Ink is art: Altoonans first tattooists with SAMA exhibit

Mirror photo by Patt Keith Standing in front of their “Joint Installation Piece” on display at Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Altoona are Bob Hecker (left) and Timmy Ickes.

Two Blair County tattooists make The Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art in Altoona history to have an exhibit showing their artistic influences in a mixed media exhibit showing through Sept. 7.

“Inside the Outsiders: Timmy Ickes and Robert “Bob” Hecker,” showcases their differences both in style, substance and personality.

Ickes, 29, and Hecker, 39, both of Altoona graduated from Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School in 2008 and 1998 respectively. They served separate apprenticeships under Bryan Fawks of Paragon Tattoo in Duncansville. Despite similar paths, they didn’t meet until about five years ago.

Hecker owns Resilience Tattoo Co. at 1300 11th Ave. and Ickes works at the shop. Resilience has been a downtown presence for seven years and previously was located at Ivyside Plaza for three years.

Even in the midst of a remodel, the shop’s decor of vintage prints and Victorian antiques reflects Hecker’s interests as the shop’s name refers to his past struggles with sobriety and the strength needed to bounce back — to be resilient — after hardships, including the loss of his father in 1992 and mother in 2006. Fueled by his confusion and anger, Hecker began drawing on everything, including school tests, train cars, and then began tattooing, according to a news release.

Hecker volunteered as a Duncansville firefighter until being injured and those experiences during which “I saw too much,” he said, and his thoughts about the 9-11 attacks influence his art as in the work entitled “Hurricane Erin.” While large, green graffiti-esque letters dominate the bottom foreground, a plane crashes into his rendition of the World Trade Towers in NYC. The piece showcases Hecker’s “dark and brooding style,” according to Barbara Hollander, SAMA’s Altoona site coordinator. “You need a moment to digest it — a second look — to absorb all that’s going on in his pieces.”

“The exhibit will be a surprise to many,” she continued. “We wanted to show how tattoo artists are actual artists in their own right. They are so creative as shown by their use of an old coal mining map.”

The artists created all pieces for the exhibition over the past 18 months, and some pieces are for sale. Ickes has 22 pieces and Hecker, nine pieces, and they collaborated on “Inside The Outsiders” on the wall of the museum out front.

In addition to the acrylic on canvas paintings, Ickes created silicon replicas of hands, arms, and faces to showcase his tattooing skills.

“We are just honored and thrilled,” Hecker said. “We are so grateful for this opportunity.”

It is also the first time either artist has been featured in a public showing.

“There’s a lot of stigma that tattooists aren’t ‘real artists,’ “ Ickes explained. “It’s unusual for a museum to show tattoo artists.”

When the exhibit premiered last month, Hollander said, it drew the museum’s largest opening crowd. Ickes estimated attendance at 170 people which he credits to his additional marketing efforts on social media, talking to clients and circulating post cards.

Hecker’s work provokes thoughts of deep loss, panic, anger, and confusion, with a little bit of humor to create surprising emotions. Hecker uses the documentation of his dreams over the past 15 years as continued inspiration for his work.

Meanwhile, Ickes draws influence from neo-traditional tattoo art, colors, portraits, realism, and the Art Deco master, Erte, and sheds light on the societal pressure to maintain an image and its effect on the psyche.

Hollander described Ickes’ art “as more light hearted and happy. He has a beautiful grasp of color and a more graphic style to his artwork which is the opposite of Bob’s.”

Before Ickes discovered tattooing, he planned to become a chef but two weeks before move-in day at the school, he ran into a popular Pittsburgh tattoo artist named Jason Angst. After seeing Angst tattoo, Ickes chose to follow his dream of having a “rockstar” job and began his tattooing career.

With no prior art experience, his career change challenged him to simultaneously learn art skills, color theory and tattooing techniques.

Ickes said he hopes his story encourages others “young and old alike — to know that you can become an artist at any age.”

Mirror Staff Writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.

If you go

What: Lunch ala Art with Tommy Ickes and Bob Hecker discuss their exhibit “Inside the Outsiders”

When: Noon, July 18; includes lunch followed by presentation

Where: Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art in Altoona at the Brett Building in Downtown Altoona. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. The Museum is open to the public free of charge.

Cost: $14 for members, $15 for public; Registrations required; call 946-4464 or altoona@sama-art.org. For more information, visit www.sama-art.org.