Contemporary art and body art traditionally exist in two separate spheres of culture and seldom present together in a gallery setting. However, at Distortion Society, a combined art gallery and tattoo studio, the two disciplines coexist with the same level of recognition. Located in the artsy city of Beacon, NY, Distortion Society was founded in early 2023 by husband-and-wife Bradley Silver (a tattoo artist) and Michelle Silver (a painter). “The name Distortion Society was born with multiple meanings: we distort the body by tattooing, the mind with contemplative art, but in a larger sense, we are distorting people’s perceptions of what an art gallery and tattoo studio can be,” says co-owner Bradley Silver. “We’re actively blurring the lines between body art and fine art.”
Throughout his career, Bradley Silver has developed a unique voice in avant-garde blackwork tattooing. His style cohesively blends abstract texture, geometric elements, and recognizable objects, referencing art history, graffiti, iconography, pop culture, and ornamental patterns. Bradley’s work, which more closely resembles collage, abstract painting, and fine art than traditional tattooing, has gained significant popularity and garnered recognition for its uncommon qualities. During his time at White Rabbit Tattoo studio, he won first place in the “Most Unusual 2020” category at the prominent Villain Arts Tattoo Convention in Philadelphia. Later that year, Bradley was accepted to join luxury tattoo studio Inked NYC, a new space started by the world’s premier tattoo media outlet Inked Magazine, as part of their opening staff. This was a major milestone in Bradley’s career as well as a great opportunity to network and collaborate with some of the industry’s finest tattoo artists and high-end media team.
Desiring a shorter commute to his home in the Hudson Valley, Bradley Silver embarked on a life-long dream to own his own tattoo studio, while highlighting non-traditional tattooing in the region. “There are some great traditional tattoo shops in the area, but since I work in such a non-traditional style, I wanted to build a studio that focused on non-traditional tattooing,” says Bradley. Non-traditional in the tattoo industry means tattooing outside of the genres of Traditional, Neo-Traditional, Realism, and Japanese. Distortion Society works with tattoo artists working in a wide range of styles, from the delicate fine line floral and abstract work of Resident Artist Choon Lee to the vibrant mix of watercolor and painterly realism of Guest Artist Jerrra Blues.
Bradley Silver’s vision for Distortion Society has been a true collaboration with his wife Michelle Silver. Michelle, whose background is in painting and graphic design, manages the gallery portion of the business as Distortion Society’s Gallery Director + Curator. She brings well-rounded artistic insight to the business. “My design career and painting career showcase different parts of my creative identity, but these experiences enable me to approach the business both through a client relations mindset and through the lens of the studio artist,” says Michelle. Her vast experience in design – working with clients such as Live Nation, Padma Lakshmi, Jim Kempner Fine Art, and Surface Design Association – has been instrumental in creating Distortion Society’s visual identity. “We’ve approached every aspect of the business with meticulous detail and the result is a very contemporary, design-focused environment.”
An award-winning painter, Michelle is experienced in realism and figurative painting, but her current focus is on semi-abstraction, creating what she calls “emotional landscapes” which blend figurative elements, dreamy scenery, and bold swaths of color. A solo exhibition of Michelle’s current work Between Facing Mirrors examines physical and metaphysical space through the lens of motherhood and is on view at Super Secret Projects gallery in Beacon, NY through December 3, 2023. Despite her personal preference to work with oil paint, Michelle explains from a curatorial perspective, it’s not the only focus for exhibition programming. Distortion Society works with emerging and mid-career artists in a wide range of media including photography, textiles, sculpture, video, and performance, in addition to painting.
The juxtaposition of more traditional art against the physical attributes of a tattoo studio makes for a unique environment. “The space you’re in really informs your experience, and our tattoo experience is rather different,” Bradley explains. “In our personal lives, there isn’t a difference between tattooing and fine art; they are one in the same. For a lot of the tattoo community, their artistic journey begins in fine art which evolves into their tattoo art practice. So, when we first conceived of Distortion Society, it seemed like such an obvious way to include tattooing in the sphere of fine art.”
Distortion Society has had the pleasure of exhibiting a few artists who have dual careers in tattooing and fine art. Evan Paul English, an artist from Boise, Idaho now based in Brooklyn, New York, had a solo exhibition Un/entangled in July of 2023. The exhibition delved into themes of romance and the process of disentanglement, analyzing ideas of American domesticity through a queer lens. The current exhibition also features a dual painter and tattoo artist Laura Bochet. Her solo exhibition Somesthesia centers around bodily reactions and memory, considering the relationship between connection and communication and how the feeling of closeness translates into memory. Flashes of eye contact and clouds of color swirl around the viewer, distant faces appear and just as quickly, disappear. Here, the observer is also the observed, immersed in a silent conversation that recollects personal feelings of closeness, longing, and nostalgia. Both artists also tattooed at Distortion Society (English as a Guest Tattoo Artist in July and Bochet currently as a Resident Artist), further blurring the line between fine artist and tattoo artist.
“It’s incredible to see the way people engage with our space. We have gallery visitors with little knowledge of tattoos who sit and digest our tattoo portfolio books in the same manner with which they’re taking in the art: studying it, asking questions, really looking at each piece with an inquisitive eye,” Michelle adds, “It’s exactly the type of reaction we were hoping to gain, so it’s thrilling to see it in action.”
With a stellar exhibition lineup and an active roster of resident and guest tattoo artists, Distortion Society is gearing up for a busy 2024. “We both feel it’s really important to not limit ourselves in what we can become,” Michelle shares, “there’s such potential for collaboration and growth.”
Michelle Silver is the Co-Founder and Gallery Director of a combined art gallery and tattoo studio in Beacon, NY called Distortion Society. She is also a freelance branding and web designer and studio artist focusing on oil paintings that blend abstraction, figurative elements, and emotional landscapes.