Artist Profile: Lyle Tuttle
I had the true pleasure of interviewing American tattoo icon Lyle Tuttle for the September issue of Inked magazine, on newsstands now and available as a digital download.
Tattooing since 1949, Lyle rose to fame in the late sixties tattooing a predominantly female clientele and celebrities like Janice Joplin, Peter Fonda and Cher at his San Francisco studio. Despite criticism for being the tattooed media darling of his time, he is credited with presenting tattooing as an art form to the mainstream and promoting safe and hygienic industry practices. Lyle officially retired around 1990, but continues to travel the tattoo convention circuit, often teaching seminars on machine building and lecturing on tattoo history. In the interview, he offers some history lessons, discusses fame, and muses on tattoo artists as contemporary witch doctors. Here's a clip from our talk:
With your long and exciting history in tattooing, what do you consider one of the most significant landmarks in the art during your long career?
Women's liberation. With more freedom, more women got tattooed. Back in the day, I was in more panties than a gynecologist-because women were getting their tattoos inside the bikini line, little rosebuds and butterflies.
What about female tattooists? In the documentary "Covered" on women in tattoo, you said that when women would come into your studio wanting to be tattooers, you'd say: "Look honey, you got the world's oldest profession tied up, now you want the second. Do me a favor and buzz off." How have your thoughts on women in tattooing changed since then?
Tattoo shops today are a lot kinder and gentler places than they used to be. In the past, tattoo artists worked in arcades, and it wasn't a good environment. Sometimes it was hard enough to protect yourself, let alone be the front man for some woman. Women who were involved in tattooing at that time were generally married to a tattoo artist, so they worked together-there were a few man and wife teams. There was a woman who tattooed before WWII in the 1930s (she died in 1946 by her own hand). Her name was Mildred Hull. She was on the Bowery in NYC and had a sign displaying that she was the only woman tattooist on the Bowery. She was very proud.
So you're saying that you were talking more about the environment of tattooing at the time?
Yes, the environment has changed. It's eco-friendly to women now! It's a pink world! And I think women in tattooing have been good for the industry.
[Final question:]In your 80 years on this earth, what personal doctrine or ideology have you developed?
"No sweat." Don't ever sweat over anything and don't let anyone make you sweat. I have it tattooed on the back of my leg in Kanji, but they couldn't translate "No Sweat" exactly so it reads "Perspiration No." I've been at Chinese places and pulled my pant leg up and they stare at it, beyond their comprehension. I'm actually just seeking to find one truth. If I find one, then maybe I will find the second one. Man is always looking for the secret. I'd like to know one goddamned truth before I die.
Read the full article in Inked magazine