There has been much debate over the years regarding whether or not tattooing can be considered as a true art form. Although the practice has been around for centuries many art snobs believe it to be the reserve of the criminally minded and anarchistic. As body art gains more recognition and becomes more socially acceptable, many artists have begun to push the boundaries of tattooing and integrate it into the world of fine art. No artist has worked harder on this goal than the ‘Master of Macabre’ Paul Booth.
Hailing from Boonton, New Jersey, Booth is credited with helping to bring the world of tattooing into the medium of fine art. Through his many artistic projects and organisations he has managed to unite tattoo artists from all over the world and showcase some of their most spectacular works of art. Known and revered for his incredibly dark and aggressive designs, Booth is regularly sought out by heavy metal bands who give him the freedom to create some of the most horrifying designs ever seen on human flesh.
Paul Booth displayed entrepreneurial skills from a very young age. At just 15 years old he opened his own shop designing and making signs. He worked a variety of different jobs including airbrushing and repo-man until he finally found his calling in 1988 and began an apprenticeship at a studio. His very first tattoo was the name of his daughter ‘Tabitha’ and was the start of his now impressive collection of personal body art.
His career really took off after he completed his first full back piece in 1991 which received a huge amount of attention and praise. He decided to take the tattoo to the largest convention at the time in Pittsburgh and walked away with the prize for ‘Best Up and Coming Artist’, ‘Best Black and Gray Large Female’, and ‘Best Tattoo at Convention’. This thrust him into the spotlight almost overnight and he appeared on a number of magazine covers and gained the attention of a number of professional artists. This spawned a number of years on the road at conventions and festivals until he finally opened his own studio in New Jersey followed by another in New York.
Nowadays Booth can be found at the aesthetically stunning ‘Last Rites Tattoo Theatre’ in New York. The creepy gothic atmosphere of the theatre is evidence of his belief in the importance of atmosphere during the creative process, a theory which he has given many seminars on to try and teach the concept. As well as the theatre he owns, he has his own record label, media production company, and art gallery. As an active member of the National Arts Club he has constantly strived to bridge the gap between fine art and tattooing. His gallery in New York ‘Last Rites Gallery’ regularly features exhibitions from tattoo artists around the world and some of the biggest names in dark art.
He founded the Art Fusion Experiment, a movement that brought together tattooists from around the world with the goal of creating one of a kind works of art. The project was born at the ‘Tattoo the Earth’ festival in 2000 after he and artist Filip Leu took turns in tattooing the chest of musician Ryan Martinie of Muvayne. Each artist took turns in working on the design in short bursts so that neither had the opportunity to dominate the piece. This resulted in an artwork that could only be created by the combined minds of two prolific tattooists, and the technique has been repeated at various gatherings.
Paul Booth is known for his dark and warped images usually rendered in black and gray shading. His talent is so impressive that his waiting list is approximately 3 years long with many more clients added each day. His depiction of the 7 deadly sins (above) as part of a black and gray sleeve is beautifully detailed and the different tones and hues used throughout the piece create depth and texture. The 7 faces convey the different emotions of their personal sin and display Booth’s incredible talent for realism.
One of his designs that has the power to render anyone speechless is the full chest piece that spreads over the arms and stomach. This incredible design has so many details and layers that it is impossible to consider it anything less than a masterpiece. The zombie woman peering out from behind the spinal column with her hand wrapped around the front of the spine is one of the best examples that can be seen of the power of a 3 dimensional design. The hours of work that must have gone into this are truly mind blowing and every small detail has been carefully shaded including a small design inside the pendant around the neck.
Well aware of the disturbing nature of some of his designs, Booth spends many hours in consultation with his clients determining whether or not they can handle the implications of living with such a dark image. A design that has no doubt shocked many passers-by is the stitches around the throat of a man which give the impression of a severed head. The client, who lived in the bible belt of America, had to wait many months before Booth agreed to ink such a dramatic design in an extremely conspicuous area of the body.
Beneath Booth’s fearsome exterior lies the delicate soul of an artist. His art is infused with a macabre beauty which stimulates emotion in anyone who views it, whether or not they appreciate the subject matter. His talent has made him a household name and he has used this fame to push the tattoo culture to the limit and has directed two documentaries that aim to educate the world about the world of tattooing. His creative genius has taken the form of music, sculpture, painting, tattooing, and film and he has become an inspiration to thousands of up and coming artists. Anyone lucky enough to land an appointment with Booth in his specially designed theatre will have not only the experience of a lifetime, but a personal piece of stunning artwork to call their own.