For the first time in over a dozen years, Ink-N-Iron won’t be bringing some of the world’s best tattooers aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach for a weekend in June. Instead, Art Gathering LA is taking its place, but it’s also cutting out some of the bullshit.
While some music festivals (like Costa Mesa’s Musink) are always striving to get bigger and bring in the most famous musicians, tattooers, and other attractions as they can, Art Gathering LA is looking to go back to its roots and put the focus on the artists. There will be no giant headlining bands, no outdoor stages, no classic hot rods, and no massive rockabilly-themed markets this year, but there will be plenty of art to go around: huge interactive exhibits and halls full of street art to galleries of tattoo flash and the live TV Bizarro! performance art variety show. For those who are still looking for a little punk rock, TV Bizarro! will feature DJ sets by Greg Hetson (Bad Religion, the Circle Jerks), Joe Escalante (the Vandals) and Jello Biafra, so Art Gathering LA won’t be entirely void of any punk influence.
With the shift in culture came the necessary change of host as well. The inaugural Art Gathering LA will be hosted by a legend of the tattoo world, Bob Tyrrell. After establishing himself as one of the top names in tattooing over the last two decades, this weekend will be Tyrrell’s first time playing host for a convention. And despite traveling all over the world for tattoo festivals and conventions, Ink-N-Iron/Art Gathering LA has always been one of Tyrrell’s preferred stops on his global tour.
“It’s different from any other convention because it’s on the ship, and it’s an awesome convention,” Tyrrell says, “Long Beach is a cool area, and being on the ship is really cool because there are restaurants and bars on the ship for after you’re done. With as many conventions as I’ve done, it’s always been one of my favorite conventions.”
Tyrrell splits time between LA and his hometown of Detroit, but he’s regarded as one of the best black-and-gray artists anywhere. As one of the most visible faces of the Sullen Art Collective and a guy who has tattooing friends all over the world, asking Tyrrell to host was an easy choice for the convention’s organizers. Now, instead of having to fly from one continent to the next to see all of his friends, Tyrrell can bring them all on to the same boat for a couple days.
“I just want to take care of everybody, hang out, and have a good time,” Tyrrell says. “Some of my best friends now are tattoo artist friends who are scattered around the planet. The people I meet through tattooing are some of the best people I’ve ever met in my life.”
But while many tattooers would love to have Tyrrell’s busy travel schedule, jet setting around the globe is something that Tyrrell wouldn’t mind getting away from in the near future. For Tyrrell – who’s been a musician even longer than he’s tattooed – the biggest thrill comes from tattooing and getting to know the rockers he used to look up to a few decades ago, not from landing in a new country every couple of weeks.
“I’ve traveled too much,” Tyrrell says. “I’ve done conventions all over the world, and now I’m trying to cut back on them a bit, but that’s not working out too well. I want to cut back to like 10 conventions per year, but it’s tough to get down to that. There are just so many good ones.”
That’s not to say Tyrrell doesn’t enjoy the option of traveling when he wants to. As someone who built countertops for 15 years before starting his tattoo career at the age of 34, Tyrrell knows the importance of being able to set his own schedule.
“I have more freedom than any job I can think of,” Tyrrell says. “I can go anywhere and work–not just for a day, but for a week or a month.”