Close Look

The Entrancing Tattoo Art of Dr. Lakra

The Entrancing Tattoo Art of Dr. Lakra
Dr. Lakra's Untitled (Emana) (2011)

Though the drawing impresario Dr. Lakra got his start inking his friends on the streets of Mexico City, it’d be a mistake to pigeonhole him as a tattoo artist—in the decades since, his work has expanded from that venerable medium to include not only vernacular works on paper but also murals, all of which have been shown in high-profile exhibitions the world over. Born Jerónimo López Ramí­rez, his pseudonym roughly translates as "Doctor Delinquent," an his intricate drawings truly do reveal a wild imagination, as expressed through expertly controlled talent. Here, we take a close look at the defining characteristics of his art.


Dr. Lakra first became interested in tattoos during the indelible art form's popular heyday in Mexico City in the 1980s. Tattooing had until then been mainly part of Mexico’s criminal culture, but he and his well-educated friends began trying their hand on each other's skin with DIY gusto. And Dr. Lakra approached the medium from a distinctively cultivated perspective: the son of an anthropologist and a poet, Dr. Lakra had been a rebellious teenager who had dropped out of high school, but what he missed out in classes he made up by studying with Gabriel Orozco in a legendary workshop also attended by Gabriel Kuri, Abraham Cruzvillegas, and Damian Ortega.

The class is also how he first became acquainted with his dealer, José Kuri of kurimanzutto gallery, who happens to be the brother of Gabriel Kuri. But Dr. Lakra's real big break came when he met the tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy (yes, the Ed Hardy), who got him interested in professional tattoo equipment and its artistic possibilities. Hardy also included him in his first group exhibition, "Pierced Hearts and True Love," at The Drawing Center in 1995, an institution where Dr. Lakra has continued to show.


While Dr. Lakra’s tattoo work is by nature organic in feel, his visual art often uses elements of assemblage—culling icons and imagery from across cultures—adding depth to his body of work. The artist has said that every time he visits a new city, he goes to the public library. "I’m always hungry for images,” he told the New York Times in 2011. The artist often tears out advertisements to use in his work, and also employs everyday objects as his canvases. In one series, he used innocent-looking toy dolls and mannequins as ripe canvases for tattoo-inspired drawings.


Vintage pinups and magazine cover-girls aren’t safe from getting inked by Dr. Lakra—albeit with a ballpoint pen. The artist draws his designs on the skin of the women in archival photographs as well as their surroundings, creating vaguely eerie but alluring compositions. But isn’t just glamor shots he manipulates—there’s also Mexican businessmen, sumo wrestlers, and even advertisements of playing children, all bearing Dr. Lakra’s signature brand of artistic ink.


A recurring motif in Dr. Lakra’s work is to reference stock themes of tattoo imagery of nudes, skulls, and insects, but he also takes inspiration from a large swathe of the art-historical canon. Inspired from a young age by the absurdist impulse, the artist has cited Dada and Surrealism as key sources for his work, as well as caricatures by European artists like George Grosz, Honoré Daumier, and Otto Dix; his engagement with Pre-Colombian art, too, has earned him many critical admirers. This is not to say that more popular diversions don't also catch his eye: additional influences include Mad magazine, comics, and, of course, Ed Hardy.


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