Despite its rich visual culture and aesthetic traditions, there has never before been an art history of the tattoo. Beginning by explaining the origins of the art form – with Captain Cook ‘discovering’ the tattooing practices of Polynesians – Tattoo: An Art History will then trace the history of tattooing as a professional artistic practice in Britain from 1870, when the first professional tattoo studio opened, to the present day. In this enthralling talk (which accompanies a forthcoming book of the same name), body art and modification expert Matt Lodder establishes a chronological survey of an oft-misunderstood and much mythologised mode of art-making from the sumptuous, gilded artisanal studios of Victorian London, via the bawdy dockside spaces of the 1950s, through to the seemingly ubiquitous tattoo culture of the twenty-first century.

Lodder reveals how tastes and technologies have affected the type of images being tattooed; how innovations in both style and method percolated within, to and from Britain; who the most important and influential tattoo artists were and how, despite common misunderstandings to the contrary, tattooing has always been a permanent fixture of the visual culture of Britain’s entire social spectrum – popular amongst sailors, aristocratic ladies and even kings.

Dr Matt Lodder: Matt completed his PhD in 2010, having submitted a thesis entitled ‘Body Art: Body Modification as Artistic Practice’. Before his current role at the University of Essex, Lodder taught contemporary art and theory at the Universities of Reading and Birmingham. His current research is principally concerned with the history of Western tattooing, and the artistic status of body art and body modification practices. He has lectured on topics including body modification practices, tattoos and tattooing; contemporary performance art; deconstructivist architecture; lowbrow and outsider art; pop surrealism; digital and internet art; art & science; and Deleuzean approaches to art.


Your host for this event will be the writer Edward Parnell, author of ‘Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country’. Edward Parnell lives in Norfolk and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. He is the recipient of an Escalator Award from the National Centre for Writing and a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. Ghostland (William Collins, 2019), a work of narrative non-fiction, is a moving exploration of what has haunted our writers and artists – as well as the author’s own haunted past; it was shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley 2020 prize, an award given to a literary autobiography of excellence. Edward’s first novel The Listeners (2014), won the Rethink New Novels Prize. For further info see: