In 1891, J. Murakami travelled from Japan, via San Francisco, to Vancouver Island and began working in and around Victoria. His occupation: creating permanent images on the skin of paying clients.
From this early example of tattooing as work, Jamie Jelinski takes us from coast to coast with detours to the United States, England, and Japan as he traces the evolution of commercial tattooing in Canada over more than one hundred years. Needle Work offers insight into how tattoo artists navigated regulation, the types of spaces they worked in, and the dynamic relationship between the images they tattooed on customers and other forms of visual culture and artistic enterprise. Merging biographical narratives with an examination of tattooing’s place within wider society, Jelinski reveals how these commercial image makers bridged conventional gaps between cultural production and practical, for-profit work, thereby establishing tattooing as a legitimate career.
Richly illustrated and drawing on archives, print media, and objects held in institutions and private collections across Canada and beyond, Needle Work provides a timely understanding of a vocation that is now familiar but whose intricate history has rarely been considered.
Needle Work will be published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in June 2024 as part of the McGill-Queen’s/Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation Studies in Art History Series.