Expressing personal passion through body art

The rose on Gabrielle Besser’s arm is in honor of her mother, an avid gardener.
Shawn Vinson, an admirer of English culture, bares a lion on his wrist.
Gabrielle Besser pulled “Keep moving forward” from a Disney movie for the tattoo on her left bicep.
Cabre, a character in a Haitian fable, plays homage to Chery’s ancestors.
Jean-Pierre Chery’s phoenix tattoo.

Tattoos are a prevalent artistic expression that dates back thousands of years. Discovered on early Egyptians as well as a man from the Ice Age, tattoos have been signs of love, religion, status and used as punishment.

In recent years in the United States, tattoos have begun to have an elevated status with many employers no longer finding them unacceptable and many galleries and museums showcasing tattoo art. Currently the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County has a tattoo exhibit on display featuring 230 images and objects related to tattooing. Last year the New York Historical Society had an exhibit on display for three month showcasing 250 tattoo-related works.

We asked a few people in DeKalb County to bare their tattoos and share with us the reasons behind them and what the art forms mean to them.

Gabrielle Besser shows off several of her eight tattoos.
Gabrielle Besser shows off several of her eight tattoos.

Gabrielle Besser works the front desk and sometimes the bar at Comet Pub and Lanes in Decatur. She’s bears eight tattoos including the “A” and “H” on her right and left wrists that she got when she was 19. Those tattoos, which stand for “angel” and “hope,” memorialize two friends who died within six months of each other.

“My friends are not here, but I always have them with me,” she said.

The red rose on her forearm honors Besser’s mother, whom she describes as an avid gardener. The image depicts her mother’s vibrancy as well as her delicate nature, and the thorns of the rose symbolize her struggles.

She said she decided on the “keep moving forward” tattoo on her left bicep one day when she was “in the dumps,” pulling the phrase from a Disney movie.

“It’s an awesome form of art which I always appreciate because I am not artistic at all,” said Besser, 22. “It’s my way of expressing how I feel that’s artistic. It’s something that means a lot for me.”

She said the physical discomfort of getting tattoos is a stimulating and significant part of the process.

“It feels good at times even though it hurts,” said Besser.

Besser said she’s not finished with getting inked but takes a “moderate” approach to getting tattoos, carefully considering the images she chooses and where she’ll have them done. She said she keeps in mind issues such as how they might affect employment and has decided that her face is “off limits.”

Jean-Pierre Chery has two of his six tattoos on his arms. Photos by Gale Horton Gay
Jean-Pierre Chery has two of his six tattoos on his arms. Photos by Gale Horton Gay

Thirty-five-year-old Jean-Pierre Chery, who grew up in Stone Mountain but now lives in Seattle, Wash., has six tattoos. He got his first –his initials “JPC” on his back—when he was 16 on a family trip to Huntsville, Ala., after sneaking away from a family gathering.

His left bicep bears the letters “C-A-B-R-E,” which Chery explained stands for the character in a Haitian fable. The “CABRE” tattoo pays homage to his Haitian ancestors. On his right arm is the image of a phoenix, which he declined to detail the significance of and meaning behind.

“I like tattoos as reminders of events that happen in your life or to capture certain memories,” said Chery, a user experience designer.

Shawn Vinson, director of Different Trains Gallery in Decatur, is proud of the blue lion tattoo on the inside of his right wrist.

Vinson, who calls himself an unabashed Anglophile—an admirer of England, its culture and people—got the tattoo about 15 years ago. Married to an English woman and a lover of English soccer, Vinson noted that the royal crest of England bears images of three lions.

“I could only afford one lion,” said Vinson with a laugh.

Cover photo: Gabrielle Besser shows off several of her eight tattoos.


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