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Boxing Coach to Lecture at NIU on the Art of Tattoos

Gary Dobry, owner of the School of Hard Knocks, will talk about boxing, his paintings and tattoos at an art gallery in DeKalb.

There are two Gary Dobrys: the boxing coach and the artist.

When he’s teaching a boxing class — with the “ding” of the automatic round counter sounding and people shadowboxing in front of mirrors at in — Dobry speaks crudely, hollering at his pupils, telling them to keep their hands up and to throw more jabs.  

But he is soft-spoken and careful when talking about art. And his take on tattoos as art may make you dizzy, like a stroll down Queer Street, a term in boxing that connotes an out-of-body experience caused by a Sunday punch. 

“A tattoo is literally you wearing your heart on your sleeve,” Dobry said. “It’s like when scientists beam messages into outer space, hoping for a response, for just a trace of humanity. A tattoo is a visual message, meant to elicit a response.

“From the time cavemen first painted images on the wall, it’s always been about one’s need to get some sort of response.”

During a lecture at Northern Illinois University later this month, Dobry will focus specifically on the kinds of tattoos found on boxers. Dobry said a boxer is likely to get a tattoo after a big ring loss, after he gets clobbered. Look at Mike Tyson, he said.

Dobry has two tattoos, one on each of his beefy upper arms. They are renderings of boxers striking the classic pose: one the devil, with horns, a pointy tail and on fire; the other an angel, with a halo.

Ask Dobry to explain his own tattoos, and he is vague and evasive, in an artistic way. He wants you to figure it out for yourself, for he believes there is a relationship between the viewer and the artwork totally apart from the artist.  

Dobry, a few years ago, worked as a part-time tattoo artist, as an apprentice under Ernie Gonzales at Fox Lake’s Electric Art Tattoo.

“I was never as good with a tattoo machine as I am with a paint brush,” Dobry said. “Ernie taught me a lot. I wanted to grow as an artist. Ernie gave me that chance.” 

Last year, a show focusing on tattoos was well-received at NIU, so the university decided to have another, said Peter Van Ael, coordinator for the art gallery and museum studies program at NIU.  

“Gary does it very well,” said Van Ael, commenting on why Dobry was one of a handful of artists asked to the show. The exhibit is called “Inked: Tattoo Imagery in Contemporary Art,” which runs through Oct. 13, according to NIU Today.

A reception for artists is planned from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Sept. 22 at Northern Illinois University’s Jack Olson Gallery, at the School of Art, 200 Visual Arts Building, DeKalb.

Dobry will be lecturing from 5 to 6 p.m. Sept. 26.

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