The Tattoo (in Argentium)

I have this tattoo on my left leg. I got it when i was in Bali in 1995.

I designed the pattern with the help of the Balinese tattoo artist who did it.  It was designed to cover a slightly scary razorblade scar of the same form.  Although it is certainly similar in style and intent to other designs - later research revealed that it is a unique shape, with no analog (that I could find) in any of the major grimoires or sigil encyclopedias (which is actually amazing).  It comes close to resembling the hobo  code figures for "afraid" or "be quiet" and a variation on something alchemical  - exactly what slips my mind right now  - do you recognize it?

Anyway - it has significance so I ended up including it in the comic book

There, It caught the eye of my old pal Rachel Solem who (much to my surprise!) commissioned it cast in Argentium and fashioned into a pendant by her extremely talented sister Melanie.  I think it turned out great - and I am glad to see the pattern getting out and having a life of its own - shaking off some of its dark resonance in its new shiny form.

So back to Bali - contrary to every drunken-sailor tradition I went to get the tattoo - alone - early in the morning - and sober. The mini-van taxi dropped me off on a nondescript street in north kuta beach, a mile or two from the center of town where later the al quaida bombing killed so many at the Sari Club in 2002.

I got there first, with my host arriving soon after - helmetless and begoggled - on a real motorcycle, which in Bali means - he's the MAN - scooters are the national vehicle - only someone of extreme substance and flair would have a hog.  Shamefully - I don't remember his name - if anyone recognizes him... let me know.  I'll call him Wayan, which is a good bet since there are only 4 names in the Balinese culture.

He had some setup time and I was invited to look at his style books - which gave me butterflies - I hate waiting.  It soon became obvious that we had only one language in common - drawing - so we communicated entirely with little drawings -

(which I wish I had kept somewhere!)  Heavy Metal was cranked to ridiculous volume.  On a boombox. 

It was a surprisingly comfortable arrangement, and we quickly refined the pattern to something that pleased us both.

My man had built his own tattoo gun, ingeniously combining what appeared to be a pen, a model race-car motor and a sewing-machine pedal. The Balinese are supremely crafty.

There was a bit of ceremony surrounding the opening of the sterile needle and then we began. 

For those of you who are curious, it hurt about as much as you would expect getting poked with a needle for 3 hours - about what? Roughly 86,400 times, and that was my relatively tiny tattoo. Big, intricate tattoos can take weeks and cost thousands - and a good thing too - the last thing you really want is a cheap, fast tattoo, although really - that's exactly what I got.  But it's just like that reality show Juno and I saw about faith healers, it hurts a lot, but you discover that you have special powers over pain, it's all about attention - even so, I had to take a couple of breaks.

Halfway through the tattoo, just after the muslim call to prayer blasted (beautifully in harmony

with the Zeppelin) a HUGE segment of the building directly across the street collapsed into the street, narrowly missing a passing school of scooters.

We all ran out and I watched 50 people come out of nowhere and rebuild the wall within minutes - and disappear just as quickly, leaving the wall exactly as precarious as before. Bali is a work-in-progress. 

Work in a tattoo parlor does pick up after happy-hour, and we finished in the late afternoon, leaving Wayan time for dinner or something before the first wave of drunken tourists could break. 

Thanks Wayan! We took a couple of polaroids for his wall, and I taxied back to the Surreal 1st World enclave, Nusa Dua.

Special Thanks and/or Apologies to: Joe Williams, Glaxo Malaysia, the Balinese National Guard, Singapore Airlines, the Nation of Japan, Pfizer Pharmaceutical, the Deadly Lion-fish, the Pygmy Tusked Deer of Night Zoo Singapore, Hindu Gods Kali and Ganesha  for their protection and instruction - and countless others.

Interview with the Artisan    

Interview with Jewler,  Melanie Burrows

NJ: how did you come to make this pendant?

MM: My dear sister, Rachael (pictured right), suggested that I make the pendant from your tattoo design and make it so that it can be reproduced. I carved the design in wax and

had a mold made so that we can cast multiples.

NJ: practicing your craft, you touch the object thousands of times in the course of creation - did this design raise any particular thoughts or resonance? (other than "ouch!, these little `%#&@*! points!")

MM: I love your tattoo, but it was a challenge to make it in metal, mostly because the tips of the design become sharp in metal, not fun to wear.

Besides softening the points, I wanted to recreate the interweaving of the forms, like a knot, and also give 3 dimension by having the forms get thick and thin. That's why I chose to carve it in wax rather than make the model directly in metal.

NJ: I've been looking around the wwweb for examples of that pattern; interlocked diamonds, but not having much luck - do you recognize it?

MM: I did not recognize the design. I've seen these interwoven forms (knots) in many cultures, but not this particular design. You've certainly done more research than I have. I like that it is similar to a hobo symbol.

NJ: your work is so dreamy and symbolic - where do

you get your inspiration?  - do you work in other

mediums? (i used to have vivid dreams about working with materials - one involving satellite ball-bearing

rubies and gold haunted me for years)

MM: The most challenging and satisfying medium for me is enamel. It's a very picky material but if I choose the colors right and don't have any disasters the results are miniature paintings that can be worn. I'm very happy if I can create the illusion of a large energetic space in a tiny frame.  I would love to learn other techniques and materials. I have some pieces of rusty iron that I want to set as pendants or one that I might cut up and make into a bracelet. I'm going to buy some silver/platinum alloy soon to make 2 pairs of earrings for a client. I'm a little nervous because I've never worked with this material and I'm sure it's more expensive than regular silver.

NJ: Argentium is a relatively modern material, how

did you come to work in that?

MM: argentium silver is pretty new alloy. They are playing around with alloys of silver and other metals lately maybe because gold is so expensive. There are many people that prefer the look of white metal (silver, platinum , white gold) to yellow gold. White gold is a pain to work with. It's stiff and unforgiving. Platinum is very expensive and has to be soldered with special equipment. I don't know how to work with it. Pure silver is nice to work with but very soft, too soft to use as the structure of a piece of jewelry. Regular sterling (silver and a little copper) is fine but it tarnishes and we jewelers curse at having to polish off the fire scale after the piece has been fired. Argentium silver tarnishes, but more slowly and does not get as much fire scale. I've been playing around with the material. I can make the surface flow with a torch, so I can fuse it rather than solder it. I can fuse it to fine (pure) silver, but if I go too far the fine Silver gets contaminated and falls apart. Also I've found that I have to let the piece settle down a little after I heat it. If I touch it too soon it will collapse. I can fuse 22k gold to argentium, but I haven't done too much of that since gold is so expensive. If you're interested, I let you know how the platinum/silver alloy project goes.

                     Cheers, Melanie

NJ: that was fun!

I'd love work with you some time!