Tag Archives: Dave Gillstrap

Knux: Scarwars 2005

It’s been thirteen years since we held the first Scarwars event in Philadelphia. Over the years, both on the (now defunct) Scarwars blog and here on Sacred we’ve posted tons of pics from the event(s) and there are still hundreds that have never gone online. Like this photo by SW1 photographer Allen Falkner of Dave Gillstrap working on a cutting with removal.

The design is a mashup of an anatomical heart and a set of brass knuckles; Dave contributed t-shirt designs for the first two events- one featuring an anatomical heart, the other brass knuckles.

 

 

The Braille Encyclopedia

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A few weeks ago, some twelve years after it’s launch, I nuked the Scarwars.net blog. It was a long time coming but pulling the plug was strangely anti-climactic. Still, in the decade it was online the site hosted some damn fine content, so from time to time we’ll be featuring highlights here on Sacred Debris.

These photos (by Allen Falkner) date back to May of 2005 and feature Tom’s jaw-dropping full torso scarification by Dave Gillstrap. It remains one of my favorite large-scale cuttings.

SCARTISTS: Dave @ Scarwars 2005

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Another SCARTIST portrait by Scarwars 2005 event photographer Allen Falkner, this time featuring influential piercer/scarification artist Dave Gillstrap getting ready to start a cutting. I didn’t meet Dave until the morning of the first day of the 2005 event but his work definitely proceeded him and he went on to do some of the most impressive pieces that came out of the Scarwars events.

sw2_3235: Dave Gillstrap

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Event: Scarwars 2.
Location: Los Angeles.
Year: February 2006.
Photographer: Rachel Larratt.
Subject: Dave Gillstrap.

My wife and I took a much needed week long roadtrip for Thanksgiving; Philadelphia to Asheville North Carolina, Asheville to Atlanta Georgia and back to Philly, checking out the sights, seeing family and just unwinding from all of our responsibilities. I had packed my laptop and had a few blog entries ready to go out, but you know how it goes with vacations…

I’ve been focusing a lot on the 1970s lately, so I figured a 2000s post may be a welcome change. This 2006 photo, by BME’s Rachel Larratt, features scarification artist Dave Gillstrap at the second Scarwars event in Los Angeles. For the event portraits I asked our photographers to go very simple, white backgrounds and neutral lighting to let the personality of the subject stand out.

In deference to Slack

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Dealing with technology that’s older than some of the readers of this blog comes with a certain level of frustration. Courting donations, finding the tech we need and buying it, waiting for it to arrive to find that it’s defective or doesn’t suit the needs of the project, starting the returns/refund process and then sitting in a holding pattern before you start the whole thing over again has burned me out a little on regular updates.

I have a replacement 8mm VCR en route to Philly and am scouting some digital8/DVC platforms as well, but in the meantime…. I’m enjoying the slack. I should be scanning photos, there are VHS tapes I could be importing… but eh. I think I’m going to let Slack win until the 8mm project gets underway.

I hadn’t planned to update until I had some good news, but once I started thinking about Slack… Flashback to 2006, Los Angeles for Scarwars2- Dave Gillstrap did this fitting tribute to the prophet of Slack himself, J.R. “Bob” Dobbs.

“Moses parted the Red Sea, Oppenheimer split the atom, but “Bob” cut the crap.” – Steve Antczak

SCARWARS@TEN

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Ten years ago today I was nervously pacing in a Port Richmond 1 warehouse, hoping that the months of planning the inaugural Scarwars event- from assembling the artists, hand picking the attendees, making sure the photographers had what they needed and praying that the warehouse owner believed my ‘we’re shooting pornography, please give us our privacy’ cover story- would be enough to make sure that the weekend would go off without a hitch.

05SW100We made some amazing memories that weekend; the artists made some beautiful scars and while there were some glitches (the gentleman walking around dripping blood comes to mind) by and large it ended up being one of the most laid back events I’ve ever hosted. In the decade that followed we’ve seen decorative scarification flourish; while not getting the same widespread acceptance that tattooing and body piercing are currently enjoying people are finally starting to come around to the idea that a cutting isn’t always mutilation and that sometimes our scars make us stronger. I hope that in some small way we had something to do with that.

