Community members share through tattoos

Milwaukee+community+members+share+the+meaning+behind+their+tattoos

Photo by Collin Nawrocki

Milwaukee community members share the meaning behind their tattoos

“My body is my journal, and my tattoos are my story,” Johnny Depp once said when asked about the significance behind his tattoos. The practice of tattooing dates back thousands of years and has been a tradition used by cultures to permanently mark up the body. The popularity of tattooing has increased during the 21st century, and people around the Milwaukee community reflect upon the art behind it.

Alex DeAnda is a tattoo artist located in Milwaukee. He began working at Moving Shadow Ink, a local Milwaukee tattoo shop, in 2014. Recently, DeAnda started his own tattoo business called “& Ink Studios.” DeAnda always had a passion for different forms of art, which is one of the reasons he got into tattooing. After attending a tattoo convention, DeAnda said he was hooked on tattooing, and now has been working as a tattoo artist for 10 years. DeAnda recently received a bachelor’s in fine arts from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design.

“Growing up I would paint and draw a lot. My mom noticed this and said I should be a tattoo artist. At 16, I attended my first tattoo convention and became very inspired by the world of body art and its possibilities,” DeAnda said.

DeAnda got his first tattoo at the age of 18, a treble clef note, he said it holds a lot of personal and painful meaning. He said that all of his tattoos are his way of expressing his own life story, both happy and sad experiences.

“My tattoos that I have illustrate my narrative — my life story that I’m trying to tell,” DeAnda said. “They represent themes of growth, darkness, facing fears and coming to terms with life and death. They exhibit an awareness of who I am and my journey of finding myself. My tattoos paint the canvas that is my story.”

The art of tattooing has seen a lot of growth in the past 20 years, especially among younger generations. Thirty-six percent of Americans in their late teens and twenties have at least one tattoo, and the number of tattoo parlors and artists in America keeps growing to this day.

Ella Geise, a senior in the College of Health Sciences, got her first tattoo last year. The tattoo is of poppies, a flower that’s significant to her.

“I’m originally from California and poppies are our state flower. I got it because it reminds me of home, especially because wild poppies grow all over my hometown,” Geise said.

As the popularity of tattooing has grown, so has the controversy behind the form of art. This controversy stems from the ideology that tattooing is a permanent mark of the body.

Kate Hildenbrand, a first-year in the College of Arts & Sciences, now has two tattoos. The first tattoo she got is larkspur, which is the July birth month flower. Her second tattoo is an anatomical heart with flowers coming out of it, which represents a congenital health defect she was born with.

“My tattoos represent my birth month and then an ode to my congenital heart defect I was born with,” Hildenbrand said. “I want to cover up my arms with artwork and be able to tell my life story through tattoos.”

Hildenbrand said that she believes the controversy behind tattooing is a result of media portrayal.

“I think people consider tattoos as unprofessional and ‘edgy’ in the workplace and reflect how someone behaves based on the portrayal of tattoo stereotypes the media has painted,” Hildenbrand said. “I hope in the future people look through the lens that tattoos are an art form of creative expression.”

Geise said that tattooing is a personal choice, so tattoos should not determine someone’s professional status.

“It seems to me like people are too concerned with what others do and I think that anyone who wants a tattoo should get one. The idea that tattoos say something about a person’s character or level of professionalism is outdated and incorrect,” Geise said.

DeAnda said that he is very passionate about sharing his art form with others. He said that being a tattoo artist means the world to him, and the impact he makes on other lives is very rewarding.

“The idea that my art could live on someone, and that they could walk through their life carrying my art on their skin, means a lot to me. I want to make a positive impact on people’s lives. I want them to keep that positive energy with them as they traverse through life every time they look at their tattoo,” DeAnda said.

This story was written by Phoebe Goebel. She can be reached at phoebe.goebel@marquette.edu