Tattoo, visual art intersect at Electric Haze Art Showcase

The idea for Panduh Productions’ April Art Showcase, which will fill Electric Haze with crowds and music on April 5, began long before promoter Emma Clardy began working on events in Worcester.

Clardy used to sit behind the front desk of a local tattoo studio, making sure appointments were kept and running the shop’s social media accounts, and it was there she fell in love with the art of tattooing and the styles that developed once the medium became popular in the West.

Now, Clardy is bringing that love to Panduh Productions’ monthly First Friday art show, which will feature paintings in the American traditional tattoo art style by tattooers Bryant Setzler, Worcester native Luke Therien and Annelise Collins.

“I loved old-school flash books, learning about old machines, all that. Getting to share that love of history and tradition with someone was the reason I wanted to showcase these folks,” Clardy said.

Tattoo you

The American traditional tattoo style derives from the tattoos that sailors gave each other in the early 20th century to mark milestones and symbolize aspects of life at sea.

The thick lines and solid colors of those tattoos serve two purposes: to make it clear what the tattoo represents and to make sure the tattoo ages well as it heals and as its owner’s skin changes over the years.

“I’ve always been drawn to the timelessness of trad tattooing,” Clardy said.

Panduh Productions, run by Worcester promoter Chris Michelotti, has brought paintings by a number of local tattoo artists to the Electric Haze walls, including a 2022 show featuring Therien’s work.

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However, the April 5 showcase will look at the intersection of tattoo art and traditional visual art from a new angle — in fact, from three new angles.

Michelotti said previous Panduh artist showcases have been more about individual artists’ work, but Clardy brought in the idea of “centering a show on a select style and showcasing different approaches to it.”

Those three approaches all vary. According to Clardy, Setzler’s work is most in line with the traditional tattoos of old, while Therien puts a more modern spin on the style and Collins uses it as a jumping-off point for a wide variety of art.

“I wanted to set up the show so it went from most old-school, Bryant (Setzler), to newest, Annelise (Collins), so the folks who attend the show will be walked through the evolution of traditional tattooing,” Clardy said.

Collins’ online tattoo portfolio is full of bright sci-fi- and fantasy-inspired art that still fits within the bold lines of American traditional, and she said as an artist who gravitates toward subjects that were not yet in the public imagination when the style first developed, traditional tattooing felt like more of a starting point than a set of rules.

“There are certain ways that you draw particular subjects, and it can feel a little more limiting,” Collins said. “A lot of the traditional-style imagery is cool and applied well, but I like to look at the imagery and then do it my own way, scramble it up and not do it as rigid as it can sometimes be.”

‘It’s good to flex the painting muscle’

Clardy said she was drawn to the differences in style between the three artists whose paintings will decorate the Electric Haze walls throughout April, as well as the creativity that can often come from working under constraints.

“There are specific rules about colors, needle sizes, et cetera that go into making a truly traditional tattoo,” Clardy said. “I love that, and I also love the splashes of modernity that are coming into traditional tattoos as time goes on.”

The show is also distinctly Central New England, as Setzler tattoos at Aftermath Tattoo in Vernon, Connecticut, Therien is an artist at Black Rose Tattoo in Hudson, and Collins works out of Refuge Tattoos in Hartford, Connecticut.

Collins said as a painter, she had previously had work on display in galleries, but since she learned to tattoo.

“I did a couple shows pre-tattooing where it was definitely inspired by tattoo flash, but it wasn’t as focused as my stuff might be now,” Collins said. “It’s good to flex the painting muscle a bit because I used to paint a lot before tattooing. I think it’s a good opportunity to have a push to do it and not just design for the appointments I have coming up. I can paint whatever I want.”

The April Art Showcase will take place 7 p.m. April 5 at Electric Haze, 26 Millbury St., Worcester. There will be a $5 cover charge at the door. The night will also feature live music from Lauren Baker and DJ MXXL.

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