Combine a fascination with the spectacular lifeforms that once haunted the Earth with the common human desire to decorate one’s flesh, and you wind up with a lot of people walking around with fossil-inspired tattoos. Glendon Mellow, the artist and social media marketing pro known for putting wings on trilobites, has done his fair share to bring these tattoos into the world, and today we’ll take a look at a sampling of them.
If you follow Glendon on Twitter, you know that in addition to sharing his art and writing enlightening threads inspired by his deep knowledge of art history, he passionately advocates for cyclists’ rights. It’s only natural that his latest tattoo incorporates bicycle components into the skeleton of the early Jurassic theropod Dilophosaurus .
As anyone who follows the paleoart discourse on Facebook might tell you, the idea of abstracted and stylized paleoart can be a controversial thing. But too often, these discussions are centered around polarized reactions to pieces that offend by their adherence to a scaly, cartoonishly retro aesthetic. There is a more interesting and deeper discussion to be had about how we interpret ancient life artistically, and Glendon’s work provides a wonderful opportunity for it.
One thing I love about Glendon’s work is its distinctive point-of-view. The remains of ancient life are distorted by his mind in a way that echoes the Earth’s transformative influence on flesh and bone. This is true of any piece of paleontological art. By warping and reshaping these fossils in his deliberate way, and by weaving in symbolic imagery, Glendon explicitly admits his interpretive bias in a way that the creator of a “photoreal” illustration or painstakingly rendered sculpture does not. His work is distinctly suited to being rendered on living skin, a medium which will transform the inked form through the ontogenetic vagaries of time.
If you’re smitten with Glendon’s work, you have some catching up to do. Riley Black commissioned tattoos from Glendon three times, each featuring a different predator of the Morrison Formation. Not that I’m advocating for a literal arms race to see who can have the most Mellow ink on their skin (yeah, I totally am).
Thank you to Glendon for providing images for this post, and for being a long-standing advocate for the visual side of science communication and artists’ rights. Be sure to follow Glendon at Symbiartic, on Twitter, and check out his website where you can browse his work and commission a tattoo of your very own.
If this post has given you the science tattoo fever, you’ll appreciate that the inclination to enshrine prehistoric life and other scientific curiosities epidermally has been well-documented by writer Carl Zimmer in his book Science Ink, which stemmed from the massive public response to his blog post on the subject. If you have a paleontological tattoo of your own, send in a photo with the name of the designer and tattoo artist. If we get a decent number of submissions, we’ll feature a gallery of reader tattoos! Just shoot an email to chasmosaurs at gmail dot com.