Tattoo above in progress.
I love to get an insider's look into tattoo shops around the world, not just for their art, but also for the vibe of the studio and tattoo culture in their city. And so I really enjoyed this video documentary short (embedded below) by Ivar Myhrvold featuring Morten Transeth of Blue Arms Tattoo in Oslo, Norway. The video is in Norwegian, but captioned in English -- just turn captions (CC) on for subtitles.
What I find particularly interesting is how artists across the globe who are heavily influenced by traditional "old school" tattooing, such as Morten, offer their own spin and approach to iconic themes. Morten talks about that as well as the history of the shop, Oslo clientele, and other insights into Blue Arms Tattoo. Definitely worth a watch.
Find more of Morten's work on Instagram.
One hundred years ago, Amund Dietzel (1891-1974), of Kristiania, Norway, arrived in Milwaukee with a knowledge of tattooing he picked up on a merchant shop. Deciding to make the city his home, he opened up a tattoo parlor that attracted tattoo collectors far beyond Milwaukee. Sailors and marines during two world wars came to see Dietzel before leaving for battle, choosing powerful designs from his handpainted flash that hung on the shop's walls.
Dietzel "helped define the look of the traditional or old school tattoo," the Milwaukee Art Museum wrote of their "Tattoo: Flash Art of Amund Dietzel" exhibition, which ran from July to October.
That wonderful archive of Dietzel's painted flash, stencils and drawings, from the collection of Jon Reiter, will be exhibited at Great Lakes Tattoo in Chicago, from November 29th to January 5th.
During the November 29th opening, not only can you view Americana tattoo history, but also have a piece of it tattooed on you, as artists will be offering tattoos from Dietzel's flash sheets from 12 to 10 PM that day. The opening party, with food & drink, runs from 5 to 8 PM.
Proceeds from the tattoos, as well as beautiful limited edition prints (shown below) and shirts, will go towards the hefty medical expenses Jon incurred from an ICU stay.
For more on Amund Dietzel's life, pick up Jon's fantastic books, These Old Blue Arms: The Life & Work of Amund Dietzel, Volumes 1 & 2.
I know. I've been remiss in not featuring more Traditional and Neotraditional tattoos lately, so what better way to get back on track than to showcase new work from Americana maestro Myke Chambers. Myke is a prolific tattooer and painter, making his Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds, which he regularly updates, incredibly dynamic online art galleries.
While Myke's home base is Northern Liberty Tattoo in Philadelphia, PA, he frequently works conventions and guest spots around the world. You can check his 2013-2014 schedule here, and as noted on his site, appointments book up fast.
For reality TV lovers, Myke appeared as an expert advisor on the show Tattoo Rescue. You can watch the full episode in which Myke appears here.
Also check him on his live tattooing webcam.
Tattoo above by Nick Colella.
Tattoo above by Mario Desa.
This Saturday, August 17th, is the grand opening celebration of Great Lakes Tattoo at 1148 West Grand Avenue, Chicago, IL. The studio motto is "Cleanliness & Civility," with an emphasis on an attitude-free atmosphere where one can walk in daily, from 12-8pm, and get a strong tattoo, or make an appointment for larger pieces.
Resident artists include Nick Colella, Erik Gillespie, Mario Desa, Mike Dalton, Beatdown, and Frank William -- all who have a particular expertise in the Americana tattoo traditions, although the repertoire is not necessarily limited to old school; for example, Nick is also renowned for his fine tattoo lettering, particularly, script work. The studio will also welcome top tattooers as guest artists throughout the year.
Check their portfolios on the Great Lakes Tattoo site, Facebook, and Instagram.
The opening party on Saturday runs from 5-10PM with complimentary rum cocktails from Sailor Jerry, micro-brews from Revolution Brewing and tacos and more from Big Star.
Tattoo above by Erik Gillespie.
On this day in 1776, Americans won their freedom so that future generations can get tattoos without fear of retribution. This is actually stated in the Declaration of Independence -- right under the freedom to take photos of yourself making a kissy face in the bathroom mirror. All true.
Tattoo above by Americana maestro Nick Colella, whose new studio, Great Lakes Tattoo, will be opening its doors on July 15th in Chicago. More on Nick and the Great Lakes crew to come.
Today is the opening of the Milwaukee Art Museum's first-ever tattoo art exhibition:
"Tattoo: Flash Art of Amund Dietzel." The exhibit, which runs to the Fall, celebrates one of tattooing's most remarkable forefathers, particularly the one hundred years since the Norwegian artist arrived in Milwaukee in 1913 and made it his home.
Dietzel's studios attracted tattoo collectors far beyond Milwaukee. As the Museum notes, he "helped define the look of the traditional or old school tattoo," and his tattoo flash remains just as powerful today as it was during the two world wars he tattooed through and the many years afterward until his death in 1974.
I'd venture a guess that, if Dietzel were alive today, he'd be having a laugh at the city's museum featuring his work, especially as he put up a good fight against the Milwaukee City Council, along with Gib "Tatts" Thomas, when the city banned tattooing in 1967.
There are so many great stories of Amund Dietzel's life, and they are wonderfully shared in tattooist Jon Reiter's book These Old Blue Arms: The Life & Work of Amund Dietzel, which I reviewed here in 2010.
This exhibit is drawn exclusively from the book and Jon's collection of Dietzel flash, photos and "peripheral Dietzel Studio material." It should be an excellent show for all tattoo lovers and Americana art buffs.
Here's more on Dietzel from the museum:
Born in Kristiania, Norway, Dietzel (1891-1974) learned the art of hand-tattooing on a Norway merchant ship. When the ship was wrecked off the coast of Quebec, Dietzel and a few others decided to stay. Dietzel traveled with his close friend William Grimshaw, working carnivals as tattooed men and tattooing between shows.
Austin, Texas is a hotbed of tattoo talent, from veteran artists to those new and killing it in the craft. One stellar studio in the city is Jason Brooks' Great Wave Tattoo. The work coming out of the shop, which is largely Americana and Japanese influenced, is strong and exciting. But it's not just from Jason's portfolio alone.
Great Wave is also home to Ben Siebert, a younger artist but one who has been honing his skills for years. Ben came up at Hell Bomb in Wichita with Steve Turner, then made his way to Jason, whom Ben says inspires him "to strive to make better work every day."
I asked Ben what it is to make better work, to create a strong tattoo. He said, "Strong tattoos to me are tattoos that stand out from across the street, but at the same time have enough interesting detail and movement applied to it so the whole tattoo is not all taken in in one glance."
There is also a timeless quality to his work, following the old school and Japanese traditions. On this he says, "I think that Americana and Japanese imagery have stood the test of time because they are deeply rooted in history pertaining to both Western and Eastern cultures. Something that has been passed down in some form or another."
Those in the NY area need not travel to Austin to get work from Ben. He'll be a guest artist at NY Adorned from September 16th - 22nd.
I finally got my hands on "Flash from the Bowery: Classic American Tattoos, 1900-1950" by Cliff White, and I can't recommend it enough to anyone who loves tattooing and classic Americana.
Published by Schiffer Books, "Flash from the Bowery" is filled with nine hundred sheets of tattoo art from over the past hundred years that still attract collectors today. Here's more on the collection:
Between these pages are images of the original acetate rubbings from Charlie Wagner's turn of the 20th century tattoo shop, The Black Eye Barbershop, in the Bowery at Chatham Square in New York. This is the only known art that has survived from this shop, where Samuel J. O'Reilley's modern-day electric tattoo machine was born and patented. The imagery of this classic flash preserves the origins of American tattoos, when tattoo art was transferred to the client from these templates via an acetate stencil. Everything was done by hand until O'Reilley's electrified tattoo machine changed history. This rich heritage of folk art has more than 900 individual pieces of flash that provide commentary on the shop's clientele and reveal some of the social, economic, and political ideas of the time.In the Introduction, Cliff offers some history on the sheets. This is to be expected of course. Every time I've had a conversation with Cliff, I've always enjoyed a history lesson. It's one of his missions to inform and carry on the great traditions of the craft.
Read more on Cliff here.
The book is just a small part of the tattoo gems Cliff has collected. His studio in Long Island, NY and his Victorian home (which was passed down from his great great grandfather) house artifacts that include photos and calling cards of the industry's godfathers and godmothers -- like the card of Mildred Hull, one of the few female tattooers on the Bowery in the forties. He also has sideshow memorabilia like a hand-carved wooden mermaid from Coney Island and Victorian spindled arch from Barnum & Bailey. And of course, he has vintage tattoo machines. [Cliff created the Oldtimer tattoo machine in 1989 as a nod to the forerunners of the craft.]
And so it's no surprise that Cliff's book is a rare and wonderful assemblage of old school tattoo. A must have. You can purchase it online at Schiffer Books.
I'm excited to be working on the second volume of "Black Tattoo Art," finding artists around the world doing bold, black and badass work. One such artist Laszlo Kis of Windhorse Tattoo in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
What's particularly exciting about Laszlo, or Laci's, portfolio is how he can seamlessly move from heavy, tribal infused pieces to electric Americana to buttery black & grey to Japanese iconography. His artistic diversity is ever-present in his new book documenting his life in tattooing: "Windhorsetattoos by Kis Laszlo" available on Blurb.
