In the Dec./Jan. issue of Inked magazine, you'll find my Q&A with the inimitable Ed Hardy, a man who inspired fellow artists and tattoo collectors to move beyond the tattoo "menu" on shops walls and pursue custom, personalized art. For those outside the tattoo world, his name is associated with everything from trucker hats to condoms, and because of his Ed Hardy clothing line and merchandising deals, the Californian native was able to retire with a sizable nest egg and fully return to painting, ceramics, and other mediums after 40 years of tattooing. Of course, Hardy remains connected to tattooing, largely through his Tattoo City studio in San Francisco, Hardy Marks Publications, and the occasional tattoo souvenir for a lucky fan.
In this interview, Ed talks about the documentary "Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World" [recently released on DVD], the tattoo impulse, his fine art, and he briefly addresses the haters. Here's an excerpt:
Do you think the whole popularity of tattooing will dissipate? No, I don't think it will ever go away. My standard points are: I don't know why people get tattooed. I don't think there's a good answer. It's like, Why do you like art? It's just something that's a total mystery. That's part of the attraction. I think that for whatever reason, it's an impulse for our species--not for everyone, but certain people are just Bam!
Almost like a tattoo gene? That's exactly it. Knowing how science has advanced over the centuries, maybe they'll figure it out, and at some point go, Yes, this is what it is. But right now, the best we can do, and what we all have done, is emphasize the positive aspects and put it into a better social context. That's much more important than who is the best tattooer. We have to look at the bigger picture. Of course, that's important too-people striving to further the art and do stuff that's going to be more interesting.
It's interesting how the Ed Hardy brand and unexpected commodification of tattooing has freed you up to do fine art. It's seems at odds with commercialism in some way. Before Christian Audigier, I was approached by two guys who had a cool business; their whole thing with clothing was introducing an Asian feeling to their casual garments. They actually responded to an article about a painting show that Bob Roberts and I had at Track 16 in Santa Monica. I don't remember if it was 2003 or 2004, but they had seen the paintings and dug the Asian references in them. So I got into it, and that's how it started. Then Christian saw it and just went ape shit. He said, "I must have this license!" He's really from a different world. [Laughs] He said that he'll make this huge thing, and of course I was like, Right, take me to the moon. And then it went. But he did have that genius eye to recognize that people would respond to it strongly. Really, all the stuff we were using was essentially classic flash. A lot of the images I originated and a lot were reused from old classics. It was just like that bold, beautiful, well painted, heavy shaded, Sailor Jerry aesthetic thing. Everything that makes classic tattoos cool or makes them appealing to a wide body of people. Then of course I started getting shit from all kinds of people. I loved hearing it.
What kind of shit? Well, "Hardy's really sold out." I'm like, What do you think this is, the Sistine Chapel? Relax. Get some humor about it--as long as things are being presented right. We had some problems when my designs got screwed with for a while and some legal things about that. Essentially, it is just a facet of my art, and I'm proud of all the flash and all the classic tattoos I did.