the first day the notifications started popping up on Facebook. And it was crazy! I felt the same level of excitement that used to happen years ago just before the Great Indian Rock Festival – organised by RSJ, the best of Indian Rock and Metal bands would perform live to a packed audience at Pragati Maidan. You walked into the arena with hundreds of strangers and by the end of the weekend, you would leave with new friends made over numerous conversations on music, shared joints and head banging together in the mosh pit. Now, if you just replace music with tattoos, you will get the mood at HTF.

All images © S Chak
All images © S Chak

I had already decided to be there at the convention all three days, but then I got a call to cover the event as well and make some images. That gave me a major push – now I was ‘officially’ a part of the festival!

Tattoo by Ananda Koirala of Nepal. All images © S Chak
Tattoo by Ananda Koirala of Nepal. All images © S Chak

30th November, I walked into Devil’z Tattooz to catch up with my friends there and what a sight it was!! Stepan Negur, Derek Dereksan, Jeff Gogue, John Ma, Jocke Hultman, Traveling Mick – these were people I had only seen on digital screens till now. And these were just some of the International artists. All the well known Indian artists who have played such an important role in putting India out there on the global map of tattooing – they were all present there. The ambience was that of a HUGE family gathering over a dinner table during Thanksgiving or Christmas – stories being exchanged, short debates, laughter, happy smiling faces… And there I was, in the middle of this vibrant brotherhood. For the next three days, I would be following their live work, writing about them, interviewing them and talking to them face to face – it was my ‘Almost Famous’ moment in a way! Although a bit intimidating at first, by the time I wrapped up that evening, I walked out with a sense of belonging.

Travelin Mick (left) with Jocke Hultman at HTF 2017. All images © S Chak
Travelin Mick (left) with Jocke Hultman at HTF 2017. All images © S Chak

Day one was spent in awe of the creativity overflowing seamlessly in every corner of the venue. As I entered, a red carpet led the way inside, with massive banners and prints adorning the walls, and of course, these were all tattoo centric. The passage opened up to the arena where row after row of stalls housed an amazing array of artists and tattoo collectors. I took it all in, walking around, pausing, shooting, watching – every stroke of the pencil or the machine I witnessed was a definite moment in time, done with a calculative and creative thought. Nothing was out of place. Everything and everyone in that space was there for a reason. And the binding factor was the ink, visible everywhere I looked – on the stations, on paper, in bottles, on the needles and in the skin.

Derek Dereksan (left) and Robin Kodial (right) tattooing Pinku Bijoy Ghosh. All images © S Chak
Derek Dereksan (left) and Robin Kodial (right) tattooing Pinku Bijoy Ghosh. All images © S Chak

While shooting the competition section, I was amazed at the brilliance of the Indian artists, especially in terms of realism. Every piece that was presented in front of the judges showcased growth, perfection and the importance given to detailing was omnipresent. And they were all big pieces of art. Back, thighs, ribs, calves, full sleeves – it was quite a treat for the eyes.

Tattoo by Derek Dereksan. All images © S Chak
Tattoo by Derek Dereksan. All images © S Chak
Tattoo by Binay Gurung. All images © S Chak
Tattoo by Binay Gurung. All images © S Chak
Tattoo by Rishabh Narang. All images © S Chak
Tattoo by Rishabh Narang. All images © S Chak
Tattoo by Ripz Basak. All images © S Chak
Tattoo by Ripz Basak. All images © S Chak

As the day winded down, small groups got together to carry on with the after party. The whole day these artists worked with bent backs and gave it all to their individual creative gems. And the clients and tattoo collectors bore the pain like a badge of honour. But not a single one of them looked tired or wanted to call it a night. The momentum of the day remained and only the space shifted to Devil’z studio and hotel rooms.

The next two days were a reflection of day one, only bigger and brighter. The work in progress tattoos found shape and their final form, while some artists got together on collaborative pieces. Some of the artists who were tattooing the previous day, got tattooed themselves, after finishing their appointments. There was art all around – on papers, on banners, on stickers, on the walls, on the visiting cards and on the living breathing canvases. Piercings were done, a tongue was split, music played, tattoo machines hummed, some tears were fought back, some revelled in the pain, but everyone left happy. By the end of it, I had made new friends, found inspiration and on the third day, I walked out with a fresh tattoo and heartfelt warmth from the experience of being amidst so much creativity and sheer brilliance.

Mangesh Rane and Amit Spyd of Sabby's Tattoo Studio, Pune working on a collab. All images © S Chak
Mangesh Rane and Amit Spyd of Sabby’s Tattoo Studio, Pune working on a collab. All images © S Chak
All images © S Chak
All images © S Chak
Artist unknown. All images © S Chak
Artist unknown. All images © S Chak

Over numerous smokes, coffee and conversations, I saw the camaraderie that holds this art form together. Nobody was a big or small artist – they were all artists, as simple as that. Many a times, you meet creative people and the first thing that comes across is a kind of arrogance. Here, it was the complete opposite. Heartwork 2017 was an extraordinary experience surrounded by real creative genius, warm smiles and even warmer hugs and an instant connection over a shared passion for the art of tattooing.

Image © Shubham Nag
Image © Shubham Nag
Two of India's 1st generation tattoo artists, Sabby Pardeshi (left) and Kevin Andrade. Image © Shubham Nag
Two of India’s 1st generation tattoo artists, Sabby Pardeshi (left) and Kevin Andrade. Image © Shubham Nag
Image © Shubham Nag
Image © Shubham Nag
Image © Shubham Nag
Image © Shubham Nag

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