Israelis celebrate body art at the 2019 Israel Tattoo Convention

From artists who rebuild old-school tattooing machines to drop-ins, the family-oriented event had something for everyone.

Israelis celebrate body art at the 2019 Israel Tattoo Convention (photo credit: HAGAY HACOHEN)
Israelis celebrate body art at the 2019 Israel Tattoo Convention
(photo credit: HAGAY HACOHEN)
Tattoo and body modification lovers around the country came together recently to take part in the 2019 Israel Tattoo Convention held at Expo Tel Aviv. The event included some of the best artists currently working in the country, as well as guest artists from overseas and a surprising display of related fields – from retro electric tattoo machines built by established inker Yoni Naccache from Kfar Saba to Gabriel Stepanovich from the Swedish studio Ink Kingdom.
“Thomas Edison was the man who created the modern electric tattooing machine when he invented the electric bell,” Naccache told the Magazine. While tattoos are older than you think, the fifth century BCE mummy of the Siberian Ice Maiden displays sleeve and ankle tattoos any modern lover of the art would be proud to have, during Edison’s time tattoos were associated with sailors and criminals. Such rough and tough-as-nails people simply saw the usefulness of the electric age and gimmicked the bell to create hand-held electric needles.
In those times, inkers had to fix machines on their own as there were no suppliers. In addition, the community was so small that one had to seek out artists and be accepted by an established inker to learn the craft.
“I was taught by Pini Amar from Rishon Lezion,” explained Naccache, “for me it began when I was eight years old and went with my parents to the flea market in Jaffa. There was a man there who offered to tattoo people and I asked my dad: what does that person do? His answer was, this man paints on people. That was the moment I was hooked.”
Like many tattoo artists, Naccache was drawing and painting since he was a child and is a certified architect, a degree he now jokingly says he got to make his mother happy.
To honor the legacy of the art, Naccache presented in the exhibition “Project 100,” partly an antique collection and partly his own re-creation of tattooing machines, it spans the history of tattooed sailors as well as that of Sailor Mosko. The first Israeli to bring tattoos to the country, Mosko was a sailor who opened the nation’s first modern tattoo studio in Haifa in the 1970s.
Mosko, in that case, was Israel’s own answer to Sailor Jerry, the famous US artist, Norman Keith Collins, who pioneered modern tattoos in his Hawaii studio from the era of World War II until the 1970s. Regarded today as an American classic, it is easy to overlook just how hard-working and brilliant Collins was. Loyal to the sea-faring heritage of the art, Naccache includes ships in his machines.
FROM SIBERIA to Thailand, tattooing is a rich fabric of human artistic and social needs. Sailors got tattooed at new ports, ensuring that their mates would know of their knowledge of the sea. Japanese and Russian criminals developed elaborate and scary symbolism, which not only bestows rank on the criminal bearing it, but also tells his life story. It is not suggested to waltz into a studio with a photo of such a tattoo and have it copied; real members of such secret societies severely punish anyone who attempts to steal their inked thunder.
Since the 1970s, nearly half a century passed and with it, what was once a sub-culture almost became mainstream. The invention of modern tattooing machines made the process easier and faster, and the scene is currently exploding with talent and innovation.
One such innovator is Navit Shem from Tatooim, a play on words between “tattoo” and “mirage” in Hebrew (taatoa). An animator by day, Shem designs special art and has it produced as a temporary tattoo, just like the kind children might put on that rubs off after a while. Of course, unlike children’s temporary tattoos, her works are much more vivid, complex and last longer – even if not a lifetime. In fact, all of her tattoos are temporary.
This innovative approach opened many doors to her art. Not only is she able to help people who always loved tattoos but can’t decide on which one to have done – now they can have as many as they like – she also sells to religious Jewish people and Arab-Israelis: two communities in which tattoos are usually frowned upon, but see nothing wrong with having a temporary one done.
She also caters to teenagers and companies that want to promote their services using gift tattoos. A fierce supporter of animal rights, she is a vegan and 10% of her earnings go to support animal welfare. When she hears the conversation is for the Magazine, her face lights up: “I learned English with The Jerusalem Post!”
One of the wonderful things about being in a tattoo convention is to see just how many people enjoy the art. Many book ahead to get inked by their favorite artists, some just waltz in, take off a shirt and get busy.
Stepanovich of Sweden’s Ink Kingdom Tattoo does not accept walk-ins, but he is happy to point out to a display of the fine mastery his artists accomplish by showing fake hands bearing delicate, realistic ink portraits. When I ask more questions, he suggests I speak with Mor Eliezri, an Israeli art student now back in the country to show what she learned at Ink Kingdom.
“I’ve been an artist for many years,” she tells the Magazine, “and I’ve always been fascinated with the challenge in this work.”
“The human anatomy adds something to the art,” she says, “it’s much more than a flat canvas.” Her specialty are delicate realistic tattoos, “they take a lot of time,” she laughs, “and many meetings.” Who would have thought her decision to learn realistic painting in Sweden would lead her to a life in tattoos?
While Sailor Mosko is the first modern tattooist to work in the State of Israel, there is a powerful spiritual tradition of tattoos in this land that predates him. It came to Jerusalem in 1300 with the Razzouk family.
The Razzouks are Coptic tattoo artists who at first offered divinely inspired art to the Crusaders and never left. It is possible to head to their Jerusalem studio today near Jaffa Gate and get tattoos in Arabic, Hebrew, English or Sanskrit that celebrate beauty and tolerance in a unique style.
Those who seek new lands, or perhaps new ways of looking at the world, might take a trip in search of the perfect Yantra tattoo in Thailand or other East Asian countries.
One such place is the Wat Bang Phra Buddhist monastery in Thailand. But be warned: while it can be a powerful experience, the sanitary standards are far below what are accepted in the West today, so you might try out Ajan Noo Kanpai, the inker who did the tattoos of, among others, Angelina Jolie.
Those who seek alternative spirituality will be wise to head to Haifa and book an appointment with any of the artists at Old Devil studio. Not only are they extremely nice, as in offering special sleeve art tattoos to help people who have a history of self-harm and wish to have an artistic depiction of their changed self, but they also offer sanitary instructions on a Tarot deck they designed themselves, and boast a lovely statue of Baphomet as painted by Eliphas Levi in his 1856 work Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie.
The artists picked up the statue during their trip to Salem, Massachusetts, where they visited the Salem Witch Museum.
It doesn’t matter if you seek a temporary tattoo to explore the idea of yourself in color, dive deeply into arcane and esoteric tattoos, or seek out the divine in inked flesh in a remote temple – “a good tattoo artist happens when you know the person, then things come out well,” says Amos, as he walks out to meet his cheering friends.