The dangers of tattooing
After happening upon a gallery and realising that his old friend has become a famous and very collectable painter, Drioli shows off the masterpiece on his back to a couple of patrons of the arts. One of them murders Drioli, removes the skin from the poor man's back, and flogs a previously-unknown Soutine to an enthusiastic auction house.
Dahl's typically unpleasant story ought to be a warning to my wife, who has just had a pattern designed by the Tongan artist Visesio Siasau tattooed on her back. Visesio held his first exhibition only four years ago, but he's early scoring some prestigious gigs in galleries far from Tonga, as well as shaking up his fellow Friendly Islanders with sculptures and tapa that manage, with their mixtures of Christian, pagan, and coruscatingly commercial imagery, to look both vastly old and radically new.
may have inspired acts of vandalism by members of his family, but they went down a treat last week in Shanghai, where he represented Tonga at an international art expo.
Was my wife wise to allow Visesio to make art on her back, given his steadily rising reputation and the sinister lesson that Roald Dahl offers in 'Skin'?
Cerian is not the first palangi to get tattooed in Tonga. George Vason arrived in 1797 with the original group of missionaries to bother the country, but quickly 'went native', chucking away his Bible, taking a wife or three, and charging through local wars. Vason was soon covered in tattoos, as his Tongan hosts marvelled at the contrast between his pale British skin and their blue ink.
Last week I met a charming old Italian gent who lives beside a lake-like stretch of Tongatapu's lagoon and paints large pop art canvases. In between serving me excellent coffee and discoursing on Italian Futurism, my host explained that he spent years travelling the Pacific acquiring tattoos. He rolled up his shirt and showed off the coiled and spiralled lines that the artists of various islands had left on his torso and his upper arms. The tattoos had faded and lost some of their edges, so that they looked curiously like the varicose veins that decorate the bodies of most people of his age.
On the small of his back, though, my host boasted a tattoo which had retained some of its original shape. It showed not some esoteric Polynesia pattern but that venerable icon of Western culture, Mickey Mouse.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]