With internationally-acclaimed tattoo artists alongside your favorite artists from the River City, the Richmond Tattoo, Art, & Music Festival is bringing its artistic fire to town this month.
Richmond is a tattoo mecca — this has become an undeniable reality. So why would it be that a city so renowned for its tattoo culture would find itself struggling to gather artists and fans under the same roof?
“Prior to us taking over the convention, I think they might have had 1,000 people coming through the door,” said Jesse Smith, who, along with Kenny Brown, took over running the Richmond Tattoo Art & Music Festival four years ago. “I think we doubled the numbers the first year. So it grew substantially, and every year since then we’ve gotten more and more people through the door.”
Smith, who runs Loose Screw Tattoo in Carytown, said that the duo’s passion for bringing members of the tattoo and arts communities together had an immediate impact on the festival. And now, in its 27th year, the festival will attract tens of thousands of fans over the course of the weekend of Sept. 13 – 15.
Smith attributes the growth and success of the festival in recent years to a number of factors. First, they returned the gathering to the site of its roots – the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Midlothian. The Hilton hosted the first annual festival back in 1988.
Second, Smith wants to make it known that the Richmond festival is not just a tattoo festival. It has been a priority in recent years to create an atmosphere in which attendees can bridge the gap between tattoo and art.
Smith created the Richmond Tattoo and Arts Academy to do just that. Held on Thursday, Sept. 12, the Academy provides a space where artists in all stages of their careers can learn from some of the world’s best artists. Four internationally-acclaimed tattoo artists and four independent artists from various disciplines will host seminars covering topics all across the creative process; from character design to the biology of tattooing. It will truly be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many attendees to gain knowledge from the best the art world has to offer.
Sterling Hundley is one of the artists participating in the Academy. Hundley, who coincidentally taught Smith while he was attending VCU, is an illustrator and a professor at the VCU School of the Arts. He said he looks forward to helping artists from all walks of life, specifically helping them manage the misconceived perceptions of why artists create their work.
One thing that has never changed about the festival is its affinity for attracting some of the biggest names in the tattoo community. This year is no different. Some of the featured artists include:
- Ryan Ashley Malarkey – Ink Master Champion (season 8), Ink Master Angels
- Cleen Rock One – Ink Master (multiple seasons), owner of Golden Skull Tattoo
- Anthony Michaels – Ink Master Champion (seasons 7 & 10)
- Duffy Fortner – Ink Master (season 6)
Another factor that has always made the Richmond festival so special is the incredible variety of artists that visit from around the world. Pablo Fontagnier is one of those artists. Known as “Hombre SUK” in the art world, Fontagnier, who is based in Nuremberg, Germany, is a world-renowned graffiti artist and illustrator. He said he is looking forward to the festival in Richmond because he knows what an incredible opportunity it provides to interact with his fans and other artists.
“When I started doing graffiti in the mid-90s, I would have never thought that I would paint all over the world — going to meet all these great human beings and make friends all over the globe,” Fontagnier said. “It’s incredible to come to another country where people already know you.”
Fontagnier recognizes that many of the artists attending the festival share the same artistic spirit — “different lives, but parallel experiences,” as he put it. Those experiences are what Fontagnier says make the flight around the world worth it.
“Talking, celebrating and chilling with people you are feeling really connected with — that’s something that really makes it easy to feel welcome and at home even on the other side of the globe.”
It should be noted that, despite the grown-up connotations tattoos carry, the festival is family-friendly. Saturday and Sunday’s events before 8 p.m. are catered to people of all ages. Take for example the kids’ tattoo competitions in the “‘Lil Tat Shack,” where kids will get to “tattoo” a client with non-toxic markers. There will also be a bouncy castle and chalk drawing for the young and young-at-heart.
However, after 9 p.m., things get a bit more risque. Friday and Saturday night, there will be belly dancing and burlesque performances. And, back by popular demand, is the crowd favorite Air Sex Championships. Described as “a magical blend of coordination, showmanship, humor and interactive storytelling,” the Air Sex shows always attract large crowds who gather to see total strangers perform the most intimate of acts with absolutely no one.
At the end of the weekend, a number of select artists will participate in “Live Art for Charity” by creating one-of-a-kind art pieces that will be auctioned off following the convention. This year, 100% of the proceeds of the auction will go to the Giving Arts Foundation, which Smith founded earlier this year to benefit ocean and environmental conservation. This is the fourth year the auction has wrapped up the weekend. Smith emphasized the importance of artists giving back to society in any way they can.
On top of everything art-related, the weekend will feature a number of other activities and attractions. There will be tons of live music, including a performance by Jon Markel of the band Carbon Leaf. More than 30 vendors will be in attendance selling artisanal goods, and many of Richmond’s most popular food trucks will be parked outside.
Smith knows firsthand just how much time and hard work it has taken to turn the Richmond festival into one of the world’s biggest. Lining the walls of the ballroom during the festival are posters and signs honoring some of the festival’s biggest contributors over the years who have since passed away. Smith said that looking up and seeing some of the formative names of the tattoo industry is a humbling reminder of the opportunity he and Brown took on four years ago.
The 27th Annual Richmond Tattoo, Art & Music Festival takes place from Friday, September 13 to Sunday, September 15 at the DoubleTree Midlothian, located at 1021 Koger Center Blvd. A full schedule and ticket information for the weekend can be found here.