By MATT SPENCER
In the midst of a drab, rainy weekend in Kansas City, the Uptown Theater was a colorful oasis. Bright flora of warm yellows and deep greens grew from arms, legs and backs, giving shelter to wild fauna of screaming skulls and winking pinup girls. Indelible characters in Chinese, Hieroglyphics and bloated graffiti told stories about each person there and the camaraderie they shared, all set to the hornet buzz of tattoo machines. The Real Deal Tattoo Convention was enjoying its second successful year.
KC's local talent filled most of the main hall. The Mercy Seat, A-1, Freaks on Broadway, Timeless Tattoo, Irezumi, Illustrated Man, Rose Tattoo, Wes Grimm and American Traditional were all represented. Visiting guests included Scott Bakoss of Philadelphia, Josh Crowell of Hawaii, Supercharged tattoos of Salina, Kansas, New York Hardcore Tattooing, From the Grave Tattooing and Darren Brass of Miami Ink. Brass set up next to the Mercy Seat booth, accompanied by his partner Talea Brass and their 8-month-old son Cassius.
Crowds were thin an hour after the doors opened at noon on Saturday, but by 3 p.m. people were steadily flowing in. Every artist had ample work queued up, and several estimated that this year’s crowd was double last year’s. While other Kansas City tattoo conventions camp out at airport hotels, the Uptown’s central location and colorful interior provided a unifying space for KC's pool of talent. For cleanliness, the floors were tightly covered in cling-wrap plastic, latex gloves snapped on and off and the smell of medicinal soap filled the hall. Artists greeted each other or acknowledged customers’ thanks with elbow bumps, keeping their hands clean and tattoos sterile.
Other amusements were available for those not under or over the needles. Bright red vinyl couches had been laid out to create miniature living rooms around the hall.
Local DJs ran the stage throughout the day, playing a spectrum of hip-hop, disco, old school punk and electronica. If you listened close, you could catch the occasional tattooist buzzing his needles in time with the beats. The bar west of the main hall provided space for selling artwork and merchandise, and a private showing of the Bert Grimm tattoo archive could be had for an additional $10. Several artists had displays at their own booths, including custom purses and paintings on lacquered wood by Joy from New York Hardcore tattoos. Haircuts were available from Sarai Speer, owner of Lady Luck Hair Parlor.
Later in the evening, the tattoo contest invited all comers to show off for Best Black and White, Best Traditional, Best Japanese, Best Tribal and Tattoo of the Day. Judges Wes Grimm, Chet DuVenci and Ugly Bill each ranked tattoos on a score of 30 and determined the winners. Diane Moresi won both Best Tribal, and Best Black and White with her intricate black bodysuit.
Moresi also received unofficial recognition as certified bad-ass from onlookers, as she left the stage and lay down for permanent eyeliner tattooing at Mercy Seat's second booth. Moresi held dead still as the artist ran a tiny 3-needle cluster between eyelashes and in two thin lines just above the lashes. A large crowd of women surrounded the booth watching one of their own permanently solve her makeup problems. Though the artist used topical anesthetic to minimize discomfort and subdue the blink reflex that could prove disastrous, onlookers shuddered at the sight of a bloody tear running down Moresi's face.
Crowds began to thin out at 9 p.m., but all booths remained full until close of business around 10. Booths were scrubbed and cleaned for the next day's work, and some folks took a quick trip to home or hotel to change for the afterparty hosted by Czar Bar, which was packed by 11, when a new local soul music group called The Good Foot took the stage. The bar stayed wall-to-wall with people, and everyone was riding the crest of an awesome day, especially the British fellow named Dominic who was buying drinks for anyone who came within 5 feet of him.
Random Detail: The florescent working lights tattoo artists use play absolute hell with digital cameras.
By the way: Third most popular body modification seen this weekend behind tattoos and piercings: boob jobs.