Separating the Ink Masters from the Stink Masters

I really, really try to avoid watching “reality television” because, let’s face it, Sturgeon’s Law is especially applicable to that segment of the airwaves, and a whopping 99.9% of it is total crap.  But somehow, against better judgment, I inevitably get sucked into watching episodes of such fare as Celebrity Rehab, Rock of Love or *shudder* Jersey Shore.  It’s the whole train wreck phenomenon… you just cannot look away from the blood & carnage.

Of course, every once in a while a reality TV show comes along that does have a modicum of intelligence and genuine entertainment value to it.  Ink Master on Spike is one of those, and I’ve been hooked on the show since its debut in January of this year.  A large part of the appeal for me is that I really love tattoos (I’ve got seven and counting) and I find the whole subculture surrounding getting inked to be fascinating.  The other major reason why Ink Master appeals to me is that to be on it requires genuine talent & artistic ability.  The contestants on it, despite their varying levels of douchebaggery, all are legitimately skilled in the art of tattooing.

Ink Master is hosted by Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro.  I’m not certain exactly what qualifies him to be presenting the show, much less serving as one of the three judges, other than he’s heavily inked.  But I suppose he brings the requisite “rock star” presence to the series.  The other two judges are Chris Nunez and Oliver Peck.  Both are apparently very accomplished tattoo artists.  Certainly the critiques and advice they offer the contestants seem to be intelligent and thoughtful, the result of years of experience in the field.  I have to tell you, though, when Navarro, Nunez, or Peck launches into a lecture about some aspect of illustration such as the use of shading, texture, or contrasting colors, my girlfriend, who is an artist, likes to comment “Wow, this is art school for dummies!”

I mentioned douchebaggery, didn’t I?  Well, there are some real characters who have competed on Ink Master.  Everyone appears to be a competitive egomaniac ready to leap at each other’s throats… perhaps at the producers’ suggestions, who knows?  Each season, you get at least one guy declaring “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to win!”  This was actually somewhat palatable in Season One, because the guy making this proclamation, Shane O’Neill, had the talent to back it up, and indeed he ended up winning the competition.  This time around, you have someone like Kay Kutta doing the bragging, but he just doesn’t have the skills or experience to justify the bravado.

Chris Nunez, Dave Navarro and Oliver Peck from Ink Master

Chris Nunez, Dave Navarro and Oliver Peck, hosts of Ink Master

This week’s episode was Star Wars themed, with a group of “human canvases” getting tattoos of characters & imagery from the films.  That definitely interested me, big sci-fi geek that I am.  As I was watching it, I was thinking to myself that it was too bad that my friend Chris didn’t get on this episode, because he’s a huge Star Wars fan who already has at least a couple of really awesome tattoos from the movies.  Then, wouldn’t you know it, less than two minutes later, who should show up on the TV screen?  Yep, it was Chris.  For those who watched, he was the guy who got the Star Destroyer & Tie Fighters done on his back.  I’m glad he ended up with one of the better artists, Sebastian Murphy.  Despite the criticism offered up by the judges, I think Murphy did a fine job on a difficult, detailed subject, and Chris ended up with a nice tattoo.  Anyway, it was a good episode, although I think the winning tattoo should have been the Clone Trooper by Sarah Miller, and not the Yoda piece by Tatu Baby.

My girlfriend keeps pestering me to try and volunteer to become a human canvas on the next season of Ink Master, to which I invariably respond “Are you out of your #@%&ing mind?!?”  No thank you.  The next tattoo I get is going to be a subject matter that I choose, and it will be done by an artist who can take his or her time with it, who actually wants to work on the particular piece, and who is not racing against the clock to complete it.  Okay, I can understand the appeal this has for some people, in that you get a free tattoo and get to appear on television.  But for me this is the equivalent of tattoo Russian roulette, because the odds pretty good that you’re going to end up with a mediocre or, worse, just plain bad image stuck on your body for the rest of your life.  Knowing my luck, I’d end up going from Ink Master to Spike’s other tattoo reality show, Tattoo Nightmares, which spotlights artists who specialize in covering up really awful pieces!

White on the subject, I gotta admit, Tattoo Nightmares is another entertaining show.  One of the three artists showcased, Tommy Helm, came in second place in the first season of Ink Master, and is really good at what he does.  Having said that, it’s another series I’m perfectly content to sit back & watch.  I hope I never end up with a piece so awful that I’d require the services of Helm or his associates to do a cover-up.

Anyway, Ink Master is fun to watch.  Despite the often ridiculous personalities & behavior of some of the contestants, it is very interesting to see them attempt to produce tattoo masterpieces in a high pressure environment with the clock ticking, definitely not the ideal environment in which to ink anyone.  Given that, it’s a thrill to see some of the amazing pieces that come out of that.

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