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by reception
posted 04/04/2015

Hand Art: the tattoo and the painter

Everything changed for artist Brett Hayes when he decided to paint a picture of his boss’ hands holding a skull.

Painting of tattooed hand.

Brett says, “I liked the idea of showing his hands with their interesting tattoos and scars, as well as using the skull to represent the idea behind Vanitas in paintings – the transience of life, the futility of pleasure and the certainty of death. When the work was completed, I could see how this new approach gave me the ability to produce a work of art that had much greater depth than a standard landscape could suggest.”

The idea for Brett’s current series of paintings began back in 2009. He’d just started a tattoo apprenticeship at Bodyart, Menai. “Even though I have a background in fine arts, I started by learning the very basics, slowly building up to more intricate and detailed designs.

“I remember being hungry for information about the art of tattooing, reading books and magazines, searching the internet, asking my teacher as much as I could, and approaching tattooists I already knew…and some I didn’t. I also travelled to Japan to learn more about the Japanese style of tattooing.”

Of these early days working with this new form Brett recalls, “though my tattoo work at the time was still only in black and grey, I was keen to apply what I was learning about using tone from the tattoo world into my paintings as well.


“I’ve always been interested in adding a conceptual element to my work, I’d been unsure of how to do this with my seascape paintings. While I was familiar with artists like Shawn Barber – who paints artists with tattoos, using traditional oil painting techniques…I didn’t want the person’s face to be the main focus.

“That’s when I decided to only paint the subjects’ hands. Hands are a beautiful subject in themselves. They can reveal important information about us and who we might be, potentially reflecting some of the choices we’ve made in life.”

Painter & Tattoo Artist - Brett Hayes

Painter & Tattoo Artist – Brett Hayes

In his latest exhibition Tattooed Hands Brett’s focused on painting the hands of people he knows personally, and is connected with in some way.

“Importantly, I know why they have the particular tattoo I’ve shown in my work. Many of them have chosen to go down a path similar to mine – becoming tattoo artists. For them, tattooing their hands reflects their decision to live outside society’s norms. 

“I think my paintings give an element of beauty to subject matter that’s more traditionally frowned on by our society. To that end, I hope the works help break down the misconceptions people may have about anyone who decides to tattoo their hands.”


The exhibition includes information about each subject and the tattoo artist whose work is on display. The aim is to give the viewer an added insight into the story behind the tattoos and ask them to view the work in a different light.

Brett Hayes

Tattooed Hands

14 – 27 April 2015


357 New South Head Road, Double Bay – Sydney

10am – 4pm Tuesday

10am – 7pm Wednesday

10am – 7pm Thursday

10am – 7pm Friday

10am – 4pm Saturday

10am – 4pm Sunday

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