The Picture of Mr. Sparrow The Busy Business Bird
How does a tattoo start? And I don’t mean the very first prick of the needle, and not the stencil. Not even when your old printer coughs out a blurred and discolored piece of paper, with that motive cropped in windows paint, you show to the artist. What I’m talking about is the idea. There are many different ways an idea for a tattoo is born, but for me (and especially for this one) it started with what you might call a brain tattoo. In lack of better words: An idea that won’t rub of. Like the song on your mind, that won’t leave you alone. For periods of time it may seem gone, but suddenly, seemingly like from a gust of wind, as a returning ship on the tide, there it is. But not like a terrible pop song, repetitive and destructive of sense, but passionate and feverish like love. Like finding just the right expression, that thing right on the tip of your tongue. Grasping, like trying to hold on to a fleeting dream just as you awake from your slumber.
Or, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but please bear with me. People who are passionate about tattoos, like us at Sorry Mom, knows the thrill and the sparkling gut feeling you get from a new project or even from the smell of a well-known tattoo product. Or the studio smell. The leathery smell from the tattoo beds. The whirring sound of the machines and the intoxicating adrenaline pumping in expectation of pain. For many, a tattoo can be a cathartic experience. Ironically, a remembrance tattoo, and also the pain inflicted by the needle, can help healing the loss of a beloved family member or friend. I can personally attest to that. But Tattoos aren’t just symbolic, and they aren’t just bodily embellishment either, but both. In that truth lies the juxtaposition between mind and matter. At least I think so. And that seems to be a big part of the tattoo lifestyle, or even the essence.
This of course is a personal opinion, and in that nature, an extension of my personal philosophy on the matter. Nonetheless, the idea of things being “both-and” instead of “and-or”, in the sense of mind and matter, seems to be generally appealing to the global community of tattoo lovers. Are both rare and common people, who are often world travelers in both mind and body, and who might embrace both death metal and the teachings of Buddha. Like the tattoo covered sailors of old went out into the world and mapped it on their bodies, tattoo lovers of today do the same, and furthermore they make the world come to them. The enigmas and the cultural expressions of the world can travel the globe in the form of zeroes and ones. Still what occupies us today, is the same as it has always been, and the lust for expression is univocal.
But I’m drifting.
What was it that planted that beautiful weed in my mind, that would become an obsession? I truly do not remember where it was I first saw it, the internet of course (who reads books these days(!)), but exactly where, I have forgotten. But I do remember that electrical short-circuit that made my mind drool and my consciousness stir: the picture of a small garden variety bird… with arms, small hands and a golden watch… drinking coffee… seemingly contemplating life, or maybe, just for a second, letting its bird thoughts wander from its busy daily schedule at the bird office. At least that is what I see now. Back then I don’t think I was able to be that vocal about the picture. The ramifications of man and nature in strange combination. The juxtaposition. The quiet yet somewhat provocative motif. Something was stirring in my mind, something that would need time to brew, and quite simply would not be subdued.
The thing is, I have always had a certain fondness for the nature of the complementary. Or in other words, the enigmatic nature of yin and yang. The idea of two opposites that seem mutually exclusive but are actually able to fuel each other rather than cancel each other out. Like love and hate.
Or, as it was with the romantics of the late 1700s and the early to mid-1800s, the interactions between life and death as concepts, was the very essence of the art form. Death as a consequence of life was fuel for both the feeling of meaningless and emptiness of life, but also the beauty of the limited, like the flower that blooms and dies. The carpe diem to the memento mori. Being a bit of an old romantic myself (although I’m not roaming around in nature reading poetry aloud), I grew attached to that busy business bird. It reminded me of a painting I love by Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin called: Self-portrait with death playing the fiddle.
A beautiful memento mori, symbolically showcasing a moment just as the foreshadowing of death interrupts on life. The busy business bird, just like Mr. Böcklin, seems, just for a moment, to be struck to the core with realization. Perhaps? Who am I to judge? But that is what happens when we ascribe human feeling to nature (another complementary relationship, also very frequently displayed in the art of the romantic period).
And that, for me was also a very important point about this idea, the anthropomorphisms. Assigning human characteristics and emotion, like professionalism, or even anxiety and weltschmerz, to a bird whose main concern is finding food and shelter. The busy business bird, was becoming more and more a symbol of my own struggle to comprehend the human condition, man in nature and the nature in man. The futility of that trial, of course humoristically and a little ironic, shown in what I now refer to as: The picture of Mr. Sparrow, the busy business bird.
To be continued in chapter II
N.B. Today, when I came to work, looking forward to posting this article. In the staircase of the office building, a seemingly wounded bird (of the garden variety) was trapped. In a joined effort the bird was coerced out an open window. Afterwards, in the aftermath of struggle, it dawned on me: Was I writing this story or was the story, like the tattooist on skin, starting to write me? Life was imposing on me, the beautiful symbolism of the wounded bird escaping its confines, and the question of the control the author has on the story, was suddenly materialized in the form of this bird. The effects and implications of the Yin yang was ever present...