I’ve asked SW1 staff, artists 2 and guests to share a memory from the event- here are their stories:

Angela (Medical Liaison)
As someone who was relatively new to the BME community and also now as “modified” as others, this event was extremely inclusive. I attended as a spectator as well as someone on the medical/biohazard team. A very distinct memory, may it be good or bad, was of a young gentleman who had just got some work done and was walking around shirtless. He happen to drip blood EVERYWHERE. I followed the blood trail to him, cleaning up as I went. Finally as I got to him, I drew a circle on the floor and told him he wasn’t allowed outside of the circle…. Over the years of scar wars, this def happened less and less as people were much more aware of themselves… But that was the first… Oh yeah, and I was topless for most of it.

Brian (Staff Fixer)
perkperkWhen you asked us to look back at the inaugural Scar Wars, I literally had to go through pictures and re-read diary entries to jog my memory. After being flooded with nostalgia and thoughts of “I miss them”, I searched for what it was like those important days. It was hectic. I remember being the first ones there and the last to leave almost everyday. My role in the event was a catch all. I documented what I could, helped wherever possible, and most of all was privileged to witness amazing humans enduring painful experiences that ended with huge smiles. Being part of the chaos was grueling at the time, but come 10 years later it stands out as a defining moment of my life. i also can’t believe how many titties there were.

Kathleen† (Staff)
My memories of Scar Wars are mostly about the people who attended. Many friends from around the world who I was meeting for the first time or seeing together in one place when they usually were so far apart. I had seen scarification done many times, but not in such a concentrated group of skilled practitioners, and it was great to walk around the room and watch them all work. The collaborative spirit was something that struck me as well- so many artists with different styles and techniques, all willing to share information and learn from one another. It and the subsequent Scar Wars events are some of the most positive memories I have of any body modification event I’ve ever attended.

Jesse Villemaire (Scarification Artist)
Scar Wars had so many great memories! 10 years later and I’m still proud to be friends with many of these great artists.  I remember connecting with Ron Garza immediately as he put a camera crew in my face to interview me as soon as I arrived. Ron then made me comfortable and allowed me to ask as many stupid questions as I needed too in order to excel my techniques.

I also had the honor of collaborating with Brian Decker on a large bamboo scar piece on Corinna’s back. Corinna dealt with every emotion possible as many friends were coaching her through this intense project…still so unreal. It wasn’t just about cutting people, it was about bonding on a level that’s hard to describe.

The enjoyment of learning with many others, realizing there’s multiple ways to create a scar, watching Dave create “shading” with his cross hatching technique, seeing other artists collaborating for the very first time…it was all very inspiring.

Scar Wars is a significant part of our history. Thanks Shawn for having a vision that brought so many talented people from around the world to showcase the art we were truly passionate about.

Ryan Ouellette (Scarification Artist)
Scar Wars was the first time that I felt like I was part of a larger scarification community and that I really had colleagues in it. I knew there were other people out there doing it and getting it but I was in this little bubble of only seeing my pieces and only knowing my techniques and aftercare. Being able to watch other people doing it really helped me expand my own methods. I grew a lot from that experience and scarification really came into its own as a respectable art form, rather than just an internet fad.

Allen Falkner (Photographer)
So many fond memories form that weekend. Sadly most stories cannot be shared with the public due the nature of the indiscretions and the people involved.

Julie (Guest)
SWJULEScar Wars was an intensely personal experience among friends and strangers, unique in a way that doesn’t feel possible anymore. I got cut at Scar Wars and love it ten years later, but it was not the most memorable thing about the event. What I remember most was an inherent trust in the people I was surrounded by that I’ve since learned is rare. It is hard to put succinctly into words how this event (and others like it) helped me personally grow. I’ll leave it to a simple thank you to everyone involved.

Shawn Porter: (Host)
shawnscarwarsThe first Scarwars was fun. It was supposed to be serious, life changing, important.. but more than anything it was fun. The staff worked overtime (literally) to make sure that by the time I walked in the door everything had been taken care of so I was free just to enjoy myself and have a good time. Everything lined up perfectly and I was humbled to be part of something that meant as much to the artists and guests as it did for me.

Notes:

  1. Port Richmond is a neighborhood in North Philadelphia, several miles from the downtown area.
  2. The artists at the first ScarWars were Ron Garza, Dave Gilstrap, Vampy, Monte, Jesse Villemaire, Brian Decker and Ryan Ouellette

Ready to Wear: Scarwars 1

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Over the years we made so many event t-shirts that it’s hard to pick a favorite- but if I absolutely had to choose I’d probably go with this Dave Gilstrap design from the first Scarwars in Philadelphia, PA May of 2005.

These were originally made available for pre-order to help generate funds (and interest) for the event and quickly sold out long before we made the first cutting at Scarwars. This was the only design I ever broke my ‘one and done’ promise for with a second printing made available the following year for Scarwars 2, this time featuring an added orange screen for the flame/phoenix.

Ready to Wear: Scarwars 3

DAVESWOne of the most fun parts of hosting any event- from the backyard BBQs to the more organized events like ModCon and Scarwars- was having an excuse to make an event shirt. Long after all of the stresses of organizing a get-together have faded you still have that little reminder in your closet. Maybe a little worn out and not in the best shape, but hell- that’s the way some of us felt after the events were over.

This was one of the designs for the third Scarwars event, hosted in Philadelphia in October 2007. It features artwork by attending cutter Dave Gilstrap and was printed in Philadelphia by Awesome Dudes Printing.

Evolution of a Subculture: Scarwars1 2005

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Ryan Oullette and Jesse V working on a difficult client.

I recently shared the story of how the ModCon events came to be with the promise to chronicle the other events in time. That’s still on my to-do list, but today we’re going to talk a little about the ScarWars events; how they started and their connection to ModCon.

ScarWars One happened in May of 2005 in Philadelphia, PA with seven of the world’s leading scarification artists working and attending, but it’s roots go back to 2004 at the ModCon4 event in Toronto, Ontario where a guest named Chris and his then wife Danielle asked about doing a collaborative cutting/branding piece with all of the attending artists using different techniques to make a wholly unique scar. Brands, cutting and flesh removal all on the same client. At the time it was unheard of, and as I watched Blair, Ryan, Danielle and I believe Brian work on it, I realized that we had reached uncharted territory.

Trade secrets. When you looked at other body art disciplines- tattooing, body piercing, suspension… at the time there wasn’t a lot of sharing going on. Every new person who knew how to do what you do was one more person who could compete against you. Tattooing and Body Piercing weren’t a community- they were an industry. Tattoo supplies had yet to be an eBay/Amazon accessible purchase and body piercing supplies weren’t available in the mall. As niche as piercing was (and by 2005 it had sort of already reached it’s fever pitch apex) scarification was still it’s distant cousin- never quite gaining that popularity that other forms of modification were enjoying.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWatching multiple artists work on the same client- asking each other questions (“is that how you do flesh removal? I use hemostats”) and sharing tips and tricks… I realized that the culture of scarification was still untainted by commercialization and that if we acted now there was a possibility of getting the top artists together without ego or competition and to see where we could go with it.

Scarification/Branding had always been about simplification- bold geometric designs cut or branded by the legendary Keith Alexander, Raelyn Gallina, Fakir Musafar and a handful of others were the standard. Tribal shapes, runes, sigils. But times had changed thanks to the electrocautery work of Steve Haworth, the tattoo flash inspired cuttings of Ron Garza and the flesh removals from Toro; new possibilities were emerging and the younger generation of scarification artists had a whole new aesthetic and were already seeing where they could take it.

trooperAfter ModCon, with Shannon Larratt’s encouragement, I took over IAM/BME’s scarification forum and we started talking about collaborations of style, technique and artists envolved and several weeks later the idea of an event was on everyone’s mind. Having already co-created ModCon with Shannon and hosted a score of IAM related events, I volunteered to take the reigns and with the help of my sister in law Carmela, we began working on what would become the world’s first Scarification ‘convention’.

We knew off the bat that it would be a niche event; the scarification community was small and opening it to the public would be a bad idea so we decided to go underground. Rent a private studio space. Only invite people we knew or that were able to be vouched for. Organize a staff. Arrange hotels. My sister in law Carmela  worked overtime getting all of the practical stuff planned out while I concentrated on artists, supplies, artwork, shirts etc. We knew that we had to name the event and inspired by the weekend it was planned to happen (which saw the opening of StarWars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith) we decided to go with SCARWars. It was a little tongue in cheek and had great potential for marketing, so with no fear of George Lucas caring about us (much like he didn’t care for the prequels) we went ahead with it.

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Officially, no invites went out to artists. That caused a little bit of ruffled feathers long term, but at the time the event was a small thing and the artists who took part in the IAM.bmezine.com Scarification forum were the core group of people expected to work it. We were open to folks who, after seeing the website or the mentions on BME (most specifically Shannon’s GLIDER profile on IAM- mentions on which got us a lot of attention) contacted the group and asked about attending, but when it came to inviting folks to work- that never happened. Sadly, egos got bruised (One artist said that it was ‘totally American to make cutting about Wars” and somehow managed to equate him not being invited to the event with why September 11th happened) and there was a little bit of hurt feelings, but ultimately the event went off without a hitch.

Not exactly a stranger to having underground events I was able to creatively explain to other residents of the building we used for the inaugural event why they couldn’t peek into the studio we were using to see what was going on (“sorry. We’re shooting porn” tends to get people to leave you alone) despite the occasional scantily clad and sometimes bloody people we were parading in and out of the space.

DSC_2950-copy-2We had reached out to my old friend Philip Barbosa to document the event and along with cutting and branding stations we set up a small studio for Phil to take portraits of the clients who made the trip to Philadelphia to be cut or burned. In contrast to his start black and white work at the ModCon events I asked Phil to shoot in full color with a white background; to not focus necessarily on the cuttings themselves (that was handled by suspension pioneer and sometime photographer Allen Falkner) but on the clients themselves. Philip is one of those guys who never gets the credit he deserves; someone who was there with us on the front line hosting events and getting things done but unlike the rest of us had the talent and skill to make art while doing it. His images from the events- ModCon, Scarwars and the IWASCURED events document a collection of communities from the inside; one of us and not an outsider looking to shoot weirdos and freaks to impress his jaded friends. The images that he shot over the three days of Scarwars have joy, personality and a bunch of blood; can’t ask for much more than that.

Once the event got started we had a hell of a time. Artists included:
Brian Decker
Ron Garza
Dave Gillstrap
Monte
Ryan Oullette
Vampy
Jesse Villemaire
Vampy

Some artists only worked on a few pieces, others were booked all weekend. Pieces ranged from small brandings to an almost 11 hour full back cutting by Brian Decker (with assistance from Jesee towards the end) that become one of the most well known scarification pieces ever to grace internet memes. There was a casual fun vibe as folks met each other, got cut, went out on sidetrip adventures and enjoyed the company of people who understood them. Artists worked together on collaborative pieces, sometimes at the same time and pushed the limits of what had been done before us.

Dave Gilstrap at work

Dave Gillstrap at work

For me? It was difficult. I was going through a divorce and really wasn’t processing everything well. I was trying to keep everything afloat- my staff was amazing but I was still in that raw emotional state where chaos was a more frequent guest than calm. I decided to ask Brian Decker to cut my face. Not exactly a spur of the moment decision, but certainly one that meant a lot to me. Towards the end of the last night of the event we started planning things out; a cutting by my left eye that could look natural enough to have been an accident but clean enough to make you wonder. Cutting your face is intense; there’s no hiding it from the world and more importantly no hiding it from yourself.

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 4.36.21 PMI needed the vulnerability; I needed the trust and the healing to help me get out of the funk I was in and with the lines drawn on my face, laid down and let Brian get to work. Everyone with a cutting has their own story.. for me it was this feeling of letting go. Of all of the negativity and fear and loneliness that that I had been going through. Trusting a friend to take a scalpel to my eye. I let go and as the blade started making it’s cuts felt a hand grab mine. And another. A hand on my leg and my shoulder. One on my head. My friends, the guests who decided to stay at Scarwars till the end, had wandered over to Brain’s station to support me. It was unspoken. One hand followed the other and soon I felt nothing but love. Right then and there Scarwars became something else for me. Not an ‘event’ I was hosting but a community. A place where people could change themselves- body and mind- and be surrounded by others who understood.

We wrapped it up shortly after  and went our separate ways. In time we had two more Scarwars events and were eventually invited to do another- in the open and not underground- as part of a tattoo convention. My old friend Ron Garza continued what we started recently with his own ScarCon in London. But for those who made the trip to a little studio space in Port Richmond back in 2005… you were part of something special and new and you’ll always have my thanks and my love.

http://www.scarwars.net


This article originally appeared on BME’s MODBlog on 06/05/2013, edited on 01/19/2014