Saturday, October 30, 2010

Ancient Minoan Octopus Meets Modern Body Art

I am not sure where my fascination and delight with octopuses began, but it has been going on for at least a couple decades. Maybe it's because I live in the Pacific Northwest, home to the largest octopus in the world. Maybe it's just because they are beautiful and smart.

The ancient Minoan civilization on Crete was fascinated with the octopus as well as seen on many vases. When I studied art history in college, I really fell in love with the jewelry, painting, and mosaics of the Minoans.

I love how abstracted this one is. Pure simplicity in color and form.
For a few years now, I have been thinking about getting another tattoo. (And it is officially on my 37 Things I Want to Do Before I Turn 38 List.) I keep coming back to the idea of an octopus. Now let me just stop for a moment and expand on my personal theory of tattoos: They should be beautiful and ornamental. My biggest pet peeve is a tattoo that is just plunked down on the body somewhere without thinking of color or form or placement. How will it look with clothing? How does it look without clothing?

I know, I know, some people take a more personal slant with tattoos. It means something, yada yada yada. Me, I think it should look more like jewelry.

So I knew I didn't want a realistic octopus tattoo. And then I thought of the beautiful Minoan octopuses and my mind connected the dots: Minoan octopus tattoo! I've been puttering around online and have yet to see anything like it. I am sure someone(s) must have a tattoo like this, but if they do, they aren't good at tagging their photos!

But I want to play with placement and scale and so I am starting with temporary henna to get an idea of what I want before making it permanent.

My friend Antoinette does henna up in Seattle (Henna by Antoinette) so I took a little trip yesterday to see her. I sent pictures of the three octopus vases above a few days before to give her and idea of what I wanted and then let her just go for it as she saw fit.

This is when the henna was still drying:
Here it is today with the henna flaked off and the stain left behind. Last night it was very faint and today it is a lot darker.
If I end up with this as a tattoo, I will definitely have it inked darker. Yet I love this orange hue. I'll also probably want the octopus more centered on my arm and maybe, just maybe, slightly larger.
This is also a double bonus because it will look very steampunk with my black and red dreads I am wearing tonight for Halloween. Speaking of dreads, I have like 15 more to make, so I need to go, go, go! I took the extra step this morning of dying my hair black so the dreads will blend in nicely. Yes, I am a geek for my art.


  1. I share your view of the octopus as a subject with great potential. But I haven't seen a great one yet.
    I want to do a henna picture of the octopus at the top of your page on the abdomen of the right model.
    Also another reaching from around the shoulders to caress the breasts, but this could be in bad taste unless the drawing achieved the level of actual Art.

  2. I know, it is hard to get it just right without it looking weird!! I have seen many octopus tattoos that just look cheesy!

    1. I would only try it with henna, but now that you've got me thinking about it, a huge octopus could cover a very large area of the torso.I'm thinking henna on olive skin to echo the feeling of pottery.
      To avoid cheesy, or merely lewd, I would avoid hyper-realism, and or anything too cartoonish.I think that the stylized Minoan or Japanese approach might work best.
      You know that Gauguin said that western art made its' wrong turn with the classical Greeks.But I think the Minoan artists were still in touch with something much more vital that they shared with many earlier cultures.
      He probably would never have admitted it publicly, but I bet Picasso would concur, as would Joan Miro. ( What the hell do I know?)
      Does that answer the question that you never asked?