One piece of Nicky Meaux’s teeth art sits on a table in the corner of Coffeehouse. Encased in a glass box is a mask with animal and human teeth jutting out of its surface.
“I’ve been artistically focused on teeth for a while,” Meaux, a Wiess College senior, said.
Some of the teeth come from skeletons Meaux found in the woods — deer, foxes, squirrels and so on — but she was also able to buy a few human and animal teeth from the Texas Art Asylum in [Houston]. She said she didn’t ask for specifics about where they came from.
To represent the role of teeth in her art, she got her most recent tattoo of a tooth on her ankle — one of a total of seven different tattoos.
Meaux’s first and largest tattoo is the mermaid on her thigh. She had it professionally done back home in Wisconsin.
“I got that to commemorate my mother who died freshman year [at Rice],” Meaux said. “I’m from Wisconsin and I”d never seen the ocean. She was obsessed with mermaids growing up — our bathroom was full of them. The last time she left the house she flew down to see me and went up to the ocean together.”
The design was a collaboration with Milwaukee tattoo artist Scott LaShay. After sending him a draft of the tattoo, they sent edits of the design back and forth, each making adjustments.
There was a mistake in the tattoo — one of the mermaid’s hands looked “funky” according to Meaux. She got the tattoo touched up to cover the hand with the mermaid’s hair.
“It still looks a little stumpy,” Meaux said. “No one [notices] until I say, and then they’re like, ‘Oh, eww.’”
Her second tattoo, a hosta plant on her arm, also has a meaning tied to her roots in Wisconsin. Her grandmother’s neighbor Lucille once gave her grandmother a cutting of a hosta plant which she planted outside her house.
“When my parents got their first house [the hosta plant] came with, and then when they moved again to go to the rural town where I spent a lot of my childhood, it came too,” Meaux said. “It’s a multigenerational plant. It smells super powerfully so I would step outside my door and smell them. We called them Lucilles.”
She got the tattoo at Red Dagger, a tattoo parlor in [Houston], after following the work of the tattoo artist Ringo Leone.
The last of Meaux’s professional tattoos is a wishbone and the number 13 on her ankle. She got it on Friday the 13th, a day that many tattoo parlors have deals for flash tattoos, according to Meaux. Flash tattoos are pre-designed tattoos that parlors offer as part of a catalog.
“It’s a really good deal,” Meaux said. “It’s not meaningful but it’s a really good way to get your feet wet with tattoos.”
According to Meaux, her other tattoos are “crappy stick and pokes.” Stick-and-poke tattoos are typically homemade tattoos performed with sewing needles rather than at a professional tattoo parlor. Hers were performed by friends.
One is a small triangle on her ankle.
“We were a little bit drunk, and I said, ‘Oh, do a circle,’ and he’s like, ‘I can’t do a circle right now,’ so I have a triangle, just like every other white hipster girl.”
Another is a faded phrase in Greek on the bottom of her leg. Meaux said that the direct translation is “all things flow.” The idea behind the tattoo was to match her friend, but she said she decided halfway through that the phrase was more meaningful to her friend than to her. Instead of maintaining the tattoo, she plans to let it fade and cover it with something else in the next couple of years.
She also has a few pinpoints of ink on her hands from testing out needles.
“[I’ve been] obsessed with art ever since I was a kid and I’d like to have some of that on me or with me all the time,” Meaux said. “I’d like to design more of my own in the future.”
She likes that even imperfect tattoos take on meaning.
“You kind of become a photo book, even if they’re not always nice and crisp forever,” Meaux said.
Meaux plans on future tattoos, some of them based on her hobbies.
“I hope to be a veterinarian, so I would love to get something to represent that — something animal-related,” Meaux said. “Or maybe do the dumb barista thing where I get like a portafilter on my arm. Just pulling out little parts of my life and putting them on me.”
But she pushed back against the notion that all her tattoos should have a deeply personal connection.
“Not everything has to be super deep,” Meaux said. “There’s a misconception floating around that every single tattoo has to be very deep and meaningful or be connected to a precious memory. People shouldn’t give others crap for getting aesthetic or just plain fun tattoos.”