Colouring outside the lines 

TWSSF's State of the Art exhibit showcases everything from skis and boards to tattoo design

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What: State of the Art opening party

When: Saturday, April 17, 8 p.m.

Where: Telus Conference Centre

Cost: Free!

Tucked away behind the façade of Whistler's blossoming Function Junction industrial park, there are some very creative minds at work. Long-time residents are probably well aware that the area houses plenty of working gallery spaces, lined with paintings and sculpture and even some textile projects. But fewer have explored the inner workings of the town's tattoo studios.

Justin Ormiston is one of the artists creating the bold and beautiful body art that adorns arms and various appendages, which are typically more visible during the summer months. But Ormiston's graphic, vibrant designs will be front and centre in the public eye in less than three weeks, as the artist joins the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival's annual visual art exhibit, State of the Art.

While today Ormiston works primarily on skin, he got started through a much more traditional artistic route: painting landscape watercolours and portraits with his mom as a child, growing up in Kingston, Ontario. He dabbled in a variety of artistic mediums - acrylic, airbrushing, charcoal and oils - before discovering his favourite canvas: skin.

It wasn't until he made a tattooed friend - Bruce Irving -- that he discovered the work of Aaron Cain and Steve Moore and found himself fascinated with the world of body art. Ormiston began designing tattoos for people and "collecting" his own tattoos, the first being one from one of his idols, Moore. The experience of being tattooed opened his eyes to how powerful the medium really was.

"At the end of the day there's a very intimate connection with your canvas, beyond something you can feel for a piece of paper," he explained. "The person has their feelings, a story, there's a lot of emotions that are involved in the pain and just that connection between me and that person, and that makes it very special. It's permanent and it's marking this person's body for the rest of their life with your art.

"The honour that comes with that, I've yet to find something that parallels that," Ormiston shrugged.

He met another Whistler tattoo artist, Robin Dutcher, who had seen a number of clients coming in with Ormiston's tattoo designs. She eventually offered him an apprenticeship opportunity.

"She opened the door for me to be part of this community."

This year's State of the Art isn't the first time Ormiston has been involved with the ski and snowboard festival, though he took a long break after his work was censored for what were called negative references to Intrawest. The expulsion spawned an underground arts movement, The Jettisons, a now-defunct group that held themed, "truly uncensored" art shows in factories and garages in Function for a number of years. It also pushed Ormiston to open his own studio/gallery space, Ormiston Ink, in 2003. It's a place where he could have true creative freedom.

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