‘Beyond The Tattoo’ At The Cape Cod Museum of Art

Cape Cod Museum of Art Exhibits Mark Corliss "Beyond the Tattoo"

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A unique display opened this week at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis: “Beyond The Tattoo.” Why is it unique? Because the body of works is quite literally on people’s bodies.

Mark Corliss is a well-respected tattoo artist here on the Cape. His reputation within the community for his expertise in a particular style of tattoo artwork makes him a much sought-after artist. Mark’s specialty is large-scale, Japanese-style tattoos – full arms, legs, back and chest. Large animals like tigers and koi fish are depicted in bright colors with flowers and water and fire to tell a personal story of family, strength and perseverance.

Before delving in to Mark’s story and his work, I’d like to give you a little history about tattoos.

The word “tattoo” comes from the Tahitian “tatu,” which means “to mark something.” It is arguably claimed that tattooing has existed since 12,000 years B.C. Many cultures around the world have their own history with body art and “marks.” The United States has a lengthy history with tattoos, which has ebbed and surged in popularity throughout the generations.

Did you know that there was a period of time when tattoos were illegal in Massachusetts? In 1962, Massachusetts became one of the few states in the country to consider tattooing a “crime against the person,” and ban the practice except for medical purposes. Health officials believed that tattooing might lead to a hepatitis outbreak. The statute remained in effect until 2000 when the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts launched a successful court battle to overturn it.

It was right around this time that Mark had been living and practicing in Georgia and returned to Cape Cod to pursue his passion of tattoos. He opened his shop about 16 years ago. He has been creating his large Japanese-style tattoos for about a decade.

Fast forward to present day and Mark is one busy man. He has one of the most successful tattoo shops on the Cape, Spilt Milk Tattoo, on Main Street in Hyannis. He also has a 2-year-old child and recently purchased a home, which he is in the process of renovating. Life is definitely busy for Mark.

Every tattoo tells a story.

Once you visit the Cape Cod Museum of Art, you will see how these tattoos go far beyond the simple flower or birthdate. These tattoos can take up to 50 hours in multiple 4- to 6-hour sessions. These are the full-length novel of the tattoo world, with deep meanings that come with great personal and financial investment. These tattoos can cost from $4,000 to $6,000.

And what do these powerful images mean? Each tattoo tells a personal story, but here are of some of the popular images and their meanings:

The tiger represents strength and courage, and is a protector against bad luck, evil spirits, and disease.

The koi represents determination, strength, courage, good luck, a desire for success (or in one of Mark’s client’s cases, it represents his aging father and the koi pond in his yard).

The phoenix stands for rebirth and triumph.

The snake represents protection, wisdom, good luck, strength, and change.

Recently, Mark has gained some attention for some more personal and meaningful tattoos here on the Cape. In his spare time, Mark has perfected the technique of 3D tattoos for breast cancer survivors. Specifically, he will work with women who have been through radical mastectomies and reconstructive surgery.

It started with a woman who wanted to cover the scars from her surgery but then asked Mark to create a very special pair of tattoos. She wanted the areola and nipples she no longer had due to the surgeries which most likely saved her life, but left her feeling incomplete.

At first Mark was hesitant, but eventually decided to “man-up” and help this woman out. He did a great deal of research and sketching and agreed to do the artwork for this woman. He has donated his time and resources ever since. And the impact of this work has been overwhelming.

In his words, it’s an hour of his time that may give a woman the ability to look at herself again and see her whole self rather than obsessing over scars. Mark will speak candidly about his work with breast cancer survivors, but asked not to have more attention drawn to the subject. It’s an hour of his time to help improve a woman’s self-image for the rest of her life.

You can see Mark’s work on display from now through August 5.

The Cape Cod Museum of Art is located on Hope Street in Dennis.

Spilt Milk Tattoo is located on Main Street in Hyannis.

For a little more about Mark Corliss, please visit his website.

About Cat Wilson

Cat Wilson is "That Girl" on Cape Country 104 – a Cape Cod native and longtime Cape radio personality. She is a passionate supporter of Military and Veteran causes on the Cape and also hosts local music spotlight program, “The Cheap Seats” on Ocean 104.7.

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