THE U2 TATTOO PROJECT
Only love can leave such a mark.
The U2 Tattoo Project is an academic research project and an international curation and study of U2 fan tattoos created by Beth Nabi, associate professor of graphic design and digital media at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Fla.
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.