What does it mean to tattoo the words ‘No Regrets’ on to your skin? Is it a command or a mantra, a hope or a provocation? In Joachim Lambrechts’ latest series of paintings, faces, bare muscular torsos and shapely limbs appear heavily embellished with popular tattoo slogans and motifs against brightly coloured backgrounds. For his latest solo exhibition at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, London, Lambrechts combines his signature use of witty word-play and bold, idiosyncratic imagery to explore the ways in which we express our identities and look for meaning in an increasingly homogenous world.
‘It seems that today, surrounded by an abundance of information, material and influences, people are more than ever searching for themselves and a sense of belonging,’ says Lambrechts. ‘The irony is, of course, that all of this information actually gets in the way. We are fed ideals by social media and advertising so that we all end up wanting to wear the same clothes, to go to the same places, to get the same tattoos while at the same time longing to be unique.’ It is this paradox that lies at the heart of the exhibition. In each of the paintings, the figure is made simultaneously original, through the combination of symbols etched on to their body, and anonymous.
Lambrechts sees tattoos as a form of visual storytelling – sometimes quite literally as in the painting Hard Times where the words ‘BLAME SOCIETY HARD TIMES’ are inked around the figure’s eyes – but also as a second skin or mask. In all three of the portrait paintings, for example, the features of each individual’s face are barely distinguishable amid the many images that surround them.
bodies are unnaturally sculpted to an image of ‘perfection’
Elsewhere, in the two paintings titled No Regrets, we encounter depictions of the male and the female torso that appear almost like pin-up posters or advertisements – both bodies are unnaturally sculpted to an image of ‘perfection’ while every inch of exposed skin is covered in tattoos ranging from skulls and flowers to knives, tear drops and the initials KH (present in every painting as a nod to Kristin Hjellegjerde gallery).
Both figures have the slogan ‘No Regrets’ inked onto their stomachs: the message here is defiant and challenging, as if they are daring the viewer to judge the choices that they have made, but it is also ironic. The often-spontaneous decision to get a tattoo becomes a permanent mark on the skin, not only altering the person’s appearance but also the way in which they are perceived by others.
another type of clothing or social costume.
At the same time, Lambrechts notes that there has been a significant shift in how tattoos are perceived in the Western world. While tattoos were once more commonly associated with marginal or criminal groups, today they are mainstream. As Lambrechts puts it, ‘It’s almost conversative not to have one. Tattoos have become like another type of clothing or social costume.’ This is perhaps most clearly expressed by the painting Louboutins, which depicts two tattooed women’s legs walking in high-heeled black shoes.
The painting uses humour to poke fun at consumerism (the brand name is split apart by a hyphen to suggest a particular pronunciation and punctuated by an exclamation mark), but at the same time, it’s easy to imagine it being adopted as an advertisement for a luxury brand which is looking to appeal to a generation of younger, edgier consumers.
unbridled self-expression and creativity
For Lambrechts, the absorption of tattoos into the mainstream is no bad thing: they are a form of accessible, wearable art and in many ways, these bold, dynamic paintings are a celebration of unbridled self-expression and creativity. And yet, they also ask us to consider who or what is driving the choices that we make and how we create narratives about ourselves and others.
On the occasion of Joachim Lambrechts exhibition’s private view scheduled for Thursday, the 27th of July, Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery is excited to welcome a renowned guest tattoo artist, Tomas Redrey. During the event, Redrey will be doing flash tattoos that derive inspiration from Lambrechts‘ striking artworks. We hope that this unique event will become an unforgettable and immersive experience for all!