Hello Kitty Ink – Embracing the cute, one tattoo at a time
By Evan Senn
Recently, L.A.’s tattoo scene has hit a mainstream pop culture milestone. The Japanese American National Museum (JANM) and the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), hosted a Hello Kitty holiday in Los Angeles. Paired with Hello Kitty’s 40th birthday, the two museums—with the help of the Sanrio Corporation—put together massive retrospective exhibition and convention featuring the history, style, story and art of this infamous Kitty, and went even one step further and opened up a Hello Kitty Ink pop-up tattoo shop inside the Geffen Contemporary during the four-day convention. After the Hello Kitty Con was dismantled at MOCA, the JANM took center stage and continued to offer the largest Hello Kitty retrospective exhibition in Los Angeles history, Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty, which will be on view through April 2015.
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The inclusion of a tattoo shop seems a little out of character for such a cartoon-geared company, but convention curator Roger Gastman persuaded the super savvy Sanrio corporation to include many diverse, fascinating and edgy specialty sections in the convention, promising that it would be an attractive draw for trendy Angelenos—and he was right. Other highlights of this crazy Hello Kitty holiday included: 40 years of Hello Kitty products in a Vintage Village, an art school where kids could learn to draw Kitty, workshops spanning Hello Kitty cupcakes (taught by Ace of Cakes star Duff Goldman) to Hello Kitty wall art (by cartoonist and fashion designer Paul Frank), tons of photo opps amid wooden cutouts in Hello Kitty’s adorable world, a performance stage and a parking lot full of food trucks.
Only the first 50 Hello Kitty diehards let in each day of the convention would be graced with a complimentary HK tat, and the flash, designed and executed by some of the industry’s best Hello Kitty tattoo artists, was superb. Alex Strangler, Mario Desa, Dan Smith and Jeffrey Page were among the very few artists asked to participate in this monumental moment in pop culture history. All of these artists are well known and well respected, with similar style and line quality; they were the perfect match for giving HK fans their perfect Kitty adornment. It was so popular at the convention, they even had a Hello Kitty tattoo competition to judge whose HK obsession had taken over their entire bodies and lives.
Since the late 1970s, the Sanrio character Hello Kitty has been dominating pre-adolescent females’ apparel, school supplies, popular culture and accessory industries. However, since the late 20, Hello Kitty has taken on a larger fan base, and Sanrio was able to appeal to adult consumers. This expanded market has gone from coin purses to high fashion couture. Sanrio’s marketing and partnerships is one of the most successful around, helping to create a global brand, just based on this one character, that is worth more than $7 billion a year now.
This instance of this tattoo pop up shop may seem on the normal side of the spectrum for major events in Los Angeles, but the fact that a major, somewhat conservative Japanese corporation that is centered around cartoon-based products and designs—as huge as Sanrio is—is a monumental event for mainstreaming tattoo culture, and opening up the acceptance of tattoos to new lifestyles, people, cultures.