Art under his skin

It’s often said that a tattoo tells a story, part of one’s life. Spencer Lowell, American artist in residence aboard Tara, is covered with tattoos. Though he claims that his tattoos don’t really mean anything,  they nonetheless reveal certain facets of this unusual artist.

Spencer got ​​his first tattoo at age 18 in Los Angeles, his hometown – 5 stars on his chest. When asked why this particular design, the answer is succinct: “No reason. I wanted a tattoo and I love stars.”

The same year, he had a four-leaf clover tattooed on his head.  Again, no particular reason, and he doesn’t consider himself superstitious. “It’s just in case,” he adds. “Sometimes I have an idea in the morning, and I get it tattooed on myself in the afternoon. I don’t take it very seriously. It’s a way not to take myself too seriously either. When my ego takes over, my tattoos bring me down to earth.”

At the time, Spencer was rather cautious. He chose his head for the new tattoo so he could easily hide it if necessary. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was just beginning to take photos and I really loved that, but I wasn’t sure it would become my profession.” Then the artist changed his ideas about tattoos, and especially about the meaning of his life. “I used to think these tattoos would last forever, but then I realized nothing is eternal. Someday my body will no longer be here, and my tattoos will disappear with it.”

Spencer Lowell began to add more and more tattoos without hiding them. On his left arm, he has a line  from a John Lennon song: “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”  A way for him to remember that the future is not always in his hands. “I’m just part of the journey, a passenger.” On his belly, two birds surround a flower, symbolizing harmony for him. A duality that can be found in many of his tattoos, such as the white band on his forearm, opposite a black band on the other forearm. “It’s the positive and the negative,”  he says. “In general, I’m always looking for a balance.”

Spencer then decided to extend the black band over his entire left arm, leaving a single empty space: an atom, surrounded by electrons. “I thought it would be interesting because it’s the symbol of matter, and it appears thanks to the absence of ink, that is, of matter.” An intellectual game using tattoos, which climaxed with a date inscribed on his right foot: Monday, June 5, 2006. What happened that day? Absolutely nothing. It’s simply the day that tattoo was done.

Over the years, Spencer’s different tattoos increasingly reflect his passions: art and science. On the knuckles of his left hand is inscribed Einstein’s famous formula: E=mC2.  “I love photographing science because I like to understand how things work. Ultimately it’s a desire to understand the nature of the Universe.”  On the knuckles of his right hand, like a response to science, he has tattooed the letters CMYK, for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK. “These are the colors used in printing. We can make all the colors starting from these,” he explains. “For me, this represents art. It’s complementary to science. Art comes from the heart, science from the head, but both do the same thing: try to find answers.”

Difficult to pass in review Spencer Lowell’s dozens of weird tattoos – poetic, funny or metaphysical.  One last question for this very creative artist: if you decided to get a tattoo after your voyage aboard Tara, what would you choose? After a few seconds of reflection, the answer is surprising, as often with Spencer Lowell: the inflatable plastic crocodile captured a few days ago when we were at sea, floating in the middle of the sea. And when asked why this strange choice, the answer, said with a grin, was of course the same as for almost every one of his tattoos: “Why not?”


Yann Chavance