By Megan Whitfield
Long recognised for its vibrant artistic flair, the creative spirit of Barcelona is not restricted to it’s unique architecture. One only needs to take a quick look around the bustly streets of the city to notice this creativity reflected on the skin of it’s passionate citizens.
“I spent 15 years cooking, but the kitchen is boring. And hot. The menus would only change every two or three years. It made my mind go crazy. I wanted to be an artist.” Argentinian tattoo artist Paolo Goag first made the move to Barcelona nine years ago. Seeking a new outlet for his creativity, he quickly fell in love with the thriving inventive culture fostered here.
He found his home in his studio, Beautiful Queen Tattoo, tucked away in the Gothic quarter, and hasn’t looked back. “Barcelona is obviously a good place for a studio, and to be an artist. The city is full of art, and the level of talent is high.”
There’s an openness to the industry in Barcelona, no restrictions placed on the definition of creativity. “You say for yourself what is creative; I cannot say what is on your body is not art.” Whatever the image, “tattoos show sexuality, strength; they show that you’re beautiful.”
It’s this unique culture, combined with a number of highly-regarded international tattoo events based in Barcelona that have turned this region into one of the top European destinations for tattoo tourism. For 20 years, the city has been home to the Barcelona Tattoo Expo, an exhibition annually drawing in thousands of guests and artists from across the globe.
Italian Tattoo artist, now based in Barcelona, Flav Ink, believes this plays a role in the lack of boundaries in this thriving tattoo scene. “The city is really free, open-minded, and with a strong freedom of expression. In Italy, tattoos are still seen as ‘bad for society, [suitable only for certain professions]. Here, you can be a hairdresser, teacher… any kind of workplace, you can be tattooed.”
She notes the way the industry has changed with the rise of tourism in the region. “Everyone who comes to me is a tourist, or an expat, living in Spain for six months or so. Most are people who have travelled a lot- many of the tattoos I do are globes, maps, to express those kinds of ideas,” she says. Commonly requested are also motifs of Barcelona- the flower, images of the city.
Flav Ink is not alone in this experience. According to the YEAY Global Tattoo index, Barcelona is in the top 8 cities for tattoo tourism, with 75 per cent of clients being tourists.
While not necessarily a negative development, it has had an impact on the industry, notes Flav Ink. “The tattoos have gotten more commercial. Studios know that tourists aren’t coming back, so they often focus on the quantity, not the quality.”
It’s having an impact on the ethics behind the art as well. “With tourism, this has been a bit lost in the industry. Many new studios have opened in the touristic areas, where they live on walk-in appointments, rather than the reputation of the artist.” There is less transparency, less discussion regarding the capabilities and strengths of the artists, which can lead to disappointment in the quality of the tattoo. “You need to be honest with the client about your capabilities and style. If the client expects something quite specific [and you can’t deliver], you should say it and let the client decide.” Money should not be prioritized over the art.
However, the rise of tourism has also brought a number of positive elements to the Barcelona tattoo culture. “This increase has provided many new career opportunities,” with countless studios opening up, events to develop skills, and international sources of inspiration to continue developing this thriving industry.
It’s not hard to understand why Barcelona is such a hotspot for tattoos. ”[People] want a memory of their time here. This city inspires you to be free.” Who wouldn’t want that feeling permanently etched onto their skin?