Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The Electric Michelangelo

Last week I picked up a fantastic book by chance from my local library. It was the cover that pulled me to it, so I guess that old saying 'never judge a book by it's cover' was wrong in this case.

The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall is a story about tattooing. But focuses on the turn of the 1900's making it's way through the 20's 30's and 40's all to finish in the 1970's. Just think how much tattooing has changed over all that time.

The story focuses on Cyril Parks, an unassuming lad who grows up in Morecambe amongst the seaside atmosphere of music halls fish and chips and the Northern working class taking their treasured holidays on the coast. He lives in a sea front guest house run by his no nonsense mother who frequently takes in consumptives so that they can enjoy the sea air.

As he grows older we meet his friends, join them on their mucky adventures and learn about the town's tattooist, the notorious Elliot Riley; a man with a reputation as a drunk with a bad mouth.
Cyril eventually becomes his apprentice and learns the art of tattooing the painful way. No sentiment is spared by Riley who is made up of equal parts of good and bad and treats Cy (as he is known) to all the dark recesses of his bitter life. Riley's one redeeming feature is his art. He is the best tattoo artist in the whole of North England and people come to him because he is a legend and it is this gift he passes on to Cy.

After both his mother and Riley pass away Cy emmigrates to New York, setting up shop as The Electric Michelangelo on Coney Island boardwalk, the macabre end of town complete with circus freak shows and fun fairs. It is here he meets and falls in love with Grace, an eastern European immigrant working as a bare back rider. She commissions him to tattoo her entire body with eyes.

This book was so atmospheric and brought up many issues for thought. Not only did I enjoy learning about the history of the art itself, which the author obviously had researched thoroughly, I was mesmerised by the idea that a female would want to alter her body so drastically and step away from the normal ideals of polite society! I read with eager morbid fascination as her body was slowly covered from ankle to neck in thick oultined eyes. Again the whole idea of a female body staring back at the viewer was an interesting concept and one that was quite shocking but admirable in its reasoning. Grace, feeling that by altering her body in this way, she is in command of how it is seen, forever challenging the male gaze.

The story has many twists and turns and ends very well but leaves you deep in thought for a long time afterwards. The fact that the book blends so perfeclty with my own research and studies of classic sailor tattoos and pin up girls was brilliant. There was whole pages dedicated to a mermaid tattoo who seemed to have a siren call to the men that chose her. The author goes into deep analysis of just why tattooing is so necessesary to create landmark occassions in peoples lives. She also goes into discussion of why tattoo shops thrive by the sea, combining myth and art into contemporary folklore. I totally loved this book and have added all the ideas and images it has given me to my growing list of inspirations to my new work.

Other news:

Last week I told you about The Chantilly Belles performance at The Lowry in aid of Comedy 4 Christies. I recieved some photos from the night's official photographer in my inbox yesterday so thought I'd share them with you. There are more to come too!

The Doctor doesn't quite know what to make of her creation

The Monster just can't help herself!

Bandages off!



Bug said...

Looks like a great show!

Farce Herself said...

I listed you as a great read on my blog; check it out!