Camille Krilanovich pulls up to 1010 Fair Avenue on the Westside of Santa Cruz. Camille walks to the far corner of the shop and checks her irons then takes a seat next to Jason who has sketched an image of a girl on a swing that he wants tattooed on his lower back. This is Chimera Tattoo & Studio & Gallery and Camille is its owner and founder.
Since the 1990s, tattoos have become a mainstream part of Western fashion, and are popular among both sexes. For many, the tattoo has taken on a decidedly different meaning than for previous generations. However this relatively modern phenomenon has been a Eurasian practice since Neolithic times dating from the 5th to 4th millennium BC. Since then public acceptance of the practice has varied widely. Although today it is, for the most part, accepted and, in some circles, revered. In the 19th century, the Government of Meiji, Japan outlawed tattoos, a prohibition that stood for 70 years before being repealed in 1948.
Camille who studied fine art at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and UC Santa Cruz was looking for an alternative to the traditional post-college art jobs. Although Camille had always been interested in the art of tattooing it wasn’t until about 9 years ago when she saw the work of local emerging artists take the art form to a more sophisticated level that she became hooked. With her new passion, Camille went on to learn the craft and four years ago opened Chimera Tattoo & Studio & Gallery.
I caught up with Camille at her studio to talk about tattooing and body art
Kirby Scudder: Is it important that a body artist have an art background?
Camille Krilanovich: Most of the tattoo artists I know are incredible artists in their own right. Tattooing has a big drawing element to it. We are drawing all the time. We draw on paper, we draw on skin. Depending on what kind of style you choose it can be kind of similar to painting. It takes a lot of practice and skill when working with the colors to know how they will react to skin. In recent years tattooing has definitely become an art form unto itself. There are now schools around the world that teach accredited tattoo courses. My background is in fine art and I continue to work on my own paintings and as part of Chimera we have ongoing art exhibits in the studio gallery. Because we are drawing and painting on skin I would say that it is very important to have strong art skills to be a good tattoo artist.
KS: How did you make the transition from fine art to body art?
CK: When I graduated from college, I wanted to make a living in the arts, but not have all the odd jobs associated with it. I didn’t want to teach and I didn’t want to go through the traditional artist struggle. I had always been interested in tattooing and so I looked into it and it was really intriguing. It was kind of a newer medium in a way, even though it has an ancient genesis. But as far as the West is concerned, as an art form, it was really new. There was a lot of room for innovation and I saw a lot of up-and-coming tattooers that were making huge leaps in leaving behind the status quo and really taking it on as an art form. They were all very serious about it and there were a lot of artists that were moving into that field and making it a profession and changing things around. That’s what was really appealing to me and how I got started.
KS: It used to be that you would go into a tattoo parlor and pick from 30 different existing images. How does it work today?
CK: Today people come to us with a lot of their own ideas and work with us to make that idea a reality. However, there are people who want to get something they see on the wall that already exists or a flash and just have us replicate it. We do lots of custom tattoos. Many of our clients have strong ideas about what they want but their artistic skills range widely. So we do a lot of initial drawings to make sure they are getting what they want. If it’s a sleeve for example there is a lot of direct drawing. People know they are going to be wearing this art for the rest of their lives.
For more information about Camille Krilanovich go to www.chimeratattoo.com. Kirby Scudder is the director of the Santa Cruz Institute of Contemporary Art. Details: www.scica.org