Tattoo artist Jesse Smith creates tattoo designs with his own original cartoon characters. His tattoos express his inner emotional experiences as he observes and interacts with the world around him. Influenced by his background as a graffiti artist, his tattoos are made up of vibrant colors, wild lines and are based on a surreal sense of perspective. His active scenes are popular as tattoo designs, and artist Jesse Smith is willing to create a personalized design for a client, telling their story through body art.
Graffiti Artist Turns to Tattoo Design
During his teenage years, Jesse Smith’s art was highly influenced by urban street culture, especially the vandalistic art of graffiti. Smith enjoyed spray paint as a medium because it allowed him to cover large areas with color in a short amount of time. Graffiti art became Smith’s passion, seducing him with its warped perspectives, explosive colors and bizarre angles. These graffiti design elements have remained a part of Smith’s artistic style and have found their way into Smith’s current medium; tattoos.
Jesse Smith has been tattooing since 2003. Over the past decade, he has been observing human situations and expressing his own reactions to these situations in his art works. His tattoo designs often use cartoon characters to express the frustration, annoyance or bewilderment that he feels during a social interaction. Smith uses his art to express these stressful emotions in a humorous way.
Another graffiti artist who creates commentary on social issues is the world famous Banksy. Banksy’s graffiti art works are poignant commentaries on social norms and have become a popular choice for tattoo designs. (See Banksy Tattoos Combine Graffiti with Body Art) The greatest difference between the graffiti tattoos of these artists is that Smith’s cartoon art style is far more humorous than Banksy’s stencilled style, giving Smith’s finished art work a greater sense of humorous cynicism.
Jesse Smith’s “Deity-V” aka “Die TV” Tattoo
The tattoo design shows a surreal figure who has a television set for a head. In its gnarled, skeletal hands it holds what appears to be a gemstone heart wrapped in chains that are secured with a crucifix. Jesse Smith’s artistic tattoo designs often have a deeper meaning; a commentary on social, political or religious issues. This tattoo is influenced by graffiti in both subject and design. The use of warped perspective and the societal symbols are both design aspects of graffiti art.
Like many of Jesse Smith’s tattoos, Deity-V has a deeper meaning. The media monster, represented by the emotionless television-head character, has chained up a person’s most precious jewel; their heart, wrapping it with binds such as wealth and religion that appear beautiful and seem to offer freedom, but often instead restrict people in their lives. The character wears a wrist watch, a symbol that appears in tattoo art as a representation of time and mortality.
Jesse Smith’s “Opression” Tattoo
Jesse Smith’s background in graffiti art is apparent in this full back tattoo design. King Kong’s fist is hugely out of proportion; a perspective technique that is often used in graffiti art works. The cartoon squirrels tattooed onto the guy’s butt look upwards, drawing the eye to the focal point at the center of the back. Smith has used blue tattoo ink for the subjects in the foreground, offsetting them against a background of red and orange tattoo inks. This use of cold and warm contrast is often used in graffiti art works so that silhouettes are easily recognizable from a distance. Smith often uses animals to represent humans in his art works. His characters are larger than life and highly caricatured in Jesse Smith signature tattoo style.
Jesse Smith’s “Pinjata” Tattoo
Jesse Smith’s cartoon tattoos use funny characters to express social situations that Smith feels people encounter on a regular basis. Even though this tattoo design could simply seem like a fun, colorful piece of body art, it actually has a number of deeper, more personal meanings for the designer and the tattoo owner.
In “Pinjata”, the blue creature on the left swings a log into the stomach of the red creature to the right, who spews forth worm-like, parasitic creatures. The scene is a comment on human society and the way that social centers of power tend to shift according to which person is popular with other people. Jesse Smith has a knack for expressing the psychological nature of a situation through art, revealing the violence of human actions by having his creatures perform a parody of human behavior.
Character-filled Cartoon Tattoos
Jesse Smith’s colorful tattoo designs incorporate a host of cartoon characters, all designed by Smith. The characters are colorful, expressive and are generally involved in some kind of mischief. There is an undercurrent of frustration that runs through Smith’s designs, expressed through the often violent scenes in which critters and creatures bite each other, gnash their teeth or are caught fleeing the scene, yelling or grinning malevolently. The characters are representations of human emotions and attitudes. Smith appears to have a deep capacity for feeling, expressing his sensitivity to other people’s attitudes and behaviors through his art. That the artist has chosen cartoon characters and humorous situations to express his inner frustrations shows a penchant for humor that many tattoo artists lack.
Jesse Smith’s “Bee” Tattoo
The “Bee” tattoo is actually made up of two tattoos. In the first tattoo, the bee’s wings have been changed to resemble the wings of an angel. Around its head is a halo and it sports large, innocent-seeming eyes. The second bee is more devilish in nature. It is red, wears horns and has bat wings instead of bee’s wings. The tattoo design is a symbol of balance and co-dependency. Good cannot exist without evil and vice versa, because without the other there would be no basis for comparison. So in order to exist, good must ensure that evil remains. The same responsibility is given to evil.
Jesse Smith’s “Symbiotic Romanticism” Tattoo
The wasps depicted in the “Symbiotic Romanticism” tattoo have none of the cuteness of the insects in the “Bee” tattoo. Here the insects are depicted with sharp teeth and fierce expressions, tearing at the brains of the creature below and eating them. The tattoo idea was submitted to Jesse Smith by a client, who wanted to draw a comparison between nature and human nature. A wasp will lay her eggs in the flesh of a caterpillar so that when the wasp larvae hatch they have something to eat. The wasps will consume the caterpillar and then fly away to live their lives. Jesse Smith has used this natural phenomenon in his tattoo design to reflect the way that human beings will often take what they want from another person and then leave without a backward glance.
Jesse Smith’s “Charismatic Caterpillar” Tattoo
In Lewis Carroll’s 1865 fantasy story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a character was born that is still popular even though it is 150 years old. The Hookah Smoking Caterpillar sits atop a mushroom smoking his hookah pipe and conversing with whoever passes by. The caterpillar has an arrogant intelligence, often speaking in riddles and trying to trip up his conversational partner. In the story, Alice is frustrated by the caterpillar and storms off in a huff. You can read more about tattoos of Lewis Carroll’s characters in “Ink Me” with Alice in Wonderland Tattoos.
Jesse Smith’s tattoos are original art works inked into skin for eternity. This graffiti vandal turned tattoo artist continues to surprise the world with his highly expressive cartoon tattoos. For more info on Jesse Smith and for more examples of his graffiti tattoos, visit jessesmithtattoos.com or like his page on facebook.