Some of the tattoos featured on the 95cm-high torso were submitted by the public, some by serving or veteran personnel following a public appeal by the museum to learn more about the tradition of tattoos. Others were based on research collected during the run, last year, of Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed. The exhibition, curated by The National Maritime Museum, Cornwall, is currently touring the UK.
Jo Valentine, Community Producer for The National Museum of the Royal Navy explains:
“Gary Coole is a local mixed media artist and barber who specialises in the tattoo style of painting.
“From early childhood he watched and assisted his father, Brian Coole, working in tattoo studios. Brian designed tattoo flash for well-known artists Bill and Les Skuse, and worked with Portsmouth-based tattooist Ron Ackers at the Arches tattoo studio during the 1970s and 80s. He also painted interiors and exteriors of tattoo studios.
“When Brian retired, Gary followed in his father’s footsteps designing flash and sign work for tattoo artists. Some of his work was displayed as part of the tattoo exhibition held at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard last year.
“We wanted something as a legacy that embodied the results of our tattoo research with the navy and public that could still inspire a reaction when we are working with community groups. Tattoos are an excellent prompt for conversations started with military and non-military audiences.
“We wanted something striking, that was personal to us and would stop you in your tracks. We had the idea of a painted torso which could come on tour around the area.
“Every tattoo has a tale to tell on the torso so we gave Gary examples of the tattoos the public had submitted and also ones that reflected our Royal Navy tattoo research. This includes the submariners’ badges, the remembrance tattoos, the blood groups and Royal Marines Globe and Laurels tattoos.
“Also included on the torso are two very special tattoos from our own collection – a George Burchett flash and a rare Tom Riley flash. We have also commissioned two tattooed feet featuring a pig and a rooster.”