By Connie Isbell, Membership & Community Engagement Director, Monmouth Arts
It requires artistic vision and tremendous skill to take an idea for a tattoo and bring it to life on the human body, whether it’s a tribute to a loved one, a political statement, or some personal symbol of expression. Patrick James Dean -- artist, tattooer, and business owner -- used that same vision when he embarked on his journey to open Trident Arts, a creative space and art gallery in Long Branch.
Dean, the owner of Neptune Tattooville, a tattoo parlor in Neptune City, purchased the building at 220 Broadway in 2016, in an area of Long Branch that could be described as transitional. The mixed commercial neighborhood included some empty buildings and stalled real estate projects, but Dean was able to see below the surface. “The lower Broadway corridor has grit and soul with excellent ethnic restaurants and fantastic theater,” he says. “I’m excited to be part of this community."
Trident Arts is a family undertaking. Dean’s wife Jessica Herrera Dean, an artist, photographer, and musician, assists at the gallery with curating and events; she also offers digital imaging services for artists interested in making high-quality prints. Dean’s older son, Brent, who is learning the tattoo trade, helps with managing the gallery. Trident has the support of many in Long Branch and beyond, especially those who remember the days of SICA, the Shore Institute for Contemporary Art, which thrived for many years just around the corner. “I’ve wanted to have a permanent home for a business and a personal art-making space for a long time,” Dean says. “And Long Branch seemed like the obvious choice for an arts revival.”
Others are also taking a chance on the renaissance of the city’s Lower Broadway area, including the owner of the WhiteChapel Projects, a few blocks east toward the beach. The renovated warehouse will house a craft brewery and restaurant, as well as a creative event space for music and art. And New Jersey Repertory Company, situated between Trident and WhiteChapel, continues to make significant contributions to the world of theater.
As for Trident, Dean expects to have four to six shows per year that will showcase both local and national artists. “Tattooing has allowed me to connect with so many artists from many different styles and backgrounds, many of them being my clients,” he says. He sees the gallery as a place in which to give fledgling artists a chance to emerge and grow. Trident’s first exhibit in 2017 featured a group show of local painters, sculptors, photographers, and printmakers. Other shows have included tattoo artists from around the country; the confrontational photographs of Sarah Stolfa, director of the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center; and surf culture artists.
Dean is truly passionate about art, which is the driving force behind his plans for Trident. Influenced by the pen and ink of comic books, Dean started making art and drawing as a child, but never had any art instruction until he took classes at Brookdale Community College. He received his degree and worked for AT&T Bell Laboratories in the graphic design department, leaving after five years to pursue a career in tattooing. "It afforded me full creative license to draw, paint, and travel,” he says, "and not be bound by corporate constraints and style guides.”
Tattooing and surfing have given Dean the freedom to travel the world since he left that traditional job, collecting art and learning more about folk art and ancient art. Being tattooed by American tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy had a huge impact on Dean’s tattooing career, and experiences in Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Indonesia allowed him to see how tattooing has been woven through these cultures.
Dean’s artistic gifts have earned him a solid reputation in the tattoo world. Tom Losonczy, a 65-year-old former Olympian fencer started his tattooing journey based on Dean’s talents. “Pat is truly an artist,” says Losonczy. “The way he’s able to conceive of an idea, orchestrate it, and put it on the body is just beautiful to watch.”
Dean is looking forward to using Trident as another venue for his art. Of course, as with any creative business, there are financial realities to face. “Anyone in the arts knows that galleries can be a financial challenge to survive, profit and grow,” says Dean, who is realistic about what it will take to keep Trident open. To help cover costs, he may use the space for other creative ventures, including workshops, dance classes, pop-ups, and other opportunities for small artisanal vendors to sell their goods. Ideally, he’d like to see some creative momentum take hold, especially now with the neighborhood undergoing a revitalization.
Trident’s hours are currently limited to Wednesdays from 12-6:00, but viewings are available by appointment. Facebook and Instagram are the best way to stay up to date on hours, events, shows, etc. @tridentartsnj
Tattoo Art to Fine Art
Though tattooing is one of the earliest forms of art, with world cultures using ink to embellish the human body for more than 5,000 years, not everyone is convinced that tattoos belong in the world of fine art. Dean is among those who see the validity of tattoo art beyond popular culture. “Tattooing has often been viewed as a lowbrow art form and it tends to align itself with cutting edge art in the punk music and surfing/skate youth cultures,” he says. But over the years he’s given lectures and worked to shed light on the historical and cultural perspective of tattooing as a global art form, from its primitive roots to modern day expression.