Ink’s still leaving a trail

BRIAN BAKER/TOWN CRIER MEN OF ART: George Brown III, left, and Reverend Matt Ellis stand inside their lair at Seven Crowns Tattoos on Yonge St. just north of Eglinton Ave. The duo started the shop five years ago, with the hopes of turning the hood into a Queen Street North, (Brown admits), but have still supplied residents of midtown with plenty of ink and imaginative works.

Brian_Baker_columnThe day I came home with a tattoo, some 10 years ago, was a memorable one.

My mom, with a wry grin, smacked me in the arm opposite the one the bandage was on. She’d later disclose to me she’s always wanted a tattoo. My dad, however, called me a lower-body orifice, and shook his head.

Though my tattoo was a simple Canadian maple leaf with a puffin in the foreground, I was the first in my family to willingly get inked.

So, with this small anecdote in mind, I went to midtown’s well-respected digs, Seven Crowns, to talk to George Brown III about the artform, how it’s changed, its role in midtown, and of course Northern Ink Xposure, which rolled through town June 13–15.

He sits across from me, tattooed sleeves placed across his gurney where he inks customers. His coif neatly cropped, and his a-la-Souvarov moustache — the tips waxed, twirled in Victorian strongman fashion — meets a dynamic goatee.

Much to the chagrin of Brown’s predictions, the popularity of tattoos has not peaked and fallen off.

“I for one, frankly, have been saying for years it’s going to peak, it’s going to fall away, and it’s getting more and more entrenched in the mainstream — to the point where you can’t tap someone on the shoulder that hasn’t seen a tattoo show,” he says.

The integration came during the late 1980s and early ’90s, Brown tells me, “tied in along with music and other deviations of the mainstream.”

“When things became a little less bubblegum and people were looking to separate themselves from that, they looked to these things that are happening on the fringe,” he shares.

Seven Crowns has been around for five years, and if you didn’t see them at Northern Ink Xposure, it’s because they (Brown, along with his kindred artist Rev. Matt Ellis), decided to take a break from the convention circuit this year.

“We were just tired, frankly, so we sat this one out,” Brown admits, adding they’ll be back when NIX hits the Sheraton Hotel next year.

Back to tattoos, and the mainstream, Seven Crowns set up shop in the heart of midtown in hopes that Eglinton would become a Queen Street North.

“I don’t know if I see that potential anymore,” he says, with a hearty laugh. “In all honesty, it’s still a pretty vibrant and fun neighbourhood to work out of and I think our style sort of fits the neighbourhood.”

Still, tattoos have become so mainstream that if one pays close attention to those with ink they can pick out the when and where they got their tat done.

“If you look at somebody, and their general age and you see that they’ve got a bunch of Celtic stuff you’re looking at the early ’90s,” Brown says. “Then, of course, in the late ’90s, tribal was the big thing. That kind of stuff does tend to date you.”

But the styles that never die are those that bleed out from the original designs of Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins.

Anchors, hula girls and mom hearts still hold sentimental value for many an artist.

“Rightfully so,” Brown says. “They’re brilliant, iconic,

“They’re just striking to the eye. Those early designs … the reason why the Sailor Jerry stuff resonates with the people is because it’s designed perfectly.”

I couldn’t agree more.

As for Brown’s niche? He likes doing flowers and birds on the human canvas.

I guess I know where to turn to get a sleeve dedicated to my favourite animal: the puffin.

That is, if the wife lets me.