When I was a teenager, I'd jump on the subway from Brooklyn to the East Village in Manhattan to follow around skater boys like a puppy. During some of those trips, I nervously found myself in underground illegal studios, watching the boys get tattooed. This was way before the NYC tattoo ban was lifted in 1997. It was a time when I felt a certain awe and trepidation when I walked into those studios. But there was one shop, a storefront on St. Marks Place, that none of us dared to try to get in -- and probably wouldn't be let in if we wanted to: Fun City Tattoo, which belonged to tattoo outlaw Jonathan Shaw.
Shaw had the reputation of being a great artist and even greater badass. His reputation, on both counts, drew celebrities like Johnny Depp, Iggy Pop, and Jim Jarmusch. There's a great account, which Shaw told The Telegraph, on his tattoo pact with these celebs. Here's a bit from that:
Around 2005, Shaw sold Fun City to Michelle Myles & Brad Fink, who own Daredevil Tattoo, in order to dedicate his time to writing. [Myles & Fink later sold Fun City to "Big Steve" Pendone, who apprenticed under Shaw.]
In 2008, Shaw's debut novel, Narcisa: Our Lady of Ashes, was released and became a cult classic. As Rolling Stone recently reported, a few years ago, Shaw was at Johnny Depp's home when Depp told him that he was starting an imprint with publishers HarperCollins and wanted to re-release Narcisa. Shaw's reworked version of the original novel was released in March, and Shaw is on a highly publicized book tour.
A description of the novel on HarperCollins site says:
In the wild backwaters of Rio de Janeiro and New York, motorcycle-riding, nomadic outlaw poet Ignacio Valencia Lobos--known as Cigano--attempts in vain to curb the unhinged habits of his lover Narcisa, a crack-smoking philosopher prostitute. Though he knows they will destroy each other, Narcisa is an exquisite poison he cannot resist. As they navigate the chaos of her downward spiral--dragged deeper by the gravity of drugs, burglaries and violence, Cigano recounts a love affair doomed by insanity, dysfunction, and vice.
With Narcisa: Our Lady of Ashes, Shaw has been compared to Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, and Hunter S. Thompson. The novel can be found in major and indie booksellers. I just purchased my copy online at HarperCollins.
Check Shaw's Facebook fan page for readings and also tattoo guest spot dates.
Johnny Depp being tattooed by Jonathan Shaw in Paris in 1998.