Only love can leave such a mark

About the Project

u2 tattoos

The plight of the U2 fan.
This tattooed U2 fan spotted at the 2011 360 show in Pittsburgh inspired the question: With U2’s rich history of icons, how do fans brand themselves?

Welcome to the U2 Tattoo Project, an endeavor to curate and document as many U2 tattoos as I can. I am a graphic design professor at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, and my partner, Chris, is a photographer and visual anthropologist. I’ve been a U2 fan since I was 13—the early infatuation driven by Achtung Baby, an album that was as much a visual spectacle as it was an aural one. As I discovered the back catalog and then followed the new releases, I saw U2 reinvent themselves with each album—musically as well as visually. I started to study graphic design in college and continued into grad school. At some point, it quietly occurred to me that U2 has no official logo.

When you think of bands like The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones—the great bands Bono’s always wanted U2 to be considered amongst—a dominant icon emerges in your mind: the elongated type and fretboard-like “T” of the Beatles, the arrow-protruding “o” of The Who, the lips and tongue of the Stones. These bands have used other logos and typographic approaches to their names, but these visual identities remain dominant. But what comes to mind when you think of U2? The hand-brushed grunge script from Achtung? The bold, red Block Gothic face of War? The Joshua Tree silhouette? U2 has become an iconic band with no consistent icon, but rather a history of transient visual identities that embody their eras and represent different emotional experiences for fans. They reinvent themselves graphically with each album. Covers feature more of a type treatment than a logo. This visual open-endedness mirrors the band’s own restlessness, and allows for a completely new iteration of the band each time.

In the absence of an official logo or singular, long-running, uniform mark, how do U2 fans brand their love for the band? The U2 Tattoo Project aims to study U2 fan tattoos in terms of popular U2 iconography and lyrics, examine the connections between favorite albums and tattoos, and explore what happens to U2’s visual identity as it passes into the hands and onto the bodies of fans.

How are you collecting tattoos?
Two ways: on site at U2 shows and online via fan submissions.

Where will the photos be seen?
We’ll be featuring some of the project’s original photos, as well as user submissions, on this site. We plan to publish in print a larger collection in the future, along with research findings, perhaps as the Innocence + Experience tour wraps up. We also just held our first exhibition of research at the University of North Florida Gallery of Art in Jacksonville, Florida: “Ink, Icons, Identity: Exploring U2’s Brand Through Fan Tattoos.” We are also taking the exhibit to Cleveland, Ohio, Sept. 24–25 as part of atu2.com’s #U240 celebration.

What shows are you going to?
As many as we can. We attended Vancouver, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, Boston, New York and Dublin during the first leg of the Innocence + Experience Tour in North America in 2015. Once U2 announces more dates, we’ll make announcements via social media as we know where else we’re going.

Where can I find you?
We will be scoping out GA lines and wandering around arenas looking for tattooed fans the morning and afternoon before the shows we attend. We’ll be wearing “U2 Tattoo Project” shirts. We also invite you to message us (via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or email) if you’re in the same city, and we can make arrangements to meet.

Can I send you a photo of my U2 tattoo?
Please do! Online submissions will be very important to our data collection. Please use the submission form, so that we can gather more information about your tattoo(s). We’ll be starting a gallery of user submissions soon.

What kind of tattoos are you looking for?
We’re interested in any U2-related tattoo, whether it’s an emblem, icon or type treatment of theirs, or lyrics, or other graphic representation directly linked to the band.

Do you have a tattoo?
Neither of us has any tattoos. Not opposed to it, just haven’t found what we’re looking for.

Is the U2 Tattoo Project affiliated with U2?
No. We’re independent fans and researchers.

Have you heard of Tattoo Dan?
We have. We got to meet up with Dan on Long Island, NY, in July 2015 and photograph his many tattoos.

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