Cort Watt and tattoo artist Ory Pereira turn old ink into heritage memorial
This week marks the beginning of the City of Victoria’s heritage documentation of the Johnson Street Bridge, but one Victorian has taken historic pride to a whole new level by getting a full-on tattoo of Old Blue.
Cort Watt, 24, just finished the last touches on his masterpiece only months ago — a finely detailed representation of the Blue Bridge, situated prominently on his right bicep. The tattoo, which took a total of five months to complete, was the work of local artist Ory Pereira. In what Watt describes as a painful set of 10 two-to-three-hour sessions, his original skull ink was transformed into a brilliant sunset bridge scene.
“I wanted something that would represent my hometown pride and I always thought of the Blue Bridge as the centrepiece of the city,” Watt says. “It represents age and has that classic look, and there’s nothing better than that bridge on a sunny day.”
While Watt conceptualized the idea for the tattoo years before the bridge underwent its recent removal controversy, he used the skull image already on his arm to appropriately turn it into a ghostly memorial. Watt was pleased about the amount of detail that went into the image, and learned that Old Blue isn’t as simple as she seems: her colour is a mix of blue, white and a bit of aquamarine.
Pereira, who has been a tattoo artist for seven years and now owns Empire Tattoo, says that while Watt’s tattoo wasn’t the most challenging concept he’s ever worked with, at first he wasn’t sure it could be done.
“It was kind of an unusual request — Cort wanted to take a landscape and turn it into a traditional-looking tattoo … but I always appreciate a challenge,” Pereira says. “I believe the mark of a good tattooist is someone who is able to take a client’s concept and a limited amount of space and make an art piece out of it that really works.”
Watt has lived in Victoria all his life, and uses the bridge nearly every day for his work at a heritage company. While he says it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else, he will be choked to see the bridge go.
“I voted ‘No,’ on the referendum and was pretty devastated to see the results,” he says. “The new bridge won’t have the same stature. It’ll be more like the Bay Street bridge, and I don’t think some space-age thing going into Market Square really fits the city at all.”
Watt says he has no plans to get the new bridge tattooed on his other arm, though he has found other ways to personally commemorate Old Blue: he has a 1905 print of the bridge in his living room and has spent some time just hanging around the bridge, enjoying her remaining days.
“My grandma is 98 years old and still with it, and we go downtown on drives sometimes and she can tell me all these stories about what life used to be like in Victoria, and what things have changed,” Watt says. “This bridge has a lot of history that it won’t be able to tell us when it goes.”
The city itself has picked up on this knowledge. Last Friday, July 22, photogrammetric documentation of the existing bridge began, which involves taking photographs of an object in a way that can capture exact geometric measurements. The technique is used in engineering and architecture as a way to document existing structures so that scaled drawings or three-dimensional models can be created, should a structure fail to exist. Similar work has been done in Victoria for the Parliament Buildings, St. Andrews Cathedral, the Metropolitan United Church and the Belmont building.
While Pereira says he doesn’t have as strong feelings toward the bridge as Watt does, he thinks removing Old Blue doesn’t fit with the rest of the city’s values on heritage preservation. And take it from the man who knows a thing or two about remakes, Pereira says the city would have been better to revamp the old bridge than start anew.
“It’s a lot easier to rework something that doesn’t fit, or doesn’t look good anymore than it is to scrap it and create something brand new,” he says. “That works for just about anything — it’s a lot less time, money and pain.” M