Living Art Walked Through Dallas Contemporary's Jason Brooks Exhibition

It wasn't always easy to spot the art at the Jason Brooks show over at Dallas Contemporary this weekend. Sometimes the art was chatting with a group of friends, or getting a drink, or popping out back for a quick smoke. But when the models in the legendary Austin tattoo artist's show sat still for long enough, or strutted their stuff in the too-brief runway show staged in an alley across the street, it was absolutely stunning. 

Brooks has spent the last 20 years as a tattoo artist, one who's equally influenced by Japanese legends like Horiyoshi the Second and American masters like Sailor Jerry and Ed Hardy (who was a pioneering artist long before T-shirts and trucker hats bearing his designs shone like beacons reading "Douchebag" from every frat bar in the country). The tattoo catwalk Saturday night at Dallas Contemporary was shown in conjunction with a new documentary about Brooks' work by Quin Mathews Films, as well as small showing of Brooks' own historical tattoo photography and collection of early flash designs. 

Around 10 p.m., over a hundred people crammed themselves onto metal bleachers to watch a group of models, all with significant work done by Brooks, walk down a concrete runway and pose against a brick wall. The crowd was enthusiastic, the hot, direct lights were surprisingly flattering, and the ladies' hairdos all versions of what's probably destined to be known for a long while as "the Amy Winehouse." One of the models, with long, inky black hair, was heavily pregnant, and balanced easily atop her heels; she received an especially appreciative round of applause.      

The men of the catwalk were a little more varied, walking in jeans, shorts and the occasional


 - a Japanese-style thong more commonly seen on sumo wrestlers (these looked a bit like they'd been ripped from the t-shirts the guys were wearing earlier in the day.) A couple of the dudes swigged beers and had cigarettes tucked into their thongs. But of the arcing flowers, skulls, demons and waves on display, it was tough to tell from afar which pieces were Brook's work and what the models had gotten elsewhere.

No matter; the crowd whooped and whistled when Brooks, a heavyset, sweet-faced guy with dark hair, ambled out after his models. He beamed and waved shyly while the audience gave him a standing ovation. 

Inside, the exhibit of tattoo photography was less memorable -- two small clusters of photos and flash that weren't nearly as colorful or comprehensive as what you'll find on the counter down at Elm Street Tattoo (Disclosure: the gentlemen of Elm Street have tattooed several of the staff members at the Observer HQ, myself included.) The documentary on Brooks was screening on the wall opposite the photography, but the light in the room was too bright to see it easily. The sound was off, and the subtitles were on, in Spanish: "Alguien que tiene tatuajes sabe lo que dijo," Brooks mouthed silently, as a few people gathered to watch. 

The real draw was the phenomenal people-watching, as the exhibit flooded with fashionable ladies in sky-high heels, skateboarder-looking dudes, Mad Men replicas, and tattooed folk of every variety. A model with black plugs in his ears and his brown thong still on stood in one corner, beer in hand, chatting with a group of pretty girls. An elderly man with a souffle of white hair and an elaborately curled beard and mustache glided through the crowd wearing a blazer decorated with images of the sun and stars.

On the screen behind the crowd, a woman in a dark dress and a jade necklace showed off an enormous design extending from her rib to her knee. "Para mi, a veces es como una armadura," her subtitles said. "For me, sometimes it's like a suit of armor."

And sometimes, most of the time, it's a work of art.    

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