monca’s take on permanent self-expression


Mixed media on a canvas piece made by James Charles of Sebastopol.

The Museum of Northern California Art hosts over 20 tattoo and studio artists emulating together a community of artists.

From pieces of beautifully, articulated feminine silhouettes, to the harsh, vibrant beams of light alluding from Jesus’ face, art tells a story. The Museum of Northern California Art, known to Chico locals as ‘monca,’ hosted an exhibit of over 20 Northern Californian tattoo and studio artists displaying their work through colorful paintings, vintage photographs, drawings or specially kept original designs, all inspired by the art of tattoos. The exhibit opened Aug. 25. 

Whether you have more of a traditional viewpoint of how someone should look, what piercings they shouldn’t get or what repercussions tattoos might have, each individual gets to create their own story or art form. 

An acrylic piece “Love,” 2022 done by Rita Rickmers of Chico.

This can look different for everyone. Some might use painting, drawing or music as an outlet to ease the pain. Yet, what many fail to recognize is that getting a tattoo or being an artist of this craft is the same exact concept.

Whether you agree or disagree with someone’s choice to get a tattoo, the history of tattooing is rich with cultures from around the world.

According to Vassar College, ancient Egyptian tattoos were placed along joints, leading experts to believe that it was a form of therapy to dispel pain. Older women would also tattoo expecting mothers’ breasts, abdomen and thighs as they went through their journey of pregnancy and birth.

Tribal tattoos symbolize heritage, status and ancestry throughout many cultures. Samoan tattoos, also known as “Tatau,” embody honor, respect, power and community. In early America, Native Americans used needles, sharpened bones, sticks, minerals and soot to depict their accomplishments. The markings were also carved onto their weapons.

Exploding in the 21st century, tattoo art has been a symbol to emphasize diversity of styles, genres or techniques that each person or artist holds close to their heart. It can be anything from a work of a vibrant colored snake on a thigh or a geometric black outlined work on the collarbone. Either way, the potential to create something sentimental or honorary can be attractive — specifically with Gen Z’s trend of “patchwork.”

Patchwork can be seen mostly in the Gen Z’ers. This style of tattooing is almost like flash art. Where you throw a bunch of different, or coordinating cartoons, mantras and anything your heart desires, placing them all over the body like you would as if you were doodling on a sketchbook. 

All three pencil on paper pieces done by Harleen Osburn of Yuba City. Photo taken by Walker Hardy.

Whether it was a statue of a woman with tattoos over her breasts or the art of an inked flower, each piece in this exhibit shows someone’s personal experience or journey. 

The museum put out calls-of-action for different works of art. The exhibit depicted the “Tales of the Tattoo.” Every piece submitted resembled a tattoo, but some used different mediums like photos or fabrics. This exhibit has a vision of art that serves as an avenue for many people who are struggling internally. 

In addition to the exhibit, Pat Macias, executive director of monca, along with other museum employees, hosted a street party on Sept. 17. This event featured live music performed by Pleasant Valley’s High School band, FaceJug, mural painting, throwing cups, also known as ‘pottery,’ crocheting, food and drinks. 

“Art is healing,” Macias said. 

Macias describes this exhibit’s works as a part of the Veteran Art Grant. The Veteran Art Grant helps display how art has helped veterans and how tattoo work or any artwork has aided veterans in stabilizing their health care after traumatic experiences. 

Aiding this theme of art serving as a healing practice, Jess Mercer, a trauma-informed art educator from Paradise supports artistic expressions through education and her van, Marge. Mercer brought her Marge, a mobile art studio to the street party where no matter who you are, you are free to draw and express yourself. This space provides an area to come and express one’s self through creating whatever you’re feeling. 

“I’m trying to teach permanence through art and creation,” Mercer said. “After we experienced the fire, I lost my studio. So, I wanted to create a studio that I could enjoy but also my community could enjoy.” 

Zachary Laffond, a Chico local, recently opened a new tattoo shop, Black Rose Tattoo. Laffond has been tattooing since 2011 and has continuously used it as an outlet for getting through a hard situation or aiding motivation. 

“Tattooing has helped me push forward in life — in everything. Going through the pandemic and a separation, tattooing is one thing I still had,” Laffond said. 

If you think that getting tattoos is trashy or something to regret as you get older, that is simply subjective to each person. However, acknowledging both sides of the argument — that tattoos are pieces of artwork and the other side — that tattoos can be detrimental to your skin or career credibility is important.

Tales of the Tattoo exemplified that these works of ink can be used to relieve pent-up trauma, as a way to express oneself and keep in mind, maybe someone just has a different way of processing things than you do. 

Tales of the Tattoo closed on Oct. 9. 

Walker Hardy and Carrington Power can be reached at [email protected].

An inspirational saying on Marge, Mercer’s mobile art studio written by an anonymous lover of art. Photo taken by Walker Hardy.