Ever since he was young, Dan Attoe has been fascinated by the history, traditions and artistic intricacies of tattoo art, an interest that stems from his passion for skateboarding and punk rock culture.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that Attoe has joined 3rd Heart Tattoo in Washougal as a part-time licensed artist. He’s certainly not a newcomer to art; his paintings have been exhibited around the world for more than a decade. But Attoe said he views his transition into tattooing as “a natural step.”
“I always liked tattoos, and have always been influenced by them. My artwork is influenced by them,” he said. “My experience with art definitely helps (with tattooing). A lot of tattooing is being able to draw and construct in space, (and picturing) the architecture of an image, so it helped me to already have that background. There’s actually a lot of overlap between the fine art world and tattoo art world. But I’m learning that there’s a lot to this medium — people’s skin, the instruments, the machine. Getting a feel for those things takes some time.”
Attoe and 3rd Heart Tattoo owner Ryan Boomhower first met in 2009, when Boomhower was working at Painless Ric’s tattoo shop in downtown Camas.
“He came to me to have a sketch of his turned into a tattoo. Not knowing Dan’s reputation as an artist, I asked if he wanted me to draw my version of what he brought me or to use his exactly the way it was presented,” Boomhauer said. “The latter was chosen, and we set the appointment for a few days later. I already appreciated not having to change up the art or do anything additional to it, but I really appreciated the art style that Dan had.”
“We continued knocking out piece after piece when Dan would feel inspired to put something on his body. Our one-on-one time turned into a solid friendship very quickly. It wasn’t until the third or fourth time we got together that I was alerted by a friend to how popular and sought-after an artist he was in the modern art world.”
Attoe’s previous art experience has helped him as a tattoo artist, according to Boomhower.
“Dan is in a really neat place that not many tattoo artists get to be in when they start out,” he said. “(He’s had) huge prior success in art forms like oil and pencil, among a lot of other mediums, then transferred (his abilities) to machine, needle and ink. I feel that initially some locals, and those who are unaware of Dan’s prior works, will be pleasantly surprised at who has done their tattoo, not just for his skill with a tattoo machine but who Dan is in the art world outside of tattooing. ”
Artist receives worldwide exposure at young age
Attoe was born in Bremerton, Washington, grew up in parts of Washington, Idaho, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied psychology and art. He then received a master’s degree in fine art degree from the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa.
Attoe’s work attracted the attention of Javier Peres, owner of Peres Projects, a Berlin-based gallery that promotes contemporary artists to an international audience, operating project spaces and presenting exhibitions of contemporary art in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Athens, Stockholm and Berlin.
“From its beginnings, (Peres Projects) just skyrocketed, and turned into a well-known gallery in just a few years,” Attoe said. “I started to show all over the world before I was out of grad school. I was happy. I thought it was great because I could make art all day and live wherever I wanted, which was nice.”
Attoe, who moved to Washougal in 2004, works from his home studio and spends time with his wife, Annice, and two young children, when he’s not at 3rd Heart Tattoo.
“I like how quiet it is here,” he said of Washougal. “I like how friendly the people are in general. I love how beautiful it is. I love being close to the Columbia River and Washougal River. Before I had kids, I liked to kayak and hike, but now I take kids to the safer places.”
For all of Attoe’s accomplishments and notoriety, “he is just Dan,” according to Boomhower.
“He’s a friend to all, and a man of great stature with all who get even a moment of his time,” he said. “He loves to see the humor in everything around him and create silver linings for all to see in the average everyday things that surround us. He’s an amazing friend, as true as they come. He’s an even more amazing father to his children and supportive spouse to his wife.
“If you’re a friend of Dan’s or simply a stranger observing, its easy to see his family comes first above all. To be frank, It’s not so much the artistic things I admire about Dan — although there are many — but the everyday guy that Dan is to the world and people around him, whether it be a stranger or kindred. I am truly honored to call him one of my closest friends and to have him working with me.”
‘Trying to make sense of the world’
Attoe’s work has been in numerous group shows in galleries and museums in the United States and Europe. He worked with and was part of the inspiration for a line of clothing by fashion designer Adam Kimmel in 2011. He’s also one of the founders of Paintallica, an artist collective that has presented performative installations across the United States.
“Attoe’s paintings depict natural wonders — waterfalls, beaches, mountains, rocky cliffs, oversized forests — populated by tiny figures spouting even tinier diaristic missives, painted in silver and culled from the artist’s stream of consciousness,” according to westernexhibitions.com. “The miniature humans disrupt the grandeur of nature with their small stature and utterances. His drawings share the same concerns but inverted — the phrases and disconnected images are larger and often cartoonish, creating small-scaled narrative vignettes.”
“He is incredibly talented in many aspects of art and art composition,” Boomhower said. “His oil work has literally left me speechless and inspired so many times I can’t count. I am fascinated at his ability to take the average everyday thought and turn into a even more thought-provoking thought. It’s like a layer cake on top of another layer cake turned upside down — a common thought then matched up visually with something you never would have imagined. But it makes sense.”
Attoe said his art is “useful,” and incorporates natural beauty and humor.
“I think it goes back to interest in psychology,” he said. “I think that all art is psychologically useful, but some of it is also sociologically useful and historically and politically and culturally useful as well, and I dip into all those things. My art is my way of trying to make sense of the world. I guess I hope that other people can get something from it, or make some kind of sense of it as well.”
“Other artists are more politically and socially engaged than I am, but in my own work I put that stuff through a filter and it comes out in a fictional way,” he continued. “I compare my work to what Steven King does. In the same ways that his stories often have dark analogies to political or psychological (events), my work is similar in that it’s rarely direct.”
Every day, Attoe meditates for about 20 minutes, then sketches a drawing that he keeps for himself to use as inspiration before moving on to bigger projects.
“It’s a routine,” he said. “The drawing comes from the mediation. Meditation is a process of shutting off my internal editor. I don’t have to worry about what to share with the world when I’m just letting these ideas float through my head. In a professional way, art is just a dialogue having with collectors and audience. I just feel a necessity to keep that dialogue fresh, and (meditation) is a way to incorporate political things happening now should they come up, or a way of paying attention to the world to make sure (these things) get filtered to make them useful to people now.”