The Asheville tattoo convention returns, artists reemerge into tattoo scene

Diego Garcia

Photographer

dgarcia1@unca.edu

Photo by Diego Garcia
Chandler Jumper shows off the wolf clan homage piece on his arm.

The second annual Asheville Tattoo Arts Convention is scheduled to return to Asheville in November, offering a new opportunity that adds a multi-perspective view into the world of tattooing.

Ashlee Brooke Underwood, a tattoo artist  based in Knoxville, Tennessee, is scheduled to be at the convention in November. Underwood is currently located at Elite Tattoo Company.

“As of right now I am in the lineup for the Asheville convention, but we’re not 100 percent as to whether it will happen yet,” Underwood said.

The event takes place at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center and is scheduled to be a three day event from Nov. 5-7.

Since the event has already been rescheduled due to COVID-19, many artists are uncertain the event will take place and many have not kept up with the schedule updates.

“COVID has definitely caused an effect within our industry,” Underwood said. According to the host, Villain Arts, there will be artists from different parts of the world and vendors that supply many of these artists. There will be live music  and a tattoo contest that will award artists with trophies and plaques for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place for a variety of design style competitions.

In downtown West Asheville on Haywood Road one can locate Victory Blvd Tattoo and find Tony Eterno, a tattoo artist who previously visited the event. Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Eterno has over 24 years of experience in the tattoo industry.

“I’ve lived here in western North Carolina for over 25 years on and off. This is my home shop essentially. This is where I learned how to tattoo,” Eterno said. “I started in 1997 and other than traveling around and tattooing in other states and cities, this is where I present the majority of my professional career.”

Eterno was a friend of California Ralph, a well known figure in the industry, who he met at a rock show in Asheville and got him into tattooing. Before meeting California Ralph, Eterno never sought to become a tattoo artist. Simply by being around people that were in the industry, he became a renowned artist.

“I am currently working with two other fellas that were brought into the business by California Ralph and I did an honest apprenticeship. I had to endure a lot of B.S. and not get paid well. Eventually I learned how to tattoo, and I wouldn’t trade any of it as I’m starting my 24th year as a tattoo artist,” Eterno said.

After Ralph passed away, Eterno assumed a residency at his shop in Asheville. The shop as described by Eterno is a street shop, a place made to give the people whatever tattoo they want, although in contemporary times it has changed to appeal to more people.

“Now it’s like, you know, trendy but ironically in the past at one point it was essentially a bad wrap, although during the 1900s a lot of tattooing was tribal, and the most popular mode of transportation to get to far away places was ships, and if you could afford these vacations to go to these islands destinations, essentially you were rich. It was like only rich people were getting tattoos at that point,” Eterno said.

Currently, conventions tend to bring a diverse group of artists together, giving people the chance to be tattooed by someone outside their local area, an option not available for most in the past.

“Depending on how big the convention is, it can draw even a Japanese tattoo artist for instance, someone that actually practices the tibiari style of tattooing, or a tattoo artist from say, California. It’s a lot easier to simply travel to downtown Asheville to get tattooed by non-local visitors that you normally wouldn’t be able to get tattooed by, especially someone from Europe, South America or Asia,” Eterno said.

By attending a convention, artists not only get the chance to get tattooed by a foreigner, but are able to gain a new perspective because one can submerge themselves into the culture in a more personal way.

“I particularly love getting a tattoo because it’s all part of it, you get through it you know, I haven’t died yet. It’s part of the experience of getting and being tattooed. Also when you’re able to sit down for the artist to work you get a cool tattoo,” Eterno said.

Chandler Jumper, a junior at UNC Asheville, said he decided to get his first tattoo after graduating from high school.

“I went on a trip with my friends to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I chose to get the syllabaries on my forearm because it translates to my last name. It’s just part of my culture, I’m part of the eastern band of Cherokee Indians and that’s what played a big part in my decision to get my first tattoo,” Jumper said.

The experience of getting tattooed from Jumper’s perspective is that it’s a meaningful reminder of his heritage that he will have forever.

“To me it represents my family, culture and where I come from. In a way it keeps me grounded since I’m away from home and having the opportunities that have came into my life compared to most people back home keeps me tied to that, like a reminder of where I’m from,” Jumper said.

Additionally,  Cherokee culture includes several clans and it ties into the mother’s side of the family. Jumper happens to be a part of the wolf clan and it inspired him to get a tattoo relating to that.

“My  family is tied in connection with the wolf clan and so that is where I got the inspiration to have the wolf portrayed with the wooded forest in the background on my arm. I chose the wooded forest because it reminds me of back home, it’s filled with trees and it’s mountainous,” Jumper said.

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