Tattoos and street art are undeniably Richmond to the point that we should erect a monument of a giant paintbrush on Monument Avenue. As of 2015, the city was the third most tattooed place in the country and has become apart of our culture just as street art is starting to. With the fascination and popularity of body ink, it only makes sense there be a place for artists, fans, and tatooed citizens alike to converge and celebrate the art of ink.
This weekend will mark the 25th Anniversary of the Richmond Tattoo and Art Festival, bringing over 150 internationally known and local tattoo artists, 14 celebrity tattoo artists and muralists to the area for live tattooing, workshops, demos, along with competitions, performances, music and more.
The annual convention was started and previously led by Cj Starkey and Nate Drew, but for the last two years, Carytown’s Loose Screw Tattoo owner Jesse Smith and Kenny Brown of Jack Brown’s Tattoo Revival have served at the helm selecting artists to make this festival bigger and better than the last.
“We’re still trying to get the base up, this year we’re more focused on trying to put together the best show we can,” said Smith, who has been adorning people’s bodies with art for 20 years. “Me and my team have put 110 percent into this fucking convention, I want people to know this is passion for all of us.”
Returning the festival to its original location of the Doubletree, formerly the Holiday Inn, is one of the changes being made under Smith and Brown. The spot has a rich history within the local tattoo community and it predates the festival itself as it used to be an informal meeting area for a Tattoo club back in 1988 with local tattoo legends such as Grandpa Groovy, one of the men responsible for removing stigmas about tattoos by helping to bring about tattoo regulations to Richmond.
With an expected 4,000-5,000 attendees, up from 2,800 at last year, and over 30 vendors including Kulture, Velocity Comics, 3d Central Printing, Eternal Ink and Goatocado, it continues to be one of Richmond’s most popular for tattoo fans and fellow artists alike.
“My goal is to eventually turn this into one of the biggest art events on the east coast,” said Smith.
Big names in the tattoo field expected to attend are artists from Spike’s TV series Ink Master such as Tatu Baby and Christian Buckingham, along with tattooers from Ink Master Angels, Tattoo Nightmares Miami, and VH1’s Black Ink Crew.
“As far as the public is concerned, We have a lot of guys from the Ink Master show and we also got my friend Melody Mitchell,(a street artist) from the Black Ink crew. We have a bunch of TV celebrities that are going to be there,” said Smith.
Richmond’s own Mitchell Canter from Heroes and Ghosts Tattoo as well as Loose Screw’s Jason Stephan will be attending. Fellow Richmond tattoo shops Black Rabbit Tatoo, Two Pillars Tatoo, and River City Tattoo will also be at the convention. Click this link to request an appointment from any of the artists before the festival.
Most artists that were selected were hand-picked by the team. “Talent, we based it off of reputation, we base it off of personality…Sometimes you a have really awesome artist that are assholes and then you got artists who aren’t as good as them but, really cool and easy to work with,” said Smith on this year’s lineup. “I want to have good people at the show, good people, and good personalities getting all of those is a tough package.”
Body ink might be the main attraction, but street art is also a big part of the RVA Tattoo & Arts Festival. The show with feature 10 different street artist coming out and painting on 6×6 canvases and that will be sold to the public. Colorblind street artist, Toobz Muir and surrealist master Ekundayo (artists of one of my favorite murals in RVA) will be two of the 10 taggers. All of the proceeds will be given to Art 180, a local non-profit involved in inspiring youth through art.
“Professional Purveyor of Good Times” and Richmond’s Best Burlesque Performer, Deanna Danger, will return this year to host the 2nd Annual Miss Pin Up Competition. First place will receive a cash prize, a crown, a sash and some goodies as well as the glory of the “Miss Pinup RVA” title. Boom Boom Basics Burlesque & Performing Arts Studio will also be wooing peering eyes with their burlesque and variety show.
The RVA Beard League will also be out there recruiting new bearded members and will host a contest of their own. The attendee with the gnarliest beard and/or mustache will win a $200 certificate to Loose Screw Tattoo. No criteria is given for the competition, but I can only speculate it won’t be too different from the league’s own Mid-Atlantic Beard and Stache Championships.
While you’re checking out all the dope ink and chatting with artists make sure you check out the freak side-side attraction that is the air-sex competition. Participants simulate sexual acts in an improv comedy style to their choice of music and it’s pretty much one of the greatest performances you will ever see. You can read more on the air sex championships in our coverafe here.
“I’m not gonna say it’s a must-see, but something I’m definitely interested in seeing is the air sex competition,” said Smith.
Fitting the vibe of the entire show, there will be the 4’8 Ozzy Osbourne impersonator, Little Ozzy. The dead will rise again as going on 40 years together horror punk band, The Undead will play. Left Cross, Mistaker and Cody Spicer will also grace the festival with their tunes and a fire performance will be delivered courtesy of Party Liberation Front.
Tattoo competitions will be spread throughout the weekend, from awards based on best of size to the best of the weekend, best color, best black and gray, and a kids tattoo competition; allowing the little ones to get their taste at becoming a master inker.
The 25th RVA Tattoo & Arts Festival will take place this Fri. Sept., 29 through Oct. 1 at the DoubleTree by Hilton – Midlothian, located at
1021 Koger Center Boulevard. Tickets range from $20(Friday & Sunday) to $35(3-day pass), and you can grab yours here.
Photos courtesy of Richmond Tattoo & Arts Festival and Jesse Smith