Originally from Monor, a Hungarian city near Budapest, Laci began tattooing at sixteen years old in his hometown. He traveled throughout Hungary, working in Budapest, Balatonfured, and Sopron before moving to Sao Paulo, where Misi Karai, a long time friend from Hungary, invited him to work at his studio, Misi Tattoo. After three years, they decided to open up a new studio called Tattoo Tradition, where Kis worked for over five years until going out on his own in early 2010 and establishing Windhorse Tattoo.
When asked why he's chosen not to concentrate on one particular tattoo genre, Laci says he feels it is important not to limit himself to one style in order to fulfill the wishes of different clients: "I believe that, for some strange reason, people know what they will have on the body -- as if the tattoo has been there all along even before they enter the studio. Therefore, I cannot ignore their request, but must work with it."
I was hoping that he'll make a trip to the US soon, but with two young children, he's staying in Brazil for a while. Time to start planning a South America tattoo vacation.
See more of Laci's work on his blog and website.
Photo by Joshua Gordon.
On my list of favorite tattoo blogs, for a long time, has been Swallows&Daggers. It's my go-to source for everything about traditional and neo-traditional tattooing, with artist profiles, galleries, and articles on the history behind iconic tattoo imagery.
This month, the Swallows&Daggers crew (who are based in the UK) have created a streetwear brand that is inspired by these traditional tattoo motifs as well as hardcore and hip hop cultures.
Check Respect-Tradition.com for their debut line, which features artwork by Clark Orr, Zach Shuta, and Matt Skiff that is clean and bold, just like a good traditional tattoo. The tees and hoodies can be purchased online and in select retail partners in the US & UK.
If you want to watch cute and really young tattooed boys play around in the shirts, see the video below. Also hit their lookbook on Flickr and Facebook.
This Saturday, January 14th, to commemorate what would have been the 101st birthday of Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins, the rum brand inspired by the iconic tattooer will be sponsoring events in Chicago and NYC where lucky Americana fans could get original Sailor Jerry tattoos ... for free.
The Chicago Tattoo Co. and Fineline Tattoo will each be offering 101 complimentary tattoos from the flash sheet above, on a first come-first serve basis from noon to midnight at Chicago Tattoo and to 10PM at Fineline. Must be 18 or older to get tattooed and obviously 21 or older to get in on the rum drink specials. The Sailor Jerry peeps will be offering those drink specials at nearby Lil' Frankies in NYC and early customers in Chicago will get drink vouchers to be redeemed at
The two tattoo studios are a perfect fit for this celebration. As Nick Colella says:
Chicago Tattoo has a direct lineage to Sailor Jerry through Tatts Thomas. Jerry got his start in Chicago in the mid-twenties with Tatts on South State St. He later moved on to Hawaii. Tatts stayed in Chicago on South State St. until the early sixties when he traveled to work with Amund Dietzel in Milwaukee. After Milwaukee outlawed tattooing, Tatts moved back to Chicago to work with Cliff Raven at what is now The Chicago Tattoo Co; thus, Chicago Tattoo is in the direct and unbroken lineage to Sailor Jerry.And Mike Bakaty's Fineline Tattoo -- the longest continuing running shop in Manhattan -- also keeps the Sailor Jerry tradition of letting the work speak for itself in its non-pretentious, hardworking old school storefront that welcomes everything from large intricate work to a piece of Traditional flash.
If you can't make it this Saturday to the events, check the artists' portfolios at both shops for Sailor Jerry strong tattoos.
UPDATE: AAlso this Saturday, from 12pm to 12am, Uptown Tattoos at 575 S. Carrolton Avenue in New Orleans, is offering 101 free tattoos of one of several original designs from the flash sheet above. Afterward, patrons are invited to join in on a bar crawl kicking off at 10pm at Flanagan's Pub (625 Saint Philip St.) where they can raise a glass to Norman Collins and sip on signature Sailor Jerry cocktails.
The wondrous life of sailor, sideshow attraction, tattooer and craftsman Armund Dietzel is further explored in Volume 2 of These Old Blue Arms: The Life & Work of Amund Dietzel by Jon Reiter of Solid State Tattoo in Milwaukee. I highly recommended Volume I last year, and this new hardcover surpasses it.
Volume II does not simply take over from where the story of Dietzel's life left off in the first, but in fact, revisits some of Dietzel's early history so that the timeline of his life is fully contained in this one book. Of course, for the full colorful picture, both volumes are essential reading for tattoo history lovers.
