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Devon Blood's Season of Blood

Oakland tattooer Devon Blood sustained a gunshot wound to the skull. It wasn't clear if he'd ever emerge from his coma, let alone tattoo again.

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Blood's art career is starting to attain some momentum again. He's now part of an exhibition at the Old Crow Tattoo Gallery, in which every artist gets a nine-by-three-foot wall space to use as a canvas. With twenty-two contributors, the show is pretty diffuse and a little outsider-ish — even for a tattoo gallery in Oakland. One wall features a collage of handmade decals, which advertise things like meat pie and fake vomit. Across from it sits a huge praying mantis, drawn in electric-blue spray paint. Another painting shows a sinister figure with a smeared face, and a warning sign painted across his stomach: "Back alley rapist on the prowl."

In contrast, Blood's paintings have a much earthier palette — all reds, browns, and grays. He did most of them on pieces of cardboard, drafting with an ink pen and filling the colors in acrylic. They show some of the images that float across his mind's visual screen: bloody axes, anatomical hearts, a snake popping out of a flower to bite him in the face. He pointed to one that shows a heart with three wings, and a bloody eye. "The bleeding eye is the struggle, and the wings mean I'm still flying forward," he said, matter-of-factly. "The third wing means I'm abnormal."

There's beauty in Blood's work, but it's always presented in the most grotesque and unsettling way possible. Some paintings show winged raptors, fanged serpents, and other carnivorous reptiles. One features a huge, clawed lobster. Mostly, though, Blood fixates on skulls. He draws skulls with things sprouting from their eye sockets, skulls with axes for cross bones, skulls with Swiss cheese holes and other deformities. One skull has heart ventricles coming out of its right side.

Blood calls that a self-portrait, of sorts. He pointed to a huge, jagged rift between the skull bones, right where his heart emerges. "That's where I was shot," he said.

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