Not Your Mother’s Art: Underground Art celebrates its 20th anniversary at the Hi-Tone

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Last weekend, the soon-to-be-departed Hi-Tone hosted the 20th anniversary party of another Midtown staple, Underground Art.

In addition to the collaborative art, the event featured performances by Rebel Child, Capgun, New Science System, SVU, Brando Little of the Gloryholes, Jody Stephens of Big Star and Alicja Trout of River City Tanlines, Sin City Scoundrels, Snagglepus, the Sidewayz, Mo Alexander, and Imaginary Friend.

Throughout the afternoon and evening, there was an art auction, with pieces donated by local artists and photographers. Proceeds benefitted Literacy Mid-South. The event provided a sample of the creativity, politics, and vision that has surrounded Underground Art and its burgeoning community for the past 20 years.

“We’ve evolved to encompass a lot of smaller local communities,” said Angela Russell, who opened the shop in 1993. “I think that the shop itself has proven to be a safe haven for all sorts of people, and we’ve built our own tight-knit community of friends and chosen family.”

Those mostly costumed friends and family all participated in some way as the night evolved. Everyone had stories of their first tattoo, most of which happened beneath the buzzing needles of Underground’s artists, both past and present.

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“Underground Art was where I got my first tattoo two or three days after they first opened,” said Mo Alexander, a stand-up comedian. Cameron Peterson, the evening’s emcee, remembered his own first tattoo. “It was 1998 or so, and I got a tattoo from the very talented David Evans. Ultimately, I consider everyone [at Underground Art] a part of my extended family.”

According to Russell, Underground Art started like many great stories start — with a boy. “I had the money, he had the connections. I found the building, we found David, it all sort of came together. The guy was gone within a year but the shop remained.”

The owners and artists of Underground Art are making plans for another 20 years. “We now have this really wonderful tattoo family,” Russell said. “We have very nearly outgrown our sweet little building and are thinking of either expanding or moving, although none of us are very excited at the prospect of leaving the area. David and I have grown up here, we've met countless people. … we've evolved in many ways, just like the shop itself. We've been rescued by our community and we, in turn, do what we can to pay that forward.”

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