Tattoo exhibition thwarted by riots - but the show will go on

Celebrity tattooist Louis Molloy's debut tattoo art exhibition was ruined when rioters smashed the gallery windows. Matilda Battersby reports
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Louis Molloy, the tattooist responsible for the angel motif on David Beckham’s torso, should have been celebrating a crucial inroad for tattoos into the mainstream art world tomorrow at the opening of a gallery exhibition of his ink designs. But when thugs kicked in the windows of the Generation Pop gallery near Manchester Piccadilly Station during Tuesday night’s riots the show was called off.

When interviewed Molloy last week, prior to the random storms of violence which have since buffeted the UK, the self-taught body artist was keen to stress that tattoos are no-longer the hallmark of gangs and outsiders. “Part of the appeal of tattoos is the bad boy image, of course. Some people will always respond in an uppity way about it and be a bit prejudiced. But tattoos are becoming more mainstream and you see them a lot more in day-to-day than you used to,” he said.

Tattoos are often used in fiction as a means of identifying a bad guy, or person outside of social norms. From Stieg Larsson’s ubiquitous The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo to the comically tattooed knuckles of the Blues Brothers, it is usually criminals and the violent who are the (literally) marked men (and women) on film and in books. This is sometimes true in newspapers too. Molloy says: “In the media tattoos = criminals. It’s amazing that sometimes you can read a report in the newspaper which will go ‘Blah blah blah tattooed thug, rapist...whatever.’ Dr Harold Shipman was biggest serial killer this country has ever known and he wasn’t tattooed. What does that tell you?”

It is ironic that an exhibition which would have embodied the new wave of enthusiasm and respect that tattoo art can command was victim to mindless criminality.

Anthony Marks, Generation Pop’s owner, said: "We have been preparing for this exhibition for months with it shaping up to be a big event for the gallery and Manchester. The gallery itself suffered only minor damage compared to some of the other destruction we have seen. It is the right thing to do to postpone until 22 September.”

In our interview Molloy remarked on the recent use of tattoos in a promotional video by the Spanish tourist board which he says is an indication of body art’s increasingly positive image. He says tattoos can even help with integration and community spirit. While this is not implausible, I doubt David Cameron will jump on this as an example of the road to Big Society.

“I know personally of a policeman who was involved in a hostage situation and it was this policeman’s tattoos which broke the ice with the perpetrator and eventually diffused the situation. The thing about tattoos is that anybody can have one and you find that there are people tattooed from all walks of life and it’s a good common ground.”

Designs have come a long way from hearts saying “Mother” and scantily clad ladies stereotypically gracing the forearms of sailors, as a digital sneak preview of Molly’s exhibition ( click here ) will attest.

When Molloy left school his “financial situation” prevented him from attending art college so he opened a tattoo studio and honed his craft by practising (“On paper, not skin. You can’t make any mistakes then, obviously”.) His skill gained him celebrity walking adverts including several members of the Spice Girls, David Beckham, all members of Boyzone and boxer Ricky Hatton. He even starred in the Discovery Channel’s reality show London Ink and has launched a menswear range.

Molloy is a one man bandwagon for getting tattoos “integrated” into everyday life. “Some people seem to think it’s alright to be really rude or abusive about people who are tattooed. But if you flip that context into race, creed, culture or religion then those people could be put in prison for it. But they do it anyway. Personally, I couldn’t care less. People who think like that probably aren’t very intelligent.”

The postponement of the show until late September will be a blow for Molloy’s celebrity supporters (his PR tells me Wayne Rooney was among the confirmed launch attendees), but hopefully by the time it comes around the streets of Manchester will have been patched up and the exhibition can be received as it was intended.

Art of Lou Molloy will be on show at the Generation Pop Art Gallery, Manchester from the revised date of 22 September,