Like the first, Dietzel's story is woven through rare images of his tattoo flash as well as photographs documenting his art and personal life. It begins with a foreword by Fred Stonehouse who recalls that magic moment when he came across Dietzel's Milwaukee shop as a child in the 60s. But when he returned as a teenager, the shop was no longer there, only a ghost town. This foreshadows the final chapter "Mop-Up" about Dietzel's last days tattooing when he sold his shop to his friend Gib "Tats" Thomas in 1964 but stayed on and kept working until 1967, the year when tattooing was banned in Milwaukee. "Amund defiantly tattooed through the very last day his profession was legal in the City of Milwaukee, and then retired." He died in 1974 just before his 83rd birthday.
These Old Blue Arms is a great testament to his adventures, best encapsulated at the beginning of Chapter 1:
Amund Dietzel had the life that many of us would have wished to have. If one could imagine a journey that would provide stories enough to fill every lag in conversation that might occur henceforth to the end of one's life, Amund Dietzel has such a life. It has everything one could ask for -- the sea, the sky, the shipwreck, and the salvation. It has the carnival (which in itself is enough for most people), travel and art. It has true love, it has family, hard work, and finally, security on one's own terms.Throughout the book, there are anecdotes that touch upon all these facets of Dietzel's life. For example, Reiter particularly notes that if you're looking to trace the origins of the iconic crawling panther design or the playful skunk "Little Stinker," you should begin with Dietzel flash. In the "Tattooed for Exhibition" chapter, wonderful quotes from a 1928 article in The Milwaukee Journal accompany photos of the artist's more extensively tattooed clientele. In one quote, it is noted that it was tradition that tattooists be "covered" to show real samples of designs, color and good work. Dietzel did indeed work on many of his tattoo brethren in addition to hoards of servicemen in his 60+ years tattooing. [As stated in the "Art of War" chapter: "During the First World War, Amund's studio tattooed over 200 members of the 32nd Infantry Division of the Army National Guard."]
One of my favorite chapters is "The Anatomy of a Tattooed Man," which highlights Dietzel's own tattoos and how he chose to "put himself on display." What's especially cool is the juxtaposition of his flash art with photos of his own tattoo work in the background, as shown above.
A sure favorite for those with a passion for tattoo machines is the "Tools of the Trade" chapter as it takes a close look at Dietzel's signature tattoo machines, the inspiration behind them and some technical discussion on the builds.
In fact, every chapter is filled with historical tattoo goodness that will excite artists and collectors a like. You can purchase the 215-page hardcover online from Solid State Publishing for $50 (plus shipping).
It's been a while since we've done the Proust Questionnaire for Tattoo Artists, and so I roped David Tevenal into playing along. Dave does strong, graphic tattoos influenced by Americana, folklore, contemporary art as well as traditional Japanese work. You can find him at Memento Tattoo & Gallery in Columbus, Ohio.
The Proust Questionnaire for Tattoo Artists
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Living for nothing. Having no sense of purpose.
What is your idea of earthly happiness? Watching my daughter grow, and also making fun tattoos on great people.
Your most marked characteristic? I obsess over art, more so - my work. I literally drown myself in it constantly. I'm also rather loud, and lack an inner-monologue.
What is your principle defect? I often struggle to please everyone.
Who are your favorite heroes of fiction? The Marvel Universe.
Who are your favorite heroes in real life? My fiance and daughter. They put up with so much and are extremely supportive in my endeavors. They are there for me when nobody else is and take me as I am.
Your favorite painter? James Jean. Hands down.
Your favorite musician? Well, I have a ton of favorite bands. I guess I'd have to say Glassjaw.
Your favorite writer? I don't really read for leisure's sake as much as I should, but theoretical physicist Michio Kaku's books always have a way of putting into perspective how infinitesimal we really are in the grand scheme of things.
The quality you most admire in a man? Hard work.
The quality you most admire in a woman? Well considering my search is over, the qualities I admire most in MY woman is her sense of humor and her dedication to our family.
Your favorite virtue? Sincerity.
Who would you have liked to be? Nothing, I'm pretty stoked on how I turned out. Dents and all. But I would have loved to live in Feudal Japan or be a Roman Gladiator. Death was the central aspect of their lives, so they embraced it. That's pretty deep shit.
What are your favorite names? Chloe. Lisa.
What natural gift would you most like to possess? Music. I've never been musically inclined ever in my life. I always admired those who could play music.
How would you like to die? I don't care, as long as my job here is done.
