DeLay, Rove, Safavian, Abramoff and Frist Showcase Prison Tats

Gainesville, Texas, November 11, 2014 -- While the runway mince was lunky and the torsos pale and portly, there was much to be savored last night at the season's gala Prison Tattoo premiere, held before a star-studded audience at the stylish Gainesville Federal License Plate Manufacturing Facility Grande Ballroom.

Karl Rove prison tattoos, detail (chest, belly)Karl Rove prison tattoos, detail (chest, belly)

This tribute to the artistic expression of incarcerated primitive cultures is said to have raised over $190,000 toward unspecified charitable ends, and we'd like to offer a gracious bravo to the superb efforts of first-time organizers Karl and Tom.

Leading the pack down the runway was veteran Tom DeLay, now into the third year of his second consecutive five-year sentence for fraud, money-laundering, and electoral law violations, featuring a stunning floral arrangement that speaks "hyacinth, fragrance, a symphony of blue", cunningly curling tentacles trailing from midriff to collarbone. The belly, which we are saddened to observe has grown paunchy and ponderous on starchy prison fare, sports a zesty curlicue motif reminiscent of traditional Northern Mariana Islands garment patterns, neatly complemented by twin lizards nibbling each protuberant nipple. The DeLay deltoids, which we think could use toning – you can do better than that, Tommy-dearest; hazed out of the weight-room, were we? – are deftly etched in vertical pinstripes for an aptly staid "business suit" look. DeLay said cellmate and leading artist Bill Frist, whose hand is "smooth and steady as a modern-day Michelangelo", spent over two hours on each delicate stripe.

But the coup de grace in DeLay's already dazzling hand-pointed body-oeuvre is the "Follow-the-money maze", a tattooed pathway of dollar signs running from left ear, down the neck, encircling the shoulder blades in a twisting candelabra, a zig here, a zag there, before wending its way back to DeLay's right ear. While months of toil obviously lay behind this exquisitely detailed feature, the effect is nothing short of spectacular.

Not to be outdone, a defiant David Safavian chose a more consistently stylized approach evoking the visionary holistic architecture of Eero Saarinen, in which every component of the living canvas organically complements and buttresses the whole. At the root or "center of being" swirls an ephemeral Yin and Yang of government and lobbyist, each represented by thousands of miniaturized procurement contracts, and branching in tortuously entwined, firmly attached strings out toward all extremities of Safavian's corporeal whole. Ingeniously emerging from this tangled web is Safavian's head – is it real, or is it a tattoo? – precariously balanced like a distended mother Tarantula bursting with a thousand eggs. Safavian's cell-mate and lead artist Jack Abramoff is said to have required surgical treatment for repetitive motion disorder following completion of the piece, which drew rapturous applause from a deeply moved audience. Hand and foot designs were executed by longtime friend and partner Grover Norquist during his frequent visits to the penitentiary.

Who could be more fit to follow than the brash, boastful, boisterous Jack Abramoff, who surprises this year's spectators with a nostalgic Wild West vista spanning the shoulders and back, centerpieced by Abramoff himself depicted as a muscular, many-armed William F. Cody pillaging an enclave of terrified Native Americans as he juggles the disembodied heads of high-ranking Republican administration officials. The front torso adopts a glitzier, glossier style, depicting a Las Vegas-style one-armed bandit on which a lucky winner has just pulled a jackpot – three Abramoffs in one tidy row. The stunningly executed handle features a perfect likeness of Tom DeLay's head. Finally, a tail in the shape of a three-pronged electrical cord rises like a tulip from the lower posterior midriff, a symbol that Abramoff is "plugged in".

Bill Frist's offering was perhaps the least inspired of the collection. Over the left breast, a simple HCA logo in discreet blue, while the rear offers a stylized trio of see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil monkeys. On the belly, still mercifully flat, we see a distinctly Escher-inspired pair of severed hands washing each other. We were hoping for greater things from the former Senator, now entering the sixth month of his three-year sentence on insider trading and fraud charges, but can grant him the extenuating factor of his short preparation time.

Lastly, the Karl Rove entrance, a stunner. Nude from the socks up, the audience awash in the full force of the mythic man's primal essence. At last, all cards on the table, nothing up the sleeve. The only patch of unornamented skin on Rove's body was the forehead, which appeared to bear faint traces of an erased linear form that we assume was once an homage to Charles Manson. Everywhere else we see totemic spear-laden armies of Satan entwining haunting tributes to the presidential advisor's long and distinguished career, from the circle of skulls symbolizing the American populace that surrounds the groin area, to ghostlike wraiths and skeletons drifting and escaping from the massive closet that fills the entire rear canvas. The visage is ingeniously doubled to two simultaneous and distinct faces through cunning trompe l'oeil, while the complex gear-like machinations from throat to navel are distinctly Orwellian in character, at the same time evoking shades of Chaplin's Modern Times and Terry Gilliam's Brazil.

Rove, whose genius has clearly been wasted on a lifetime of back-alley political malfeasance, reportedly performed all the artwork himself using a combination of smoke and mirrors over a period that began several years prior to his incarceration on treason charges. With sixty years remaining of his sentence, and not a single patch remaining unmarked on the great man's body, we only wonder how he will occupy his time.

These five brilliant tattoo artists, DeLay, Rove, Safavian, Abramoff and Frist, who were thrown together on the same cell block by a fortuitous turn of events that can only be described as kismet, have officially bonded to create the now-famous Culture of Corruption Club, or C4, an explosive creative force that we are certain will dominate the runway for years to come.

Already dreaming of the surprises awaiting a breathless audience at next year's event, we sign off from Gainesville with this final thought: let us pray that when these brilliant artists finally meet their makers, they will have the generosity of spirit to bequeath their preserved skins to humanity, where they may adorn the hallowed walls of our national museums and enrich our distinctly American artistic heritage for centuries to come.

By Ion Zwitter, Avant News Editor

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