Tattooing is undeniably both an art form and a science. An artist draws up a sketch according to the client's vision, and with that mighty little gun, they produce what we think of as either expressive masterpieces, or perennial reminders of ideas gone horribly awry. No matter the case, tattooing has existed as a major art form and display of tradition since the Neolithic Era. What hasn't existed since the New Stone Age, and that which is also an art, science and a resurrection of hope, is the act of laser tattoo removal, a procedure that not only removes tattoos, but often also offers tattoo artists a new clean-canvas on which to paint and create.
What began as simply a girl with a laser in a Boston basement, quickly snowballed into a state-of-the-art, passionate and all around, altruistic company. Carmen Vanderheiden opened Tataway in 2012 with just one employee (herself), years of experience as a medical aesthetician working with lasers, and an attainable, but ambitious goal. After researching removal options for her clients at the spa and coming up with zilch, Carmen took this shortfall and turned it into a plan. Right off the bat, Tataway's position as the only specialist of its kind made it distinctive in the eyes of those looking to remove. Working with just a nanosecond laser, Carmen's one man band steadily gained clientele. Tataway soon became a full blown operation, and one of the first businesses to utilize the Picosure laser, the most progressive laser that breaks down ink to the smallest possible particles, allowing the body to absorb and the white cells carry away, until the skin is left unsullied and scarless. It was only a short time until Tataway became a recognized name. Now with shops in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Carmen's company came to be an imperative stop before a tattoo cover-up. Building an alliance with fine artists, who just so happen to be tattoo masters, like Vincent Castiglia, a new, safe and fiscal process was born.
"What people don't realize when they cover up a tattoo by layering, is that over the course of time, the ink from the original will bleed through. Here, that result is eradicated as well as the need for the artist to do a white wash prior. There is a different process for every body type and every tattoo. We have to basically interview the clients and find out about their health, if they are a smoker, if they exercise, how deoxygenated their blood is. We need to know where and when they received the tattoo, to figure out if the ink is synthetic, if colors were blended, and this all affects how long and difficult the removal will be," Carmen explains. "It is a beautiful science and a complex art form. The beauty not only lies in elimination of something unwanted, but in the crucial preparation for the art that will replace it. That's where artists like Vincent come in."
Brooklyn born artist Vincent Castiglia is one of the artists who work alongside Tataway. Although recognized for his incredible tattoo work, Castiglia is widely known as a painter and for his distinctive choice of medium. Vincent Castiglia paints in blood. Human blood. After studying illustration at FIT for a few years, Castiglia chose to focus on his art full time.
"Making art was how I survived. It started as the most effective way to dissociate from everything around me, where I found fleeting bits of reprieve. As I kept doing it, making art just became something I did naturally and obsessively. Eventually it became a salvation and a place to put absolutely everything I couldn't express any other way. It was the one place I could create beauty out of the 'horror movie' which was my reality at the time. Today, this process is actually my 'guiding force'. Funny how that can happen. Necessity being the catalyst of something greater, if you just don't give up."
With circumstance as his greatest inspiration, Castiglia's paintings exist as a prominent allegory. And although personally influenced, each piece has been made with 'universal accessibility' in mind. His work channels what he calls "the language of our emotions" and figurative subjects of the human form, especially those which play the role of an impediment of freedom. The examination of issues and his perceptible creative process have earned Castiglia the title of "Existential Visionary Artist." In 2000, the same year Castiglia began his career as a tattoo artist, blood took on the role of what once was oil and acrylic paint.
"I paint in human blood because it provides the most direct connection one can have with their work. During a period of extreme duress, I started experimenting with bodily fluids as media. Anything that could be a vessel of catharsis was valid, I felt. I fell in love with the use of blood, as it was the substance which communicated perfectly the pain that was going on inside of me. Through its reconstitution on these flat surfaces, I saw into the depths of my being and psyche. I'll go as far as to say making the work has been necessary for my survival and in turn, has enriched my life with so much more than just this."
With copious amounts of tattoos himself, along with a renowned mentor, Mike Perfetto, Castiglia put his creativity towards another use and began tattooing. His relationship with Tataway originated with his own tattoo removal, and since then, each client looking to cover up has been guided towards Carmen. Tataway's compassion has steered them even further than providing a blank canvas for artists to work. Carmen founded the INK (I Now Know) outreach program, designed for 'at risk' individuals who carry the tattoo of a former self. This includes former gang and prison members, prior sex workers and victims of human trafficking, who are actively working to better themselves. As a gesture of goodwill, Tataway removes their markings for free. Their INK (I Now Know) program is a community outreach program designed to provide at risk people safe and effective tattoo removal.
You can keep up with both Tataway and Vincent Castiglia by visiting their websites:
All photos courtesy of Tataway and Vincent Castiglia