Scenic Skin Takes the Prize in Tattoo-Land

Times Staff Writer

The crowded elevator at the Bahia Hotel was creaking and groaning as it inched its way to the fifth floor, evoking occasional nervous sighs from the crowd of people inside.

"Well, a breakdown wouldn't be so bad. If we do get stuck here at least we got something to read and look at," said one man, a speech not guaranteed to soothe the other men and women in the slow-moving elevator.

Actually, there might not have been a lot to read, but there was plenty to see on the tattooed bodies of the elevator riders joining 500 other tattooed men and women and tattoo artists at the National Tattoo Assn. convention.

For those who associate tattoos with sailors and pictures of skulls and crossbones and macho proclamations like "Death Before Dishonor," this convention of adorned bodies was an eye-opener.

Variety of Designs

Included among the hundreds of intricate tattoo displays--many of them titled--are:

- Tigers Entwined in Combat.

- Dinosaurs in a Prehistoric Scene, which adorned the back of Diane Farris from New Jersey.

- Oscar Wilde; the Hamilton-Burr Duel, and Scene from the Book of Revelations, all on the back of one woman.

- An untitled colorful display of two orchids that began on a slender woman's left collarbone and ended with a stem growing from her areola. Unlike other women who did not hesitate to display tattoos that decorated the most intimate parts of the body, the woman with the orchids asked shyly that no pictures be taken of her work of art.

Then there was the man with a picture of Adolf Hitler giving the fascist salute tattooed above his crotch, with only Der Fuhrer's hand sticking above the man's shorts.

"You can no longer stereotype the people who have tattoos nowadays," said Arthur Livermore, 62. "If you're expecting sailors with roses and anchors, well, you're going to be disappointed. Yes, we've got the bikers, but you'll also find bank presidents, Realtors and other professionals displaying their tattoos alongside the Hell's Angels."

Livermore, a San Francisco resident, is a two-time national and one-time international winner for having the best artistic tattoo display.

He won his U.S. titles in 1981 and 1983 and an international title in Amsterdam in 1984, despite waiting until 1979 to get his first tattoo.

Now, he is covered by what tattoo lovers call a suit--tattoos covering his body from the ankles to the neck.

According to Livermore, his suit cost about $4,000 and was completed in about 72 hours over a 14-month period.

"I had a dry-cleaning business and was already retired by the time I got my first tattoo," Livermore said. "I was out of the business and didn't worry about offending anyone, so getting a suit was an easy decision to make."

Momentous Choice

For some people, however, getting a tattoo can be a momentous decision. One Denver stockbroker said that he avoids pool parties and "ski lodge hot tubs" when entertaining influential clients.

He had an elaborate display of a dragon and tiger on his chest and colorful birds perched on his upper arms, with multicolored tails ending just below the elbows.

"I don't dare have anything tattooed below the elbow because I usually roll up my sleeves. For the most part, the people I deal with equate tattoos with scumbags and sleaze balls. But this is art," he said.

Tattooing has been an art form in Japan for centuries. Years ago it was not uncommon for a Japanese man to arrange for his tattooed skin to be stripped, tanned and hung up for display after his death, said Livermore.

The tattoos were in effect an investment because many of the tanned pictures ended up on display in the homes of wealthy Japanese landlords, who purchased them.

"I've got two sons, and I told them that after I die they might want to consider selling the old man's artwork," Livermore said, laughing.

"You know, good artwork doesn't depreciate. So who knows how much these artistic wares will be worth in a few years?"

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