Ink Fest not only about skin and cheap thrills

Some 150 tattoo artists from around the world to participate in three-day convention

It’s not every day that the top global professionals of a given field descend upon your city offering their services. But that is exactly what’s on tap at the Copenhagen Ink Festival, when 150 of the world’s best tattoo artists will fill Tap1 and apply their skills to the skin of those in attendance.

Only in its second year, the Copenhagen Ink Festival has already earned a reputation as one of Europe’s best tattoo conventions. Based on the success of its inaugural event last year, the pressure is on the festival’s organisers to step it up.

To do so, British tattoo artist Alex – who has been based in Copenhagen for the past eleven years – has called in the big guns in the form of reputed artists such as Nikko Hurtado, Bob Tyrell and Carlos Torres. And for further star power, the three-day festival will include appearances from ‘it’ boy of the moment, Zombie Boy.

Shooting to fame thanks to an appearance in Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’, Zombie Boy is now a star in the fashion world, walking catwalks worldwide and as the focus of a major campaign from L’Oreal. Born Rick Genest in Quebec, Canada, the 26-year-old has spent the last seven years – and $17,000 and counting – to transform himself into a walking dead guy sporting head-to-toe tattoos.

Zombie Boy will be joined on the entertainment stage by Lucky Hell, “the modern day sword-swallowing painted lady”. An American now based in Finland, Lucky Hell combines elements of old school freakshows with a heavy dose of sex appeal.

But lest you think that the Ink Festival will be an x-rated affair, Alex insists that this will be a friendly-family event. On Thursday night before the festival kicks off, the tattoo artists will be at Hard Rock Cafe for a meet and greet party where they will work together to create a painting that will be auctioned off to raise funds for the children’s cancer charity, Børnecancerfonden.

The focus of the event itself is not so much the freakshow element as it is highlighting “the serious side of tattooing”. And with 17 years of tattooing, and ten years of working conventions, Alex knows how to put on a good event.

"The idea with this was to take the best of every show I have been to and incorporate them into one: the best artists, great entertainment and a fantastic atmosphere,” he said from the trophy room of his central Copenhagen tattoo studio, Rites of Passage. “Conventions for me have always been about meeting other artists and exchanging ideas, as well as showing what you can do and trying to make a name for yourself. My years of doing this have not only won me almost 100 awards, but also given me the opportunity to meet some of the best artists on the planet.”

On hand to give tattoos over the weekend – Alex estimates somewhere in the neighbourhood of 500-600 tattoos will be done on site – will be artists from 25 different countries. But with 17 Danish artists present, it will also be a chance to showcase plenty of homegrown talent. Don’t expect, however, to see the stars of the reality programme ‘Tattoo Salen’, a Danish knock-off of popular American tattooing shows like ‘Miami Ink’. Alex said that shows like that only serve to reinforce the negative stereotypes associated with tattoos.

“We think it’s also important to show the general public what tattooing is really about and let them experience it first hand,” he said. “Tattooing gets too much bad press, and some of the TV shows out there make a mockery of an age-old art form.”

He also said that these days it has become too easy to simply buy some equipment and declare yourself a tattoo artist. That in turn leads to poor tattoos. With the Copenhagen Ink Festival, those who are lucky enough to have booked a time with one of the visiting artists can be assured that they are getting some of the best inkwork available. And if you’re just there to look, that’s fine too.

“With the festival, part of our aim is to educate people to do the proper research and find the right artist for the tattoo that you want – and to make sure things are done at a quality level,” Alex said.

Copenhagen Ink Festival

May 4 – 6 at Tap1;

Tickets: 415kr for three-day pass; 215kr day pass for Friday and Saturday; 170kr day pass for Sunday