For Immediate Release

Grand Rapids Art Museum Presents Black Waves: The Tattoo Art of Leo Zulueta

Michigan Artist Series explores the art and history of tribal tattooing 

GRAND RAPIDS, MI, February 3, 2017
Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) is proud to announce the next installment of its Michigan Artist Series: Black Waves: The Tattoo Art of Leo Zulueta. On view February 5 – August 27, 2017, GRAM’s latest exhibition explores the work of Ann Arbor-based tattoo artist Leo Zulueta.

Black Waves is a visual biography of Zulueta — the man largely credited with the popularization of contemporary tribal tattooing in the United States. The exhibition will present a close look at a range of Zulueta’s personal photographs, texts, tattoo-inspired drawings, hand-drawn tattoo flash, and includes a large-scale mural created specifically for GRAM’s lobby.

By organizing his first solo museum exhibition, the Grand Rapids Art Museum is thrilled to bring the unique artistry of Leo Zulueta to broader audiences both within and beyond the world of tattoo,” commented GRAM Director and CEO Dana Friis-Hansen. With our mission to connect people through art, creativity, and design, Zulueta’s expansion of Pacific tribal traditions for contemporary body art pushes us to understand a set of different cultural expressions in a new way.”

Zulueta’s style draws from the rich customs of tribal tattooing in the Pacific Rim Nations — the origin of tattooing as it is known in Western cultures. With the encouragement of tattoo master Don Ed Hardy, Zulueta entered the tattoo world as he studied the visual designs and cultural significance of tattooing of the Pacific Rim, including Samoa, Micronesia, Borneo, Fiji, and the Marquesas Islands. Zulueta then developed his own designs and has been tattooing clients since 1981.

Zulueta describes his bold, all-black designs as a style of tattooing that is influenced by the various indigenous tribes that have tattooed over the last thousand years.” He always creates his own designs that are unique to the individual wearer, considering it disrespectful to copy traditional designs exactly … without having any personal relationship to these cultures.”

Leo Zulueta was the first American tattoo artist to develop his style from the different Pacific-Rim cultures, and is arguably the person most responsible for the renewed and expanding interest in these tribal’ styles,” stated GRAM Chief Curator Ron Platt. Zulueta sees tattoo design not as discrete images but as pure form — which he designs in response to the shape and contours of the wearer’s body, and of the relationship between tattooed and non-inked skin.”

Raised in Hawaii and of Filipino descent, Zulueta now owns a tattoo studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Spiral Tattoo. Zulueta is visiting Grand Rapids on March 2 for a gallery talk at the Museum on his career as the godfather of tribal tattooing” and Black Waves. Through the duration of the exhibition, GRAM visitors can enjoy a variety of related programming — including tattoo-inspired art activities in GRAM Studio for children and adults — and Tell Your Tattoo Story, an open-mic style night dedicated to individuals sharing the stories behind their tattoos.

This exhibition is made possible by Steelcase Inc., Beusse & Porter Family Foundation, The Jury Foundation, and Clark Communications with additional funding by the GRAM Exhibition Society. (sponsorships as of release date).

Related Events:

An Evening with Leo Zulueta
March 2, 2017
7 pm – 8 pm
Join GRAM for an evening with artist Leo Zulueta, who will discuss his long and impressive career as the godfather of tribal tattooing” and his exhibition, Black Waves.

Tell Your Tattoo Story
April 13, 2017
7 pm – 8 pm
An open-mic style night of storytelling where people will share the personal histories behind their ink. Those who attend are invited to chronicle the origins of their own tattoo — five minutes per person — or to simply sit back and enjoy the show.

About the Grand Rapids Art Museum
Connecting people through art, creativity, and design. Established in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, the Art Museum is internationally known for its distinguished design and LEED® Gold certified status. Established in 1910 as the Grand Rapids Art Association, GRAM has grown to include more than 5,000 works of art, including American and European 19th and 20th century painting and sculpture and more than 3,000 works on paper. Embracing the city’s legacy as a leading center of design and manufacturing, GRAM has a growing collection in the area of design and modern craft.

For GRAM’s hours and admission fees, visit or call 616 – 831-1000. 

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