The biomechanical tattoo style has a history very unique among other tattoo styles. Among identifiable tattoo styles it is among the newest and was born in a time when tradition was the trend. You’ve undoubtedly seen a biomech tattoo, but do you know about their sci-fi history, ties to the film industry, and link to a controversial artist? Learn more about biomechanical tattoos in this short post.
Biomechanical Tattoos Started with an Unlikely Source
In 1979 an American film was released that would change the sci-fi horror genre forever. A major constituent of that film was its unique aesthetic– an unusual combination of organic and mechanical; a greasy, slimy, gooey glaze of viscera layered over hard, bone and metal-like structures. The film was Alien and its impact in the art world is still felt today.
The architect of that aesthetic was H.R. Giger, a Swiss painter whose work would permate nearly every medium. Alien’s character and set designs were Giger’s work. He called the aesthetic, a combination of familiar human biological forms, alien shapes, and viscera, “biomechanical”. The success of Alien skyrocketed his already successful career and created fans of his biomechanical style. Giger’s contribution to the musical art world cultivated a following of fans in the 80’s punk scene as well, due largely to his involvement in an obscenity trial that had his art and Dead Kennedys at the center. His unique connections to outsider art groups (horror films, punk music, and non-mainstream visual art), arguably as much as his style, likely helped foster the transition of his art from film and print to human skin.
The Meaning of Biomechanical Tattoos
Biomechanical tattoos look cool and are associated with a love of sci-fi or horror genres. That’s really it. Some sites will feed you some B.S. about being “technical” or having something “dark” or “alien” underneath. If you know anything about the history of Alien or the sources of Giger’s inspiration, then you know that embracing any sort of meaning related to the designs is equivalent to embracing some pretty dark stuff. Popular video essayist Kristian Williams is quoted as saying Giger’s art is “everything we fear about ourselves, exaggerated to the point of surrealism”. His other, non-Alien designs are often overtly sexual. The tattoo style is more about enjoying the reproduction or elaboration of an aesthetic than any deep artistic meaning.
Elements of Biomechanical Tattoo Designs
Biomechanical tattoo designs share some or all of these traits:
- The illusion of tearing flesh (of the wearer)
- Wires, tubes, mechanical joints, and rods replacing muscle and bone
- A ropey, sinewy appearance
- An element of something alien- either technology or biology
Some variations of the design emphesize the mechanical aspect by including gears, pistons, and shock-absorber style springs. There do seem to be two distinct sub-styles. This mechanical-focused style, and a more visceral, horror-leaning version that appears to focus on the alien and organic aspects.
History of Biomechanical Tattoo Designs
While the art style itself stems directly from the work of H.R. Giger, the history of the tattoo style is a little hazier. Biomechanical tattoo designs were most notably proliferated, if not pioneered, by tattoo artists Guy Aitchison and Aaron Cain. Both artists took Giger’s style and brought their own embellishments with increased the appeal of the style and helped proliferate it. Where Giger’s style has been described as “color-leeched”, which results from his frequent use of airbrushing, Aitchison and Cain’s styles use bold color and even have an element of lumenescence. Over the years, the style has faded in and out of popularity.