Today on Flights of Fancy, I’m excited to share a bit about tattooist Sebastian Orth’s recent release, Many Stories: The Point of the Needle (Escargot Books, 2012).
My initial interest in the book stemmed from the fact that Sebastian Orth did my first tattoo—a peacock feather quill with the phrase “Words have been all my life,” as pictured below.
We discussed a wide range of topics during the four hours that I was under the needle, everything from his upbringing on California’s Central Coast, the history of tattooing, the history of art itself. I was impressed with the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and thrilled to find that so many of these topics are covered in his book.
Orth is a natural storyteller, and effortlessly weaves the autobiographical and the philosophical. His voice is engaging, and his descriptions are vivid, visceral, and compelling. The result is a beautifully written account of enlightenment, the discovery of self that is forged through pain, challenge, and discipline.
Like the book’s title suggests, Many Stories is a tapestry of tales: the first moment Orth discovers how to use ink and needle to create an indelible mark, his evolution as an artist, his struggles with epilepsy, and the development of his personal philosophy, among others. There are also an eclectic array of characters, the people who have come in and out of his life and shaped it in countless ways.
At the heart of all these stories lie the symbolism and deep meaning of tattoos. As he observes in the introduction,
Tattoos are not simply pictures in the flesh, fixed and static. They live with us; breathe with us and die with us. Each tells a story and each of those stories is personal and unique.
In the same way, tattooing itself is more than mechanical skill. Rather, it “can also be a form of magic, a timeless art and a door to the otherworld.” This link between body modification and the otherworldly is an ancient one, a tradition found in indigenous cultures around the world. Even today, both the act of tattooing and being tattooed can become a transformative experience, one in which past, present, and future meet and coalesce.
Many Stories is a unique book, one that touches on a range of genres. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys reading memoirs and autobiography, as well as philosophical discussions of life and art.
To hear Orth in his own words, check out this short interview with him below: