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Body Politic

Does art matter? A young Angeleno surrenders his skin to the belief that it does

March 08, 1998|Marco Larsen

At a time when people who get tattoos find inspiration in everything from the "Book of Kells" to Chicano prison drawings, Marco Larsen's tats stand out for their simplicity and grimness of theme.

Larsen's arms bear indelible images from "Guernica," Picasso's famous, bitter painting created after the German bombing of a defenseless Basque town in 1937. Picasso's work is about terror, death and hope. Many consider it his masterpiece.

The Larsen version doesn't attempt to re-create Picasso's complex, symbolic telling of history. This "Guernica" samples the original, in the rap music sense of the word. Picasso's canvas shows nine figures, human and beast, rendered in his signature Cubist style. (In no other work does his desire to rearrange anatomy seem so necessary.) Larsen's tattoos show four of the figures: a panicked woman, the horrified face of a mother that we know from the painting is cradling a dead baby, a bull, and the dismembered head and an arm from a warrior's statue.

It is, he says, a work in progress. When he gets enough money, and when he can reconnect with London-based tattoo artist Alex Binnie, he wants to add the figure of the woman reaching out of a window holding a candle, balancing the suffering with a flicker of hope. That'll go on his back.

Larsen, 27, a special-effects sound editor who lives in Silver Lake, grew up in middle-class Wilmington with a no-nukes, radical ecology and gay activist philosophy that would have raised fewer eyebrows in Santa Monica or Pacific Palisades. Feeling different, he acted differently, adapting an if-my-hair-is-orange-it-must-be-Tuesday approach to high school. Eight years ago he had some of "Guernica" tattooed on his right arm (yes, it hurt), but not because he felt a mission to publicize war crimes. It was more of a permanent, self-addressed memo, to remind himself that art matters.

"I didn't want to just put something silly on my body," Larsen says. "I really think art and the tattoo on my body, which is art, can express important ideas about human struggle."

Larsen has another in mind. Not long ago, he saw a photo of a sculpture commemorating the victims of Auschwitz. He's saving a spot for it, too, right below the Picasso. --Daniel Nussbaum

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