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On Writing the Tattoo Artist

Sara Ehrenreich is tattooed from cheek to toe with a pictorial narrative of her life. Stranded for the last 30 years on a South Pacific island, she now finds herself in New York City, 70 years old, a guest of Life magazine, and a minor celebrity. The Tattoo Artist is a first person account of her life.

I chose to make her a tattoo artist because tattooing, in many respects, is the opposite of painting. Sara painted for art history, for posterity: as a tattoo artist, she knew only too well that her art was as temporary as the body on which it was engraved.

To make her warm-blooded and give her a background, I borrowed from my own family history. I’m the grandchild of Jewish immigrants from the Lower East Side. My paternal grandmother was a shopgirl with her own fervent, romantic ideas of creating a socialist utopia on earth.

For Sara’s art career, I borrowed from my personal history: I had studied art myself, and exhibited for a time. I gave Sara my youthful ambitions and my later disillusionments with avant-garde art.

The South Pacific island on which Sara is stranded was assembled from the many tropical islands I’ve lived on or visited. I am, and have always been, obsessed by islands. And finally, the hours and days Sara spends walking the shore, staring at the horizon, hoping to spot a passing ship, was inspired by my own unfortunate experience of getting shipwrecked in Micronesia, though my stay was rather less lengthy, three days as compared three decades. However, the intensity and despair I experienced while waiting for a ship to rescue me was given verbatim to Sara.

Beach Landscape