I'll begin simply by saying that These Old Blue Arms: The Life & Work of Amund Dietzel is a bookshelf mandate for lovers of tattoo art and culture. Written by Jon Reiter of Solid State Tattoo in Milwaukee, it not only captures a legend but the richness of tattoo Americana.
Last month, Patrick posted a preview of the book, and over vacation, I made it my essential reading -- although not beach reading as I didn't want to risk damaging the 200-page hardcover. While I devoured the entire book in just a few hours, its resonance is long lasting. It is in one volume a book of history, artistic reference, and tattoo lore as well as a meticulously researched biography.
As Fred Stonehouse says in the Foreword, Jon Reiter has made it his mission to "clarify much of the shadowy information" surrounding Dietzel. Reiter cites the Norwegian National Archives to early US newspapers to direct quotes from Dietzel's grandson to paint a picture of a man deemed "one of the last true gentleman tattooers."
The book begins with a short introduction to Dietzel's family life, illustrated by photos from the late 1800s and beyond. We learn that he went to sea at the age of 14 and got his first tattoo--an anchor on his hand--when he docked in Southern Wales in 1907. It was aboard the Augusta later that year when he started his 60+year tattoo career with "six needles bound with cotton and set in a block of wood."
More than tattoo facts, the book tells stories of alleged ship wrecks, war time tattoo culture, and carny life--where Dietzel spent a good portion of his career tattooing and as a "Tattooed Man" sideshow performer. It also shows Dietzel as an artist constantly seeking to refine his craft, noting that he took art classes at Yale and elsewhere at various times in his life. His artistry is ever-present in the hand-painted flash spreads--these pages alone are worth buying the book. [Reiter also gives some background on the root of the word flash, which is fantastic.]
A cast of other characters populate the book like William Grimshaw, Thomas Riley, Cliff Raven, Phil Sparrow, Gib "Tatts" Thomas, and Kenneth "Shaky Jake" Jacobs--a villain who tries to put others out of business through badmouthing and even setting up crooked cops outside of competitors' shops to steer away would-be clients. These great stories never detract from Dietzel's work, which attracted tattoo collectors from all over the world to his Milwaukee studios even before tattoo magazines, the Internet and general acceptance of the art, as Reiter notes.
Dietzel retired in 1967 when Milwaukee banned tattooing. He and Tatts, at the ages of 75 and 65, put up a fight at City Council meetings, but they were largely alone in doing so. In 1974, Dietzel died of leukemia, three weeks before his 83rd birthday. His life is illuminated and honored in this excellent book.
You can order it here for $50 plus shipping.
A second installment is in the works and I'll have more on that as it progresses.
Our homie Nate Igor Smith, of the infamous Driven By Boredom, was at the Gathering of the Juggalos in Cave-in_Rock, IL, and captured the madness (much NSFW madness) of Insane Clown Posse fans. What we've learned from these photo sets is the following: Juggalos are generally not skillful drinkers; wrestle-mania is popular (and mania in general); and their tattoo tributes are ...
... well, see for yourself.
Here's a taste of Nate's take on Juggalo tattoos:
Other than maybe Black Flag bars you don't really see a lot of people getting the same band tattoo, but fucking EVERYONE at the Gathering has the Psychopathic Records hatchet man logo. It's fucking crazy. I started out with the idea of shooting all these ICP tattoos but seriously 75% of the people there had them so I had to concentrate on the more outrageous tattoos, but even then I was sort of ignoring half of them. It just went on and on. I guess if you are the type of person to travel to the middle of nowhere for an Insane Clown Posse show you are probably the type of person to get their logo tattooed to you. [...] But yeah, this gallery is full of hatchet men and ICP tattoos but there are also Dark Lotus tattoos, Twiztid tattoos, Kottonmouth Kings tattoos and pretty much any of that wicked shit. Even Coolio has an ICP tattoo. These kids are seriously down with the clown.
Read more here.
What's a Juggalo? According to Wikipedia, "Juggalo or Juggalette (the latter being feminine) is a name given to fans of Insane Clown Posse or any other Psychopathic Records hip hop group. Juggalos have developed their own idioms, slang, and characteristics." Evidently, there is "Juggalo related crime" -- crime that does not include Vanilla Ice performing at the Gathering.
If you're seeking something more palatable than "inartful" tattoos and men with (non-ironic) mullets vomiting, check the other DBD galleries.
Clips from unbelievably terrible movies mixed with standup comedy mixed with tattooed hosts mixed with booze means it's time for Team Jim's weird comedy baby, the Crappy Cinema Council (CCC).
Started by Jim VanBlaricum and Jim Crocamo (calling themselves Team Jim) this is the fifth CCC event. Jim Veebs explains:
The dudes and movies are super funny and the last time I went the clips were ninja-themed. NINJA-THEMED. Jim Veebs also sports a pretty serious 3/4 sleeve from tattooer Daniel Albrigo, which he describes in three words as "creepy grandpa nightmare." He has yet to agree to wear sweet cut off flannels on stage and show off the guns.
Check 'em out this Sunday at 7pm at CoCo 66 in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Our Dr. Lodder reminded me to share this sweet snippet from the NY Times Freakonomics blog:
David B. Wiseman, a psychologist, showed 128 undergraduate students photographs of tattooed and non-tattooed female models, described as "college instructors." He found that college students prefer tattoos: "Analyses indicated that the presence of tattoos was associated with some positive changes in ratings: students' motivation, being imaginative about assignments, and how likely students were to recommend her as an instructor."
Freakonomics had another post on tattoo statistics, which you can read here.
Photo by Will Vragovic for the St. Petersberg Times
I know I should be offline during my vacation but I wanted to quickly share with you a sweet story that Colin Dale of Skin & Bone sent me.
Mimi Rosenthal celebrated her 101st birthday getting her third tattoo at Requiem Body Art in Spring Hill, Florida. According to TampaBay.com, Mimi got her first tattoo at age 99, a dime-size blue butterfly on her leg. She thought it was too small and vowed to go bigger next time. At 100, she got a larger tattoo--a flower--on her other leg. The problem was that she had to lift her pants up to show it off, so this latest one is now on her arm for easy exhibition.
Tattoo artist Michelle Gallo-Kohla, a long-time family friend of the Rosenthals, said that working Mimi's thin and fragile skin was "uncharted territory" but she took it slow and Mimi was pleased with her new sun flower tattoo.
When asked "Why a tattoo? Why now?" she replied "Why not?"
Right on, Mimi! She also jokes that the next tattoo will be on her butt.
You'd think with this kind of zest for life and humor, people would be positive about the article but, alas, "good Christians" infiltrated the comment forums as they usually do in mainstream tattoo stories and started calling the great-grandma a sinner. Then there are those who asked if Mimi remembered the Holocaust. And of course there were dumb jokes. [But there were a couple of good ones like "When she gets old the tat won't look the same." hehe]
It's not the first time, however, that we've written about a centenarian getting tattooed. In April 2009, Colin Dale tattooed 103-year old Karen Fredso Larsen on her hand (despite Danish law prohibiting hand and facial tattoos).
The smiles in the photos of both women show how much joy they've gotten from their tattoos. There's no sin in that.
In my last post, I asked y'all your thoughts in hiding my tattoos while in Greece. Some said that I should let my "freak flag fly" (awesome!) and be myself, while others noted the importance of cultural sensitivity and not causing family strife. Others said I should be covering up simply to protect my tattoos from the sun.
Well, I've taken all your advice.
I've been wearing light, long-sleeved tees on the beach to avoid sun damage and baring arms at the bars at night.
While I've been here, I've also been trying out a tattoo-enhancing product, which I received before I left, designed to keep tattoos looking fresh and protect them during those moments when long-sleeves are no longer a necessity.
It's called Tattoo Brite, a "tattooceutical" that goes deep to the dermal level of skin (that houses your tattoo) and rehydrates the ink while also slowing our immune system's response to the work, which affects the vitality and longevity of the tattoo.
On the epidermal level, Tattoo Brite is an exfoliant leaving the tattoo, well, brighter as dead skin is sloughed away.
The cream also contains Titanium Dioxide for sun protection. It's SPF 20--I usually wear 50--so it's not my primary sunblock during the day. I've been putting it on before going out in the evening when the sun is still up so the added protection is a bonus.
The Verdict: My tattoos do look brighter. Our heavily tattooed friends at Cool Hunting have had the same results. And at $25 a pop, it's worth it for protecting your prized art work.
You can buy Tattoo Brite online or in stores like Ricky's and Bigelows. Find a full list of retailers here. In Europe, you can order it from Colette for 25 Euros.
If you're interested in how our bodies hold the tattoos, check Discovery's "How Tattoos Work."
The past few weeks, Needles and Sins has been a bit light as I finished up my latest tattoo book and then fled for Greece. Right now, I'm on the island of Chios (where my dad is from) in the Aegean Sea. Yes, I know whatcha thinkin: Why the hell is she online when she's on a gorgeous Greek island.
Well, for one, I missed you. Two, I'm a nerd. And most important, I wanted to share with y'all a snippet of my experience here and get your thoughts on it. So, it is with great introspection, social interaction, and very expensive education that I have deduced the following:
Being heavily tattooed in Greece still sucks.
Ooh, I can hear your thoughts again: Boo-freakin-hoo. People stare. People comment. And they do so in different languages. Deal with it, Marisa. You're on a Greek island!
I have been dealing with it. For years now. Remember my whining last year to Athens News about being spit on and other fun interactions with old Greek ladies because I've defiled myself?
I've also promoted Greek tattoo artists here like Dimitris Kalomiris/Hellenic Stixis (whose work is above) and Mike The Athens. Both artists take a spiritual approach to tattooing in a country where many believe tattooing to be sacrilege. There are, in fact, many great artists in Greece, and that talent is growing. There are even two(!) studios here in Chios including Birthmachine Tattoo, who did the following work in progress. Nevertheless, the heavily tattooed are still significantly few here, and life isn't easy for those who are.
Which brings me to my point: because of the negative reactions from strangers and even my own family, I've been hiding my tattoos. I'm talkin' wearing long-sleeve tees to the beach in 100 degree heat, and wraps over all my dresses at night. [Now, when I go to baptisms and weddings, I cover up because I don't want the attention taken away from baby and bride. That's not a big deal for me.]
For those days where I just want a swim or a drink at a bar, I wonder if I'm doing myself a disservice by covering up and not instigating discourse to try to dispel the myths surrounding tattoos--and especially tattooed women. In this act of conflict avoidance, am I creating more problems by letting those in the know think I have something to be ashamed of? Or am I just trying to have a nice vacation with my family in a place I love without causing too much of a ruckus. I'm having a hard time figuring it all, which explains all this blah blah.
So my question to you as I look upon my next week here: To cover or not to cover?
The August edition of Vogue Italia has a spread featuring models Ranya Mordanova and Naty Chabanenko with a little faux-body art--created by Kabuki--and as the fashion blogs say, "It's edgy!" [I vote for banishing that word from any tattoo description.]
According to the Fashion Gone Rogue blog, the spread follows in the high-heeled footsteps of Vogue China and their faux-tattoo feature "Tattoo Me Beautiful."
I would love to see models with real tattoos in high fashion and not just relegated to pin-up calendars. It's like Sunday's post where "edgy" tattoo-related campaigns and editorials still stay safe with their Photoshop and make-up tricks.
That said, the spreads are beautiful and worth a further look. More photos on FashionGoneRogue.com.
The wonderful Vince Hemingson of The Vanishing Tattoo sent me this new Yahoo ad that features photo-shopped custom work on a petite coquette who really loves social networking. And flowy scarves.
Vince sent the ad around to a bunch of us who dig this stuff (after it was passed along to him from a law professor for comment) and offered his thoughts:
"The tattoos of the young lady in question are an excellent example of a graphic designer's superb grasp of the use of Photo Shop. Hence, I am sure she is a model, chosen for her delightful, girl next door quality.
Seeing ads with tattoos has become so common that I don't even give it a second look any more. But I agree with Vince that the choice of the "girl next door" and not punk chick is a new twist.
Do y'all still find it surprising to see tattoos used to shill things like a 90s web portal?
This genius video, created by Josh Anzano using xtranormal.com, is funnier every. single. time. And if you've ever spent time in a supply shop, it's even funnier. And if you've ever worked in a supply shop, it's quite possible you've had this exact same conversation ten times over.
Check Josh's other videos. He says he's got plans for more in the future, too!
We've written about the wonderful Tattoo Education site before but I thought I'd revisit it in this post to update you on some new and interesting info recently posted.
In the latest entry, Hyperspace Studio's Guy Aitchison discusses how he approaches complex cover-up projects like the one above. While primarily targeted towards tattoo artists, the post is a great read for anyone wanting to learn more about the possibilities of turning a less artful tattoo into something beautiful without hitting a laser center. It's like a tattoo make-over. [That actually wouldn't be a bad reality show. You heard it here first!]
Wanna know more about Tattoo Education? Check their campy infomercial!
An exciting painter, tattoo artist and new dad, Chris Dingwell, recently rolled into Brooklyn on his way to a painting jam, and I managed to pin him down for brunch to chat about his work, tattoo law, convention gossip and convince him to be in my next tattoo book. [He didn't have much choice in the latter as he was in my hood, and I know people who could help me be very convincing.]
Chris works expertly in a variety of styles, and I particularly dig the work in which he takes his own unique painterly approach. Here's what he says of his portfolio:
"The simplest way that I can put it is to say that my work is about taking things apart--visually that is. Obviously, to me at least, my tattooing is very different from my painting for the simple reason that the tattoos I create are for other people; they are my client's ideas. It's simply my job to take their ideas, disassemble them, work out the most visually interesting parts, and re-assemble into a cool tattoo. Unlike other tattoo artists who become known for doing a signature type of tattooing, or a signature style--Traditional, Bio-Mech, Pin-up, what-have-you--I strive to apply myself to a wide range of ideas, images and styles. Every client is different, and every tattoo idea as well, so I try to work as broadly as possible. In the end, my work still looks like mine, but I hope it expresses as much of the client as well by the end of the process."
See more of Chris's artwork here.
Guest Blog by Dr. Matt Lodder *
As an opening line for an article in a popular newspaper about tattoos, the suggestion that "tattoos are not just for sailors anymore" is a familiar one. We saw it last month in an article in The Guardian called "The Rise and Rise of the Tattoo", whose subheading read "Just why has the art form of sailors, bikers and assorted deviants become mainstream?".
And just last week, an article in the Astbury Park Press declared that although "Traditionally viewed by Americans as the crude art of roughnecks or drunken sailors, tattooing has turned a corner, moving toward acceptance as legitimate art".
Indeed, it often feels as if the same sentiment graces every article about tattooing in the mainstream press: Tattooing, we've been told again and again recently, is coming of age - finally coming out of the murky shadows of the deviant underworld to leave its mark on the most well-heeled. Tattoos are now to be seen on catwalks, on trading floors and around the chicest tables.
The hacks who churn out these stories might be surprised to learn, then, that the popular media has been reporting the arrival of tattooing in high society for nearly one hundred years.
In his 1933 book, "Tattoo: Secrets of a Strange Art", Albert Parry reports that the onset of the Great Depression hit tattooists hard, as their usual clients - lawyers and bankers - were hard-up, unable to afford the highest rates for large tattoos. An even earlier article, from Tatler Magazine (the periodical of the British upper classes) in 1905, reports:
"The tattoing [sic] craze which first broke out in America has now come to this country, where its chief exponent is Mr. Alfred South of Cockspur Street. During his career Mr. South has operated on upwards of 15,000 persons, including about 900 English women, the designs in a great number of cases being of a most peculiar description. There are some instances where ladies have had the inscriptions on their wedding rings tattooed on their fingers beneath the ring. Ladies who like to keep pace with the times may be adorned with the illustrations of motor cars." (26th November 1905, p. 311)
There's simply no truth to the common tale that tattooing has always and forever been the domain of the seedy, the deviant and the marginalised in the West, though the tale is a persistent one. It pervades even the few serious academic histories of tattooing in the West, all of whom who almost universally agree that prior to about 1965, tattooing was less of an art form than some kind of ritual practiced by easily-identifiable groups of the underclass. The 1970s onwards are referred to in these texts as "The Tattoo Renaissance", as if the period before had been a dark age.
Recently, a colleague of mine passed me a fantastic article she stumbled across in the course of some archival research. Titled "Modern Fashions in Tattooing", it's from Vanity Fair, dated January 1926 (pp 43, 110). In its opening paragraph, the author confidently exclaims the; very same sentiment we saw only last month in The Guardian:
"Tattooing has passed from the savage to the sailor, from the sailor to the landsman. It has since percolated through the entire social stratum; tattooing has received its credentials, and may now be found beneath many a tailored shirt."
Even by 1926, magazines were announcing to their readers that tattoos were now popular amongst people like them. And these were not small flash designs either - the article reports large chest pieces, backpieces and designs artistically rendered to the desires of each individual client. It talks about re-works and cover-ups, and tattooing kings and queens. The article even mentions an old-salt tattoo artist called Professor Sharkey, bemoaning the good old days when tattooing was "art for art's sake" and not some modern fad. "It's too bad to have to tattoo diving-girls and Venus rising from the sea when you have it in you to do things like these," he says, gesturing at his collection of rare prints.
Tattooists, it seems, like tabloid journalists, have always stuck to the script.
* Dr Matt Lodder recently completed his PhD thesis in art history at the University of Reading. His research applies art-historical and art-theoretical methodologies to tattooing and other forms of body art. For more about his research, click here. Matt is on Twitter and can be contacted directly via mattlodder at hotmail dotcom.
We wrote up Hori Smoku's first NYC appearance about a year ago, but I can safely say that this weekend's screening at Rooftop Films will be a heck of a lot cooler than how Marisa and I originally watched the film (streaming it through Netflix on my laptop).
Saturday night, on the roof of the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus, Brooklyn, there will be live music by Cheeseburger at 8:30pm, followed by the screening at 9pm and then an afterparty in the courtyard with Sailor Jerry rum.
(Sadly, they've closed the RSVP option for the event, but a lucky few will get access to the event at 8pm on Saturday. I'd keep an eye on their Twitter feed for details, if I were you.)
And if you're in NYC but haven't yet heard of Rooftop Films... what's wrong with you? For 13 years, they've been screening amazing independent films on rooftops around the city. They've partnered with IFC and every year they donate money to filmmakers looking to complete their projects (they've also gotten a hell of a lot more money from me than I donate to that girls' school from which I graduated way back when). Most importantly, we all know how cool it is being on a city rooftop - but when you combine that with great music and awesome indie cinema, it's like turning gravy into gold (and I looooooove gravy).
Be sure to check out their extended schedule for the rest of the summer's screenings.
Austin has become ground zero for exceptional tattoo artists -- the city seems to be flooded with recent transplants from around the country. [Also home base of The Lizardman.]
One such artist is Joey Ortega of Triple Crown Tattoo who puts his own spin on the Americana genre. Here's how Joey describes his tattoo style:
"Though my work is deeply rooted in "Traditional" tattooing, I would say that it's more in depth and stylized..."Neo-Traditional". Working as a custom artist, I find inspiration from true images, Japanese art, Art Nouveau, Mexican folk art and iconography, anything vintage or antique, and all the other random ideas bouncing around in my head. One of my favorite parts about what I do is working with my customers to create a piece that is uniquely theirs."
This Saturday, Joey will be showing his paintings at FramesandThings's monthly art show.
For more of Joey's tattoo work click here.
Samuel M. Steward, PhD was an English professor, a writer of esteemed literary works and gay porn. He was also "a furtive but exuberant erotic adventurer." [Put this on my own tombstone please].
Sam Steward was also "Phil Sparrow," a tattoo artist for 18 years who chronicled these years in a book that should be on every tattoo lover's shelves: "Bad Boys & Tough Tattoos: A Social History of the Tattoo with Gangs, Sailors, and Street-Corner Punks."
As Sam notes in the intro, the book was autobiographical, a journal of his tattoo life with "no intention to retell old stories, to perpetuate myths or errors, to upgrade the 'art' of tattooing, nor to make more dense the fog of the mystique around it."
It does talk about the characters he tattooed, the politics between tattooers, and sex. Lots of it. He says, "...in one way or another, more than three quarters of the tattoos applied were put on because of some aspect of sexual motivation." No wonder sex researcher Dr. Alfred Kinsey took such an interest in it.
Now, a biography of Steward, "Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist & Sexual Renegade," will be released August 17th, which looks even deeper at the man's life as a "sex historian," with stories culled from 80 boxes of letters, drawings, sexual paraphernalia, even pubic hair from Rudolph Valentino (with whom he had an affair).
The book is by biographer Justin Spring, whom the NY Times says had "no idea what this sexual outlaw and little-known literary figure had left behind after his death in 1993" when Spring finally tracked down the executor of Steward's estate. The NY Times adds:
You can pre-order the Secret Historian on Amazon for $20.25 (saving $12).
Is this tattoo related? No. No it's not (unless you consider the fact that Marisa and I have had this track blasting on a continuous loop at the Needles and Sins Compound today whilst much booty-shaking has taken place). Regardless, it's just too damned good of a song NOT to bring it to your attention.
Multi-instrumentalist Alex Walker teamed up with Brooklyn soul-singer Len Xiang and MC Kobie Powell (remember him from Us3 back in the 90s?) to give us "Gotta Lose" - a soul/hip-hop track that is easily replacing anything I had previously considered to be my "Summer Jam of 2010."
Not only is it available as a free download at Lapdance Academy, but Alex has decided to make the instrumental/vocal stems available (as well as an Apple GarageBand file) and publish the track under a Creative Commons License. This enables all of you remixers/producers/masher-uppers to hack away at the song to your heart's content - and select remixes will be given fresh cover-art (courtesy of yours truly) and added to the Lapdance Academy catalog.
Personally, I can't wait to fire up the synths and drum-machines this weekend and get my "hard-house, hyphy, ragga, shoegaze" remix on...
Download the song at www.lapdanceacademy.com/gottalose !
One of my favorite styles of tattooing is the feverish abstract art movement that has its greatest popularity in France, Belgium and even Montreal but is created by top artists around the world. One of those artists is Loic of Needles Side Tattoo in France.
Loic, who has been tattooing for ten years, has his studio in Thonon Les Bains but you can also find him doing regular guest spots around the world. [This October, you'll find him in Brooklyn, NY at Tattoo Culture.]
He likens his tattooing to DJing: "A DJ uses different musical elements and effects to create one unified sound. I do the same but with images, using different artistic styles to create one discernible picture."
To see more of Loic's work, check his Facebook page.
[Very Shameless --> For more on this style of tattooing, check the "Art Brut" chapter in my Black Tattoo Art book.]