Today, Shannon of BMEzine posted on Modblog the story behind the facial tattoo of Lesya, a beautiful young woman from Russia who radically altered her appearance by having her new lover tattoo his name across her face.
This naturally went viral -- just like the story of the girl with 56 stars tattooed on her face in 2009. Both of these women have something in common. Both were tattooed by the same man: Rouslan Toumaniantz.
Tattooing, in many forms, can elicit a reaction from a viewer, positive or negative, in different ways. Facial tattoos often attract the strongest of reactions. The reactions to Lesya's tattoo are the strongest of the strong, and naturally so, particularly in light of the back story, which Shannon offers in his post. Here's a bit from it:
About a month ago, Rouslan Toumaniantz, a well known and sometimes notorious Belgium-based tattoo artist (of Tattoo Box in Kortrijk), and Lesya, a designer living at the time in Saransk, a city in central Russia started talking via chat (Rouslan speaks fluent Russian) and realized they had a lot in common, and quickly began falling head over heels in love. About a week ago they met in person in Moscow and decided to get married -- their plans for their life together include her learning to tattoo (Rouslan tells me she's already a talented artist), apprenticing under her husband-to-be, while she also gets the full-body ink that she's always dreamed of (biomech is the current plan) -- and of course a family.Read more of the post and see additional photos here.
As you can see from the nude photo of Lesya and Rouslan on Modblog, the facial tattoo is the only major body modification she has. This has also fueled the controversy surrounding it.
So you have two camps: the cheers and the jeers.
Shannon notes interesting downfalls, including the association with gangs like MS-13, who have prominent facial tattoos that are often stylized in a similar way. However, he places the focus on their "commitment to love" and how "sometimes the best decisions are the ones you make in an instant with your heart rather than the ones long-debated in your mind." Indeed, there have been many times where I've fully agreed with this latter statement. There are many times that I haven't. Which is why this is heartbreaking to me.
I don't want to be in the jeers crowd. Here is a young woman who is in love and this is the way she has chosen to show her commitment. I cannot muster my usual snobbery. But I also cannot suppress feelings of anger towards this new love of hers, Rouslan, who in the most brazen of ways, marked this girl, forever changing her life. I wonder if he will shoulder the full responsibility of this for the longevity of the tattoo. To me, this seems more like marking one's property, rather than caring or nurturing your bride to be.
I often flippantly say the old maxim, "You get the tattoo you deserve." But this is not true all the time. Sometimes, there's got to be someone who educates and guides, who keeps impulses in check, and acts ethically. I believe that tattooists should largely shoulder this responsibility when it comes to clients, especially young ones. And I most firmly believe this when the tattooist has an intimate connection to the one being tattooed.
Lesya's photo has been popping up all over Facebook today. Some postings are of the point-and-laugh variety, others have touted it as "inspiring" and "the ultimate" in body modification.
To me, the ultimate in body modification is a commitment to the best form of expression of the best of who you are. It's a shame that her expression belongs to that of another person.
I commend Shannon for taking a positive approach to this work and seeing the beauty in it. And I stand with him in wishing that they realize their dreams and proving skeptics like myself wrong.
One really wonderful development in the tattoo community lately has been a greater prominence of women's voices. There's the third edition of Margot Mifflin's Bodies of Subversion being released (review to come); tattooed woman-centered Things & Ink magazine, the Ladies & Ink blog, and more features on female tattooers in general industry mags.
Now a new project is set to be released that is getting tons of buzz: "From Voodoo to Vogue," described as "A look into the breakthrough of female artists in the tattoo industry through one of its leading pioneers, Shanghai Kate Hellenbrand."
Filmmaker Eric Cannon has been capturing Kate's stories and her adventures as she travels the world, but there are also the stories of fellow tattoo legends, and even an interview with Louise Collins, Sailor Jerry's widow, among much of the footage. The potential for this film is immense, but it needs funding to get off the ground.
The Kickstarter campaign for From Voodoo To Vogue launched yesterday and is seeking a hefty sum to move forward. It's a gamble, but as Eric says on the Kickstarter page, a smaller fundraiser won't cover the goals of the full scale production planned. There's a listing of expenses from production to publicity, and donations can be made as low at $1 ($10 and over gets you perks).
Here's more on the film from:
Through Kate's colorful stories and anecdotes, we will be highlighting the female role in the art of tattooing from the beginning of time. Key Messages: A brief historical overview of how the modern tattoo industry evolved globally from prehistory Ice Age through the industrial age mechanization of electric tattooing to the "Old School" days of military paydays to the current trendy embracement of modern tattooing.And here's a taste of the footage here:
Another installment of the web series Ink Stories recently dropped, featuring Rodrigo Souto of Black Garden Tattoo in Central London. The Brazilian-born tattooist has made a name for himself for beautiful large-scale Japanese work. But what's particularly interesting in the documentary short is the footage of Rodrigo creating in another artistic medium, collage. I really enjoyed watching him assemble his works -- particularly against the backdrop of footage of how he builds a tattoo.
Watch the video here or below. And you can also check Rodrigo's work on Facebook and Tumblr.
I've wished for a long time that Tattoo Artist Magazine, the tattooer's trade publication, which is limited to artists, would become available to collectors because of its focus on the art and serious discourse on how to make the craft better. Well, my wish has been granted.
Today is the official launch of Tattoo Culture Magazine, a digital publication that isn't created by outsiders seeking to profit from the community, but by those within who are building it into something better. TCM bills itself as "the authentic voice of the tattoo industry, developed from the inside out by the true experts of the tattoo world, the tattooers!" And I agree.
A couple of weeks ago, I was given a digital preview link, and no other click has made me that happy recently (except for GeorgeTakei's Facebook page). Right from the cover, you know it's different. There's artwork by the stellar Jeff Gogue instead of a young girl sucking on her finger. I was confused. This is a tattoo magazine? I scoured the pages for boobs but there were none to be found. The women in the magazine were artists like tattooist Valerie Vargas, tattoo historian Dr. Anna Felicity Friedman and yoga instructor Alicia Bernant (offering examples of yoga poses for beginners). Crazy, I know!
The pages are filled with art. Tattoo art, painting, photography sketches. They are by veterans of the craft, like Freddy Negrete, and successive generations of inspiring tattooers like Gogue and Vargas, as well as Mike Rubendall, Nick Baxter, Robert Ryan, Dave Waugh, and Gunnar.
Of course, there's pop culture, but with more smarts. For example, there's a feature on the tattoo competition show Ink Master but editor Crash sits down with the judges Oliver Peck, Chris Nunez and Dave Navarro to talk seriously about the show and how reality programming impacts the tattoo community.
All in all, it's a very exciting project. Congrats Crash and the TCM crew!
You can grab the issue from the iTunes and Amazon Kindle eBooks for free today. Enjoy!
The other day, I received an interesting email from our friend and one of our favorite tattooers, Colin Dale of Skin & Bone tattoo studio in Copenhagen, Denmark. Colin particularly specializes in hand-poked dotwork, creating gorgeous pieces, large and small, with a particular bent towards Nordic art and mythology (although he works in a variety of genres).
In the message, Colin sent these photos, shot by his partner Nana, of him tattooing their friend Eric Frederikson with soot mixed with the ashes of Eric's deceased father to make the ink. As Colin said, "It doesn't get more tribal than that."
Considering my fascination with memorial tattoos using cremation ashes, I asked for more to the story, and Colin obliged. Here's what he wrote:
Leviticus talked about cutting and marking the body in reverence to the dead. The Hawaiians used to cut themselves with shells (scalp) and smear the funeral pyre ashes on themselves. And I know several people have done this in modern times before me...I seem to remember Bill Tinney (Photographer for Outlaw Biker, Tattoo Review, etc.) got a portrait of his mother (or grandmother) done by Brian Everett, I believe, with some ash mixed in the ink. However, I actually wanted to make ink out of the ash!For more on the tattoo, and to see other great photos by Nana, read Colin's blog here.
And for other N+S posts on tattooing with cremation ashes check these previous posts:
A top tattooer specializing in photorealism, Tony Mancia, is captured up-close and in detail in this great video, also embedded below, produced by Steadfast Videos. It's a well produced, tight documentation of Tony's process in creating this "Pride & Envy" tattoo. It's particularly interesting for those who want to check Tony's technique -- you can get a glimpse of the needle configurations, how the ink is put in skin, the highlights and color effects, and other ingredients in making this really strong tattoo.
Find more of Tony's work at Manciatattoos.com. His private studio is located in Inman Park, Atlanta, GA; however, he's often on the road. Check his schedule here.
And find more of Steadfast's videos on Vimeo here.
Tattoo above by Cecil Porter
While I still find more tattoo odes to ODB than MLK, I'm heartened that, every year on this Martin Luther King Jr Day, there are more people commemorating his legacy on their skin. It's particularly fitting that MLK day is celebrated this year on the second Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama -- and I particularly love this President Obama tattoo with Martin Luther King Jr looking on behind him, created by Stefano Alcantara. A snip of the tattoo image is below.
As I wrote last year, one of the greatest things about tattoos is that they inspire communication. People are naturally curious over what others painstakingly and permanently put in their own skins. We hunger for a good story ... and many of us hunger to tell one. A mother may want you to know that the name above her heart is her beloved daughter. The veteran with the memorial tattoo on his arm lets you know about the courage of his lost friend. This communicative value also allows for teaching moments. A Dr. King tribute speaks not only about the how the activist inspired the tattoo collector but may also educate another who does not know of King's life and legacy.
It's powerful, what tattoos can do. And it's why I appreciate it when I do find tributes to inspiring figures, as they can be daily reminders to be better to each other and ourselves.
Below are some MLK tattoos we've featured in past posts -- beautiful tributes worth taking a second look.
Tattoos (above left to right) by Joshua Carlton, Mike DeMasi, and Logan Aguilar.
Tattoo above by Jason Grace.
It's not often we highlight reference books, despite the many wonderful ones out there, but when the designs are created by artists Ichibay and Mauricio Teodoro -- and produced by Luke Atkinson, no less -- we have to share such tattoo goodness.
Luke, a master in Japanese influenced tattooing, has inspired a continued movement towards tattoos that are fine art themselves, and he has given a great deal to the tattoo community in that regard. Many know him for being one of the few to tattoo master Horiyoshi III. But there's so much more to Luke's history that it would take multiple blog posts to do it justice. Check his online portfolio to better understand what I mean. There's also this very cool video by Lightweight Wheels, that offers a look into his Checker Demon Tattoo studio in Stuttgart, Germany.
His Checker Demon Press further inspires artists and collectors seeking reference for their next tattoo. And they are also just beautiful to look at.
"Japanese Tattoo Designs" by Ichibay is a limited edition, 120-page softcover filled with more than 350 black and white illustrations in various mediums, and printed on high quality ivory paper. The foreword is written by Luke, offering context for Ichibay's masterful artwork. The book sells for 85 Euros including shipping in Europe, and 95 Euros including shipping worldwide.
"Dragons/Dragoes" by acclaimed Brazilian tattooist Mauricio Teodoro is a limited edition hardcover (340mmx240mm), containing 80 pages of amazing black and white dragons, also in various mediums on high quality paper. The forewords are written by Luke and the Dutchman. Take a peak inside the book here. The book sells for 185 Euros including shipping in Europe, and 200 Euros including shipping worldwide.
Payments can be made via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more info, email email@example.com.
During our calendar contest, I asked y'all to tell me, on the Needles & Sins Syndicate Group on Facebook, what you'd like to see more of on the site. A few people said they wanted more personal tattoo stories from collectors, as well as the artist interviews. Well, I hear ya!
Here's a great story from Dave Copeland. Dave & I started chatting about the artists in my "Color Tattoo Art" book and how he was collecting work from many of them. I asked him to send me a pic of one of the tattoos, and he graciously sent his latest one, which was done by the wonderful Joe Capobianco -- renowned for his signature style of pin-ups, which are so distinct, people call them "Capo Girls." [Check my Q&A with Joe from a couple of years ago about how he developed his style.]
Dave also shared the story behind the tattoo (which just won "Best Large Color" at the DC Tattoo Expo):
"I was in the Army for 14 years, and my first duty station was Augsburg, Germany in Bavaria. While there, I learned fluent German, I got married, had my son, and all in all had the most enjoyable years of my life. One of the biggest things we'd do (before the marriage and kid) was to go to festivals (fests) and drink copious amounts of German beer from the 1 liter beer mugs (Mass). The women at the fests wore dirndls--and traditionally in Bavaria, they wore blue and white dirndls. One of my favorite places to go was a full-time fest haus in Munich called The Hofbrauhaus (hence the HB on the mug). I later did another tour in Mainz where the tradition continued, but Bavaria was always my favorite part of Germany. I even speak German with Bavarian accent.
When deciding on my tattoo, I wanted either a hula pin-up for my time in Hawaii, or a beer pin-up for my time in Germany. I saw that Joe has done a ton of hula tattoos, but I didn't see a beer girl in his repertoire, so that's what I went with. He is going to do the other side with a Hawaiian theme, and I'll be hard-pressed to not have a pinup on that side, given how well this one turned out.
Maybe this is more detail than you care to hear, but Joe was a super cool dude on top of being a great artist. He was very humble and down to earth, and talking with him was like talking with an old friend. Sometimes, trying to connect with your artist can be difficult, but Joe made it easy. He gladly signed the "Color Tattoo Art" book and his own book and drew me some purdy pictures to go with his signature.
Joe's Hope Gallery was awesome and the people there were awesome. The shop is ultra-professional, and this is literally, the first time I had an artist meet with me and start on time. Joe does all his own setup and break down, and the air of pretension that comes with a lot of artists, simply wasn't there. It was also pretty cool to get tattooed while listening to a mix of doo-wop and music from across many decades, and not be bombarded by constant death metal.
All in all, by far the best shop I have been in."
Last week, I told y'all to give me a shout, in this giveaway post, if you wanted to win the 2013 Tattoo World calendar, the companion to the Tattoo World hardcover I edited for Abrams books. The wall calendar is filled (perhaps overfilled) with photos of tattoo work from some of the best artists across the globe.
Well, I plugged into Randomized.com the names of all those who commented on the post in our Needles & Sins Syndicate Group on Facebook or hit me up @NeedlesandSins on Twitter and the two winners are .... Tracy Joe and Deborah Bliss! Congrats!
For those interested in getting your hands on 12 months of tattoo goodness, you can buy the calendar much cheaper off of Amazon.com, and you can also find them offline at stores like Barnes & Noble in the US, as well as museum stores like MOMA and the Brooklyn Museum in NYC.
More contests to come!
The latest in reality tattoo TV is VH1's Black Ink Crew, which premiered on January 7th. You can watch all 41 minutes of it online here. But I wouldn't recommend it.
It has the typical formula of the "Ink" franchise:
And that's what's particularly heartbreaking about Black Ink Crew. Here is a chance to show black tattoo culture -- and tattoo culture in general -- to a mass audience, and instead, the dominating themes are petty, and surely contrived, dramas. Even one of the tattooists, "The Duchess," says herself that the shop neither represents tattooing and black tattooists. Right there is a big problem.
The shop characters are caricatures. You have shop owner Caesar, who's been tattooing for seven years, hitting on clients and colleagues in such a nauseating way that you expect his next line to be, "Your father must have been a thief..."
Oh, and then there's one of the tattooists who is called O'S**t. Really, I sh*t you not. To give you an idea of the sh*t show, here's what his VH1 bio says:
"O'S**t is soft spoken, sensitive, an excellent breakdancer, and a self-proclaimed "ladies man". He keeps his cool, unless his "Baby Momma Drama" drags him down...which happens more often that he would like!"In the first episode, O'S**t proclaims that he loves a job where women take their clothes off and pay him while doing so. So, yeah, it seems you're more likely to get an STD from O'S**t than a good tattoo. In fact, there's a scene where a client of his shows up unhappy because, what was supposed to be a diamond on his finger, ended up looking like a turtle. Then he has another client waiting over an hour for him to show up, but he explains that people will wait two hours just to get tattooed by him. Only people who want to be on TV.
The Duchess is the sole female tattoo artist. She says that she wants to show her strength and skill but ends up just showing that she lacks strength of character and a right hook after starting a fist fight with one of the shop's female clients, who are called "Mixxxies."
Ok, let's talk about Mixxxies: tattoo groupies who hang all over the male tattooers. They are the stereotypical tattooed tramps, complete with fake boobs bouncing and booty popping. After a couple of minutes of watching them, I longed for the scene of shop girl Alex puking outside the shop after a night of partying. When called on it, she flips a table -- a la Real Housewives of New Jersey -- throws papers and bottles around and generally acts like she's auditioning for The Bad Girls Club.
I actually took notes for the entire painful forty minutes and even re-watched a bit to find something redeeming. I found nothing.
The second episode aired tonight, but like our reviews here of NY Ink, Ink Master, and Best Ink, I can only bear one write-up. Judging from the video sneak peeks and bonus clips, we won't be missing much.
But as I also have written about before, there are true portrayals of the experiences of tattooists of color more worthy of a greater audience. A wonderful example is the documentary "Color Outside the Lines" by Miya Bailey and Artemus Jenkins. [I also talked about race and tattoos with Miya Bailey for Inked mag.]
... Aaaaand that's my obligatory new tattoo TV show post. Now let's skip the drama and turn our attention back to the art. It makes for a much better reality.
Today, one of tattoo's most iconic figures would have turned 102 years old: Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins. And the fine folks at the Sailor Jerry brand naturally want to celebrate in the way they are accustomed, with tattoos and booze. The parties tonight go down in Chicago and Brooklyn. I've vowed to go "alcohol-free till forty" myself (don't worry, just for a few more weeks), but we may check out the action tonight nevertheless.
So, in NYC, the festivities will take place tonight from 8:00pm to 3:00 am at the brand new spot The Passenger - 229 Roebling St, in Williamsburg. A Pop Up tattoo shop will be set up in the Passenger by Three Kings Tattoo. Dj Steve Lewis from Blackbook mag will be on the decks serving up punk.
In Chicago, the fabulous artists at Chicago Tattoo will commemorate Sailor Jerry by giving away 102 anchor tattoos, from noon to 3:00 am. After getting tattooed, each person will receive a complimentary drink token redeemable around the corner at Trader Todd's.
At both parties, they'll be serving up Sailor Jerry Hot Apple Cider rum. Yum!
Legendary NYC artist/tattooist Thom deVita (featured in a five-part series from Tattoo Age) will be a part of a major event at Kings Ave Tattoo NYC in conjunction with VICE all this weekend. There will be an art sale of Thom's work featuring books, art boxes and stencil-rubbings - plus, Thom himself will be there all weekend!
If that weren't enough, a crew of heavyweight artists will be tattooing on location all weekend. Scott Harrison will be there will be tattooing deVita-inspired tattoos on Saturday and Sunday and we'll witness the work process of Chris O'Donnell as well as the stellar King's Ave crew: Mike Rubendall, Grez, Brian Paul, Justin Weatherholtz, Jason Tyler Grace and Frankie Caraccioli (check out the whole Kings Ave team's portfolio here).
PLUS, should you want to get tattooed, some of the guys will be taking walk-ins all weekend and Grez will be taking walk-ins all day Sunday.
What: Thom deVita Pop Up Gallery with VICE's Tattoo Age
When: January 11th-13th
Where: King's Ave | 188 Bowery (at Spring St), NYC - 2nd floor
Time: 12-9pm daily Friday and Saturday, 1-7pm on Sunday
(Full Disclosure: Marisa and I will be there on Friday around 6pm should you want to stop in and say hello to two blogger-dorks)
Photo of Vladimir Franz by David W. Cerny, posted with permission.
International news is buzzing over the campaign of Vladimir Franz, whose run for president of the Czech Republican has gained such momentum, he's now third among the nine candidates, according to ABC News.
The 53-year-old artist, drama professor and composer (who also holds a law degree) has near full tattoo coverage and has told reporters that his tattoos are "not a handicap, they are added value," adding "Elections are not a beauty contest. It is all about tolerance." Indeed, his four "pillars" of his campaign are "education, culture, morality and tolerance."
Mr. Franz is not part of any political party, nor does he have any political experience, and that his part of his appeal. According to RT.com, Mr. Franz decided to run for office "after a group of admirers launched the 'Franz for President' initiative and plead him to shake up the election with his shock factor." And by the press coverage he's getting worldwide, shock factor is an understatement.
It's interesting to read how different news outlets cover Mr. Franz's campaign. Obviously, the tattoos take up a large part of those articles; in fact, most of the headlines about his campaign have the word tattoo in them. Some even editorialize it like the headline of the ABC news piece I linked above: "Despite Face Tattoo Vladimir Franz Is Presidential Contender." Then there's this Guardian poll: "Are tattoos a political turn-off?"
Well, judging from the polls, the tattoos are a turn-on. And it is very exciting to see Mr. Franz represent the heavily tattooed in a very powerful way. We'll be following the Czech elections this Friday and Saturday to see how he does.
Here's a quick video below on his campaign, which includes a number of photos from David Cerny as well.
I have another giveaway for you from my own personal stash: the 2013 Tattoo World calendar, which I curated for Abrams Books.
Two readers will received the 12x12 wall calendar, which features more than 100 tattoo photos from the world's best artists -- too many to list here. The calendar is based on the Tattoo World hardcover, written by Michael Kaplan and edited by yours truly.
Each month is organized by theme; for example, December is all about the dragon and how different artists interpret it, from Colin Dale's Nordic mythology to Mike Rubendall's Japanese-influenced creations. Every image is credited right underneath with the artists' names and their websites, so you will know right away who did it and where to see more. My role in the calendar was deciding on the artists and pool of images for the designers to choose from. I would have liked there to be less tattoos per month so that the images could be much bigger, but the publishers felt it was better to have as many pix as possible.
But hell, I'm giving two away and they retail online and at major book stores (like Barnes & Noble) for just $13.99.
We'll play it the usual way but with a twist. Two winners will be selected randomly from those who comment on this post in our Needles & Sins Syndicate Group on Facebook or hitting up @NeedlesandSins on Twitter. BUT the comment/Tweet should be about what you'd like to read on this blog in the new year. It need not be specific; something like "greater convention coverage" or "more naked tattooed men, please" will do. On January 17, 2013, we'll put all the names of the commenters into Randomized.com to pick the winners.
I'm often asked about blackwork and dotwork tattooing in NYC, and really, compared to other parts of the world, there aren't as many who specialize in the style (although the number of greats is growing). So, I'm always excited when those who need nothing to travel with but black ink arrive for guest spots in NYC.
One of my faves is Kenji Alucky of Black Ink Power.
The native of Sapporo-shi, Hokkaido, Japan has been tattooing on the road and is now a guest artist at NY Adorned in Manhattan. I believe that appointments are still available, but not for long as Kenji will only be a guest until January 31st. You can hit up NY Adorned by phone at 212.473.0007 or via email: info [at] nyadorned.com.
Today, we have another wonderful installment from Paul Roe of Britishink for you tattoo history buffs!
By Paul Roe:
Now as I sit down to write this, that Shirley Bassey song just kept popping in to my head. Tattooing, like most things human, has been re-invented many, many times.
What is "Old School"? This question arose from a discussion on the way historic tattooing is presented in an exhibition setting. Some learned institutions are displaying comic book portrayals of anything tattoo related, which only perpetuates the myths, usually the bad ones, and ignores the rich social context and cultural significance of the art.
Generally, the stereotype is a grubby man in a one room shop, cigarette butt in mouth; this was the case in most major metropolitan cities -- and here's the key -- after the Wall Street Crash of 1929. This is the common perception of "Old School" tattooing that most people have today. The hardships and honest sweat of the working class man, purveyor to the working class around him, scraping a living from his street front shop. Bleak? Definitely.
The worn and weathered face of Charlie Wagner personifies the "Old School" so I'll use him as an example. He lost his life's savings in the crash -- about $11, 000 in 1929 -- equivalent to about $150,000 today. That tidy sum had been built up over a period of time starting as the apprentice to Samuel O'Reilly, the inventor of the electric tattooing machine. O'Reilly died in 1908, and by this point, Wagner had taken over the shop. So let's go back a little further to get an idea of what Mr. Wagner had as a working environment and mentor before America got broke.
Tattooing has always been a cross-class activity; in the vast majority of indigenous tattooing, the hierarchy of the group carries the most and best tattoos. Westerners spread the practice on board ships and the hand poked tattoos of ocean crossings took a great deal of time to complete. Some of those sailors settled in port towns to tattoo by hand primarily serving the military of that port.
Let's look at NYC before Wagner...
Martin Hildebrandt, a German immigrant, settled in New York City in 1846 and did great trade up to and through the Civil War, crossing the line to tattoo both Yankees and Confederates, establishing himself as the tattooist in NYC. In 1875, Samuel O'Reilly opened his Chatham Square location and became Hildebrandt's competition. Remember at this point all tattooing was done by hand and a growing interest was stirring in the society class of New York as wealthy British and Europeans returned from India and Japan with handmade body decorations as souvenirs of their travels, men and women alike. European aristocracy had embraced tattooing for decades and the news was spreading west.
The 1870's New York tattoo craze was on. And of course with each dinner party, each ball, each of those tattooed aristocrats needed to out-do their peers with the delicacy of their tattoo work, the price was often bragging rights too (and one carefully cultivated among the tattooists). But this was an age of revolution -- every process that could be mechanized was being mechanized. O'Reilly sped up the process a hundred fold with his rotary machine, which meant more tattoos could be done, and bags of cash could be made.
Marketing himself directly at the wealthy O'Reilly followed the names of Sutherland MacDonald (London) and Hori Chyu (Yokohama) as the go to tattooist on this side of the Atlantic, and by the time Charles Wagner joined him in the 1890s, O'Reilly ran quite a fine establishment. His Japanese assistants not only served tea to the clients but also would be sent uptown to apply a tattoo in the residence of a wealthy patron. This cost extra I'm sure.
The Japanese studio layout was emulated too, the first room you entered had couches and pillowed nooks to sit and take your tea, the second room contained the apprentices, both Japanese and American in O'Reillys case, and this is where Wagner started. The third room was the masters studio and if you had enough money and influence you got tattooed there. This layout and hierarchy is very similar to the western "atelier". The atmosphere would have to be pleasant for the upper class customers, a surrounding they would feel comfortable in with its damask cushions and elegant artwork strewn walls.
On January 30th, 1880, the New York Times explained "...that the noble savage has become the newfangled ideal...and hence to be tattooed is to put one's self in sympathy with Nature and to protest the sickly conventionalities of civilization..."
The poet Andrew Lang, in his 1884 Rhymes a la Mode proclaimed a high-caste person when tattooed was really an Art's Martyr:
"...The china on the shelf is very fair to view,So with the newspapers, the society balls and dinners, artists and statesmen alike buzzing with the tattoo fad from Europe, American tattooing flourished. High society names of the day wore tattoos from O'Reilly's establishment which could well have been tattooed by his assistant Wagner; among them Mrs. George Cornwallis West boasting a delicate snake around her left wrist, which she covered during the day with a matched gold bracelet, and Mrs. Clara Ward who's daytime dresses all had a long right sleeve and a short left sleeve but her evening dresses were constructed in reverse to reveal a snake circling her right shoulder and a butterfly.
The fashion waxed and waned each few years and those tattooists who endured were those who actively targeted their audience directly. In a 1905 publicity photo of Wagner, he's seen wearing a top hat and large fresh flower in his lapel, interestingly enough holding an O'Reilly machine when he had patented his own device (a side by side twin coil machine) only the year before.
But with the death of O'Reilly the socialites slowly stopped visiting Chatham Square as the fashions were changing and high society, in both Europe and the US, shunned the bold lines and "the American style" even straying from the patronage of Sutherland MacDonald in search of finer lines and more delicate work at the hands of Japanese masters such as Hori Chyu of Yokohama. This trend had started in the late 1890s, and by 1900, a New York millionaire had offered Hori Chyu an establishment in NYC at the annual salary of $12,000 (about $180,000 today). Sadly this arrangement never came to fruition.
The Bowery "fun zone" with its dime museums and amusements, displays of tattooed men and women and of course tattoo shops was falling out of vogue with the rich but not the average American. The tattooed men and women of the sideshow and circus were bread and butter for the tattooists of the day but sideshow wages were dropping and their novelty with the public wearing off. Just around the corner was the First World War and a new batch of tattoo hungry customers would descend upon the port city of New York...the military.
The latest and greatest development in the tattoo business was flash -- the stock images displayed usually on the walls and ready to be tattooed. These images had been around a long time, each individual artist making their own travel books and sketches but the wholesale distribution of pre-drawn flash really took off during WWI. The name "flash" is from the carnival days - a canvas roll of brightly colored images hanging outside the tattooist tent - to "flash" and catch the eye of the passing customer. Regimental badges, patriotic eagles and sweetheart remembrances are still with us as standard flash today.
Prior to about 1900 all the aristocratic atelier tattooing was custom drawn, made once and not repeated, in fact the derogatory term "Jagger" (still in use on the Bowery until the mid-thirties) meant someone who uses stencils and does not draw the tattoo on the body or even tattoo the image without the use of guide lines. Jagger is from the Scottish slang "to jab wildly". The act of replication was frowned upon by the great names but proved to be the saving grace for the industry as electric tattooing equipment had been for sale through various gentlemen's magazines and publications and now sheets of designs could be purchased too.
Lew the Jew tattooed in NYC from the early 1900s and is the person most responsible for the proliferation of tattoo flash. A former wallpaper designer, he returned home from the Spanish American war tattooed and entranced by the tattoo business. His basic designs are those that set the western traditional style and are still seen today on the walls of shops across the world.
Harry Lawson took a different approach. His three room studio in Los Angeles had examples of tattoos framed on every wall -- not flash painted on paper or card but preserved human skin, contracted from people he had met, bribed from the local coroner's office and otherwise obtained by unknown methods. His workspace contained a large desk with medical books and implements giving him a learned air. Mr. Lawson disappeared in 1920 and had advertised he was retiring in 1919, selling his entire operation and giving it up. He resurfaced on the Pike twenty years later. The stories of the high ranked officials and military officers he had tattooed were told until his death in 1950.
So "Old School" should be a term used lightly.
In my humble opinion it correctly describes any tattooing pre-electric device, which would make the great names of O'Reilly, MacDonald, Burchett and Wagner..."New School"!
The image of the grubby man sitting outside his one room street front shop, hungry and, surly with it, are what we consider to be right for the Old School label. But as with most of the industrial revolution we remember the grit, grime and soot, the appalling sanitary conditions of the very end of this historic period. We forget the lavish interiors, the splendor of presentation, the exotic visual influences from Asia and India and the titled men and women of leisure who were old or new money and would spend it to out-spend their peers as a kind of competition of worth, capitalized on by the tattooists of the day.
So as we begin 2013, we see that it's not too dissimilar from 1913 in terms of tattooing. There are excellent custom tattoo studios out there producing quality work on a small scale and there are street shops banging out flash all day long. Each has its market as history repeats itself.
That was the Golden Age of tattooing as this is the Golden Age of tattooing.
At your service,
Tattoodles Online Inc.
508 H St. NE
Washington DC 20002
As I finish up the second volume to my very first book, Black Tattoo Art, I'm really enjoying pouring over the hundreds and hundreds of images of neotribal, blackwork, dotwork, ornamental, abstract and traditional tattoo art. I'll be highlighting a number of artists from the book here, in addition to those I've profiled in the past.
Let's start the new year with the work of Mikel Johnson of 4 Truths Tattoo Sangha in Victoria, B.C., Canada.
Tattooing since 1996, Mikel more recently opened up his new studio 4 Truths Tattoo Sangha, where he tattoos largely in tribal and blackwork, although he says that he happily works with clients on other ideas if he feels he can do the piece justice.
As he notes on his site, Sangha is a word in Pali and Sanskrit meaning association, assembly or community. The tattooist and Reiki Master has a strong passion for the sacred and communal aspects of tattooing and that comes forth in his work.
I spoke with Mikel about his studio and work. Here's a bit from our chat:
What is the vibe of the studio like?
Comfortable and really mellow. I wanted the studio to be really relaxing...no unwanted distractions. I guess it's maybe inevitable that I wanted to work in the kind of environment that I, personally, like to be in and get tattooed in. That's what I have done.
What is your particular approach to tribal and blackwork work?
Honestly, I think I am still learning this. I find I look at a lot of old reference. I truly stand on the shoulders of a lot of giants. I think, right now, my style may come out in how I visually balance things. I am not sure I will ever be done working at trying to make it my own, maybe that's why I like this style of tattooing so much. There are so many subtle layers to this work.
What do you love about this style of tattooing and tattooing in general?
It's hard to put into words what I love about these styles of tattooing. It just makes sense to me, feels right to me. Given the time, I would ramble on about this for longer than I should. I think there is a point in a tattooer's career where they find a style they really love working in. I feel fortunate enough to have found mine. Tattooing is maybe one of the last things that is still magical. The whole process is really quite amazing. It's such a unique and human experience. How can you not love that?
What's the best way to make an appointment?
The best way to reach me is by email: info [at] mikel.ca. As I am a one-man show, I find it works best.
Any conventions or guest spots coming up?
Right now, I haven't any solid plans to work conventions. I am looking to work the Edmonton convention next year, and I would love to go to the Montreal convention as well. Internationally, I think the Tattoo Convention in Nepal would be amazing to go see. Who knows? Maybe I will try and make that work somehow.
For now, my main focus is getting the studio running smoothly.
I feel fortunate. Thanks to my wife April, my clients, and all my friends that support and encouraged me to do what I do. Be good to each other. We are all more connected than we think.
Mikel - 4 Truths Tattoo Sangha
#31 - 532 Herald St. * buzz #133
Last week, we posted another Sullen contest for y'all to win a special edition hoodie designed by by black & grey guru Bob Tyrrell. All you needed to do was either Tweet at us or post anything in our Needles & Sins Syndicate Group on Facebook. Really, these contests are getting too easy.
I put all the names into Randomized.com & the internet gods picked ... Jesse Nelson. Congrats, Jesse!
You can still grab the hoodie yourself for $60 on the Sullen store, which is a sweet deal.
More contests to come!
This exception work by Sailor Bit of Ethno Tattoo in Lausanne, Switzerland has been making the rounds but in case you didn't see it, I present it to you without further comment.