What is your present state of mind? Crush, Kill, Destroy.
What is your motto? "Plow deep while sluggards sleep." - Benjamin Franklin
See more of David's work here. Also check this beautiful time-lapse tattoo video of the artist at work, directed Sean Grevencamp.
With LA Ink canceled and NY Ink's first season wrapped, it's welcoming to see more and more media dedicated to footage focused on the art and offering real portraits of the tattooists.
One beautifully produced documentary short, which was recently released, is a look at the tattoos and paintings of Cris Cleen. The doc is filmed and edited by Andreas Tagger
who followed Cris as he tattooed at Idle Hand Tattoo SF and Saved Tattoo in Brooklyn. Along with Cris's thoughts on the art and his approach to "the tattoo experience," there are close-ups of his work -- a style that he describes as "turn of the century, more European influenced traditional tattoos."
Samples of his portfolio are shown below. For more, click CrisCleen.com.
London's Simon Erl has a portfolio filled with fun takes on Traditional and Neo-Traditional work, from classic pin-ups to anthropomorphic characters in kicky outfits. He also works technically difficult tattoos like palms and eyelids.
Simon offers a quick and dirty but serious discussion on his process in one of the Little Scraps of Paper video shorts below. [Check out more of their videos featuring creatives in different fields.]
Read Simon's blog here and view more of his portfolio on Facebook.
One of our favorite tattoo blogs, Swallows & Daggers, which highlights Traditional and Neo-Traditional tattooing worldwide, has teamed up with indie apparel designers Death/Traitors (NYC) and the UK brand Honour Over Glory to create a new collection of shirts and crewneck jumpers that pay tribute to Americana imagery with a punk bent. [I think the promo pix are pretty sexy as well.]
You can order the shirts for about 16 British Pounds on the Swallows & Daggers shop. There you'll also find four issues of the S&D zine, which are a great read.
On their blog, check the artist interviews, news, & meanings behind classic tattoo motifs.
UPDATE: Here's Part 2 of the Dan Santoro feature.
As we posted last month, we've been excited to see the debut of a show that pays respect to the art without the faux drama of current tattoo TV offerings: Tattoo Age on Vice TV.
Today, the show went live and has most definitely met our expectations. This first episode is Part 1 of a feature on Dan Santoro of Smith Street Tattoo in Brooklyn, NY. It looks at his daily life as a tattooer and his approach to Americana folk-art tattoos and paintings, which make up a great deal of his portfolio. His colleagues at Smith Street offer their thoughts on Dan's work and personality as well. But it goes beyond close-ups of tattooing and musings on the craft. It follows Dan on his antiquing trips, another one of his passions and business, and other aspects of his life outside of the shop, giving the viewer an intimate look at this well respected artist.
Check the full episode below. You can find the schedule for upcoming episodes on our original post, as well as the show's trailer.
Tattoo lore spoken in gritty detail and tone. The Last of the Bowery Scab Merchants By Walter Moskowitz is a gift that this Bowery Boy left us before his passing. Walter's son Doug recorded these stories in the last year of his father's life so that they may live on. And now they are being shared in a two audio CD set (more than 2 1/2 hours of tattoo tales) accompanied by a 24-page color booklet with photos and articles. It is all richly designed, with cover art by CIV, into a perfect collector's piece.
You can buy the collection from the Moskowitz family on Scabmerchant.com or but it on Amazon.com.
The stories are funny, educational, sad and triumphant. As Doug says, "You will not only get to hear great tattoo stories but you will also get a nice perspective of who my dad was as a person; the era he, his father, and brother tattooed in; and how that related to what he did."
The audio documentary also includes guest commentators, and I'm honored to be one of them. As I wrote in my memorial to Walter in 2007 (originally published on my old site Needled.com), I was pretty nervous when I met him. What would I say to "one of the last links to New York's tattoo heritage" as per Michael McCabe's New York City Tattoo: The Oral History of an Urban Art. But Walter Moskowitz was warm and welcoming and instantly made you feel at ease -- the perfect tattooer trait.
Here's more from that memorial:
He was also a gifted story teller. Listening to him, transports you to the 50s, NYC's Lower East Side.
His father, Willy Moskowitz, emigrated from Russia and opened up a barbershop. He soon learned that he could support his family better through tattoos than cutting hair, so he had his friend Charlie Wagner, another legend, teach him the craft. Along with tattooing came the drunken shop brawls between (and with) rowdy clients, police harassment, and the general hustle to make a living during and after the Depression. Not an easy life, but a good trade.
Willy Moskowitz passed down the trade to Walter and his brother
According to the article "The Kosