The Arctic Tattoo Convention 2006

Published: 27 January, 2010 - Featured in Skin Deep 137, September, 2006

I’d always fancied going to Norway ever since I studied the fjords in geography at school. So when Phil and Susanne from Arctic Tattoo in Norway came up to the Skin Deep stand at this years’ Manchester Skin Tech show and invited me over for their Tattoo Convention, I jumped at the chance. 

I had a bit of trouble sorting out flights after finding out that Ryanair fly into the smaller of the two airports in Oslo and there not being a good transfer between the two, so I had to re-book my flights to the  ‘proper’ airport (Gardermoen) to then fly on to Tromso. Apologies to all that followed my advice about the cheap flights, only to find out about the second airport. Oops. Anyway, after a journey via Amsterdam we arrived in the stunning town of Tromso. Tromso is a smallish island, nestled amongst Norway’s beautiful fjords and is on the same latitude as Alaska and Siberia. At the time of year we visited, Tromso is bathed in twenty-four hour daylight. A very strange feeling I can tell you.

After being picked up at the airport, we were taken to the convention building called Driv. Driv is a superbly renovated building right on the front of the harbour with views of the snow-capped mountains in the distance. There are four floors in Driv, each one hosting a different entertainment area. On the ground floor is a street café and bar. Go through the back of the café and you enter a large dance floor and stage area. Next floor is a balcony and another bar over looking the stage, next level hosts a large chill-out area with a bar area and finally the top floor has a big seated area with yes, you’ve guessed it, another bar. You’d never get thirsty whilst in Driv!

The entire building – much like the majority of buildings in Tromso, are made of wood and walking about the interior of Driv you could be fooled into thinking that you were wandering around in the bowels of a huge sailing ship. It really was a unique experience and felt very warm and inviting. A very nice change from some venues, which can feel a little sterile, and not have a great deal of character to them. Driv has character literally oozing from its pores.

We were a bit worn out after the journey but a couple of restorative beers soon sorted us out. Phil had kindly put on a pre-show party for all the artists and guests so we ended up chewing the fat with many of the artists well into the small hours and I was surprised how many artists had travelled from abroad to attend his show. 

Saturday morning and the doors opened to the most northern tattoo convention and the crowd started to enter Driv. The tattooists were all assembled on the second floor, having ample space to work in. Phil had hand picked and personally invited many of the artists and there was a very broad spectrum of talent and styles. I think in total there must have been about twenty artists, some of whom I had come across at British conventions. Guys like; Nev from Redskin Tattoos in North Wales, Rob Ratcliffe - Border Rose, Snoopy and Pussifer from Ireland, David Hall from Southside Ink, Wurz from Tattooing at Gunpoint, Lee Marshall - Next Generation, Jin – Sacred Heart Tattoos and more. Other international artists attending included Devin and a couple of guys from the States who had kindly been running Phil’s studio for two weeks prior to the convention, giving Phil time to organise everything, Bleach from America, Alex from rites of Passage in Copenhagen, Soul Symbols from Tenerife and Enger from Germany. Some of the home grown talented included the lovely Kari working from Kunst Med Puis in Oslo as well as Trines Tattoo from Oslo and Arnhild also working from Oslo. Arnhild is a member of the Sami people, the oldest group of people in Norway and some say the world. She specialises in tattooing ancient symbols from the Sami people who gave rise to the Vikings. So no matter what sort of tattoo you were after, you were well catered for.

The days proceedings started off a little quiet but things soon picked up with every booth working on some one. It was great to see that Phil and his gang had given the working artists plenty of room to work and not squeezed more in just for the sake of a few extra Kroner. Alex from Rites of Passage was working on a large Ozzy Osborne portrait on a friend’s leg; this took a few hours to complete and consequently took best portrait and best of Saturday. Justifiably so too, the shading on the piece is incredible. Kari, one of the Norwegian tattooists was doing a roaring trade, her speciality was pointillism work and her precision is second to none. As I go to quite a few conventions, many abroad, I tend to notice each country has it’s own ‘fashionable’ tattoo thing going on and Norway was no exception. The ‘Tattoo de jour’ seemed to be the reverse flames running up the forearms. I must have seen at least ten people with different variations of this theme.

As the day progressed, the main stage played host to a few different bands, some being a bit ‘Lordi-esque’ (Lordi being the Scandinavian band who won the Eurovision song contest with a death metal type song) and although being incredibly loud, the music didn’t distract the tattooists as they were a floor above. A very nice touch was the big cinema screen at the end of the artists room conveying all that was going on downstairs so you felt in touch with all the days proceedings regardless of what floor you were on. This also piped the music into the tattooist’s room but at an acceptable level.

It was so nice to stroll about the Driv and just soak up the laid-back atmosphere, chat to the incredibly friendly people, wonder outside and sit in the sunshine and have a beer, whilst looking over the spectacular vista of snow-capped mountains, watching the sailing boats float by on azure waters. Blimey, who’d have my job eh?

Later on, on the stage, it was time for the freak show, which was performed by Pain Solution. If you have not seen this guy, I suggest you put it on your list of ‘must do’s’. Okay, we’ve all seen the odd piercing and stunt show performed on stages at other tattoo conventions but this guy was something else. His show started with him appearing through the crowd, clad only in a leather loin cloth, a bowler hat and huge needles pierced through his forehead. He then proceeded to swallow fire, pierce his sides with massive hooks and chains as well all his other appendages, He then went on to jump up and down on broken glass and lay, then stand on sharp machetes ending up standing on one foot on a single blade edge. It was one of the best Fakir type shows I have had the pleasure of seeing. A real treat and he went down to a very appreciative audience.

Not long after this, the convention closed for the day and the artists all met outside for a well-earned drink by the quayside. As I mentioned earlier, Tromso is blessed with twenty-four hours of daylight for a part of the year, so we took the opportunity to get some photos of all the artists at midnight in the land of the ‘midnight sun’ at midnight. 

Walking back to the hotel in the daylight at about half one in the morning seemed very surreal, I must admit. 

Sunday morning and after spending a very enjoyable breakfast talking to Lyle Tuttle, one of tattooing’s most famous sons, we headed back to Driv to get things set up for the day. Lyle is a good friend of Phil and Susanne and was over in Tromso to give his very informative seminars about tattoo machines. I could sit and listen to this guy all day; he is such a font of all things tattoo. I couldn’t help feeling that this convention was almost put on purely for the tattooists as Phil and Susanne and their crew looked after everyone so well. Nothing was too much trouble for any of them. Phil and Susanne have a huge circle of friends, all willing to lend a hand with the show, making the whole weekend go without a hitch. As Phil said ‘all I want is for the artists to cover their costs, anything else is a bonus and I want everyone to have a great time’.

It wasn’t just the artists who were treated to the five star treatment; the public seemed very impressed with the whole convention as well. Last years show was held in a different venue that lacked the atmosphere of Driv. The move was a wise choice by Phil and many of the tattooists I spoke to said this was a much better venue.

It wasn’t too long before the sound of tattoo machines buzzed through the floors of Driv and the serious business of tattooing got underway. Again, Some lovely pieces of work were being done. Snoopy and Pussifer were flat out and they hardly had time for a break all day. The Liquid Courage chaps were finishing off some great new school designs on a guy’s under-arm and seemed pretty busy tattooing all sorts.

Later that day, With the muted sounds of rock and an incredible bluesy guitarist floating up from the stage a brave lad by the name of Stian had both sides of his chest tattooed at the same time by David Hall and Lee Marshall from Southside Ink and Next Generation, masquerading as Mr and Dr White from Boots the Chemist tattoos (don’t ask, it’s a long story!). How he sat for that much punishment is beyond me. The work was finished in a very short time and looked amazing. Both artists said it was quite difficult to work on, as each one working the skin would pull it in a different direction at the same time, but none of this detracted from the quality of the tattoos in any way.

Not too long after this, the same chap decided to get suspended by the Pain Solution people from the rafters of the building on the forth floor. Stian took this well and by the end of the suspension he was being swung around, reaching quite a steep angle.

A few other brave folk took up the suspension challenge and were hung by large hooks through their backs. Rather them than me, although I find myself becoming more and more curious each time I see it. Maybe next year… 

Three people did the judging and positioning myself behind them I had an unrivalled view of all the work that came past the judges. A lot of the work being judged was of new tattoos done over the weekend but there was a good selection of older work on display too. The range of work was huge from new school colour work to tribal to black and grey. All of a very high standard.

Not long after this there was a fetish/lingerie fashion show downstairs on the main stage much to the delight of the audience. This was just another ‘different’ touch that the organisers added to make this more than just a tattoo show.

As the doors to the show closed to the public the working artists took to the outside for a well-earned beer and a break before the much talked about after show party again, put on by Phil and Susanne. I managed to get a peek of the tattooing room. Gone were the booths to be replaced by rows of tables bedecked with fine china and wine glasses. I thought I’d wandered into someone’s wedding reception. The food was placed in the middle of the room and was extremely impressive with plenty of seafood on offer (what do you expect from the country with the longest coastline in the world?).

Keeping with the Arctic theme there was a stuffed reindeer and a spectacular polar bear at the end of the room finishing off the superbly decorated room.

Everyone was greeted into the room with a glass of champagne to celebrate a superb tattoo convention. This is the sort of thing that seems to be lacking at many other conventions. Something like this gives all the artists time to get together and have a chat about work that’s been done of over the weekend or just a chance to catch up with old friends and make new acquaintances. After all these guys have been working their socks off all weekend with little time for a break. Phil knows all about the convention scene having ‘done the rounds’ as it were, so he appreciated that the artists need time to blow off steam too. And as the alcohol got flowing then there was plenty of steam being released and the party went on until the wee hours. We gave up at half three when the majority of party goers were just off to a friend of Phil and Susanne’s club to carry on with the party. As we walked (well, staggered) back to our hotel through the deserted but day lit streets, we talked about how this was one of the best weekends we have had in a very long time for a variety of reasons. The organisation was second to none, the calibre of working artists was superb, the ink on display was awesome, everyone we met was really friendly and we were treated like royalty all weekend.

So it was a sad day to be leaving Tromso the following morning but we are already looking forward to next years’ Arctic Tattoo Convention.Thanks to Phil, Susanne and the rest of the gang. I can’t thank you enough for inviting us. We had a blast.

Don’t take my word for it, come and join us next year…


Text & Photos: Neil Photos: FLO DIXON


Skin Deep 137 1 September 2006 137