Spike’s Ink Master inspires regular human beings to reduce themselves to objects. The people who volunteer their bodies in exchange for free tattoos, for the competition’s sake — are literally called “human canvases.” Human. Canvases. The first time you hear this phrase, you might be thrown off. You have every right to scratch your damn head upon hearing “human canvases,” but can you ignore the intrigue it creates? Don’t you want to hear six people judge the “human canvas” in the room as if he isn’t there? Can you imagine how it feels to be the human canvas as a panel of judges discuss why the object permanently tattooed on his torso looks like shit? Also, the person guiding these people to their fate is Dave Navarro. Come on.
This is the show’s allure: the notion of permanent, life-altering changes being made to to real people’s bodies in a bloodthirsty, time-based competition akin to Chopped. Bad food can be thrown away, though. Bad tattoos can only be criticized by Dave Navarro, Chris Nunez, and the villainous, mustachioed Oliver Peck. Honestly, Oliver is a nice judge, but everything he said sounds more intense, because look at him.
This season — the show’s seventh — is called Ink Master: Revenge, meaning that every episode brings back a tattoo artist from a previous season who didn’t win the coveted title of Ink Master. Of course, the artists are competing for $100,000, but more importantly, they are competing for their moment to shine. It’s the chances to overcome the obstacles of human flesh that make a master: folds of skin, weird bones that jut out problematically, and hair, so much hair. These things, combined with a mouthy human canvas, can ruin you.
When you watch Ink Master, you learn that a clean line and good shading can only go so far. You learn that drawing perfect mermaids, skulls, wolves, pinups, flowers, and koi fish are all well and good, but they do not an Ink Master make. Take, for example, the extremely GIF-able moment above. It’s from an earlier season of Ink Master, but it doesn’t matter which one, or who the artist is, or who the canvas is. You know exactly what is happening there: she is pissed, and he can’t handle it, and together, they are creating a lifelong mistake. Your fave show could never!
But Ink Master isn’t about mistakes. It’s more about triumph over the body. Transcendence. What superhuman could create a piece of art on a living thing, with the pressure of competition, time constraints, and a living canvas with wants, needs, and feelings? Only a virtuoso can do this, and only Dave Navarro & Company can lift them up to this level. When it’s bad, the scorned pool of souls that comprise the Human Canvas jury get to decide which one is bad enough to be the worst tattoo of the week. The whole thing feels like a Roman court, both savage and refined to a point of inventive enlightenment.
The name of one of the favorite artists this season is “Sausage.” Another is “Cleen Rock,” and another is “Jime Litwalk.” Ink Master is better than pro wrestling. This show has the highest stakes of any pawn in the reality competition game, and it has the most potential for wildly entertaining and powerful moments. The final products, too, can be tragic, hilarious, or stunning. If you are not impressed yet, here are some standout examples in all of the aforementioned categories.
This is a fluffly love letter to ‘Ink Master,’ of course, but it is not without merit. What other program gives you art, drama, and hundreds of dragons and mermaids? Only Ink Master examines the human condition from the perspective of those who play creator — and those who dare to bite the hand that permanently scars them. The roles in the show apply to life at large. Sometimes, you are the human canvas: exposed and vulnerable, with the potential to be amazing or tragic. But other times—glorious, terrifying times—you are the all-powerful one. You are the Ink Master.