Every weekend, tattoo conventions are held in cities around the world that allow artists to come together from both near and far to create art under one roof. Tattoo conventions are a great opportunity for artists to network and get their name out, but it also allows clients the rare opportunity to be tattooed by artists from different cities, states, or countries. And at almost every convention, there are contests held every day and trophies are awarded in categories such as "Best Sleeve," "Best Black-and-Grey," or "Tattoo of the Day." These trophies are occasionally accompanied by prizes, however, they primarily serve as bragging rights and allow artists to potentially raise their rates as they've gained recognition from the industry.
Last weekend, at the Nation's Tattoo Expo in Washington DC, an artist walked away with the highest award of the convention: Best of Show. This award was given to an artist who'd created a tattoo during the weekend and was chosen by the judges as the best of the bunch. The artist who received this honor at Nation's Tattoo Expo was Tro, also known as "The Joker," who works out of Black Ink in Atlanta, Georgia. After being declared the winner, he took to social media to share his excitement and upon releasing photos of the tattoo, was immediately met with criticism.
Social media users immediately noticed that Tro's tattoo was an almost direct copy of a custom design by Montreal artist, Arielle Gagnon. Gagnon had posted the photo of the tattoo in January of 2019 and it had been selected by the client from a board of flash Gagnon shared in September of 2019. Tro made slight modifications to Gagnon's design, by adding the snake, doing the tattoo in black-and-grey, and inverting the drawing, however, it's clear as day that the piece had been copied line for line.
Tro clapped back at the criticism he began receiving online with an Instagram post, where he claimed to have never heard of Gagnon and that he'd made the tattoo from a photo his client had brought in from Pinterest. He then goes on to say that because the design wasn't copyrighted it was up for grabs and that social media users were only upset because he'd won Best of Show.
And as someone who's judged a number of tattoo conventions and has done a fair share of articles on tattoo copying, he's made good points. There aren't laws which prevent a person from copying another's art and tattoo copying happens every single day. And with the exception of putting them in a bad mood, tattoo artists aren't impacted by other artists ripping off their designs unless of course, these people are stealing their clients.
Tro's also correct in saying that it's because he won an award that people are upset because tattoo copying does happen every day and in most cases, it goes completely unnoticed. However, does that mean it's okay he was awarded Best of Show for a tattoo that was replicated line for line from another artist? Absolutely not.
So you may be wondering, what's the solution for this issue? Because while this situation has been getting a lot of attention, it's far from being unique. Well, it comes down to integrity, a responsibility that in a perfect world would be upheld by not only the artist, but clients, the media, and the tattoo industry at large.