Wall tattoos can refer to two things: hidden pieces of artwork in hotels, restrooms, and other public places, or stencils fabricated for use when painting rooms. In the case of secret wall tattoos, it is unknown how many public spaces have been decorated with artwork ranging from simplistic patterns to ornate modern art. In the second sense, stencils for wall tattoos can be found in a variety of home improvement stores, and run the gamut from floral to sports related designs.
Secret wall tattoos are considered by many artists to be a subversive way of changing the world around them. Unless an artist specifically highlights a piece of work, it may never been seen until the painting, mirror, or furniture it was painted behind is moved. In many cases, room art is firmly fixed to hotel walls, adding an additional challenge to creating a wall tattoo. Some anarchists favor wall tattoos as a mode of expression as well, embedding revolutionary or provocative messages in them.
Secret wall tattoos could also be considered vandalism, just as graffiti is. While the art is often stunning, it is being applied to a surface that is not intended for art. Especially if artists use bold primary colors and blacks, the piece may be difficult to erase completely, leaving the unwitting host with a major cleanup project. Even if the piece is appreciated, unless it has been sealed properly it will crack, peel, decay, and begin to look unsightly.
It is unclear where secret wall tattoos originated, although it is likely that they have been around as long as hotel art has. The sense of artistic improvement combined with anarchist act has always had an appeal in anonymous locales such as hotels, where artists can be hundreds of miles away the next day. Some secret wall tattoos never see the light of day, while others may be exposed by curious travelers, which in stark contrast to other subversive art such as graffiti, which is sometimes seen by thousands before being covered up.
The term “wall tattoo” has been attributed to Joshua Homme, a rock musician who has played with a number of bands including Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal. Like many artists, Homme spends a great of time in hotels while touring, which may have inspired him to leave secret surprises for future guests, although it is unlikely that he was the first person to do so.
Wall tattoo stencils, on the other hand, are designed to be deliberately applied by home owners to decorate a room. They come in a variety of patterns from simple strips designed to be run along the ceiling to large and complex designs which could cover an entire wall. Smaller wall tattoos can be artfully scattered along a wall in a range of colors. Usually the stencils are taped to a wall which has already been painted and prepared, and the stencil can be applied with a brush, sponge, or spray paint depending on the desired look of the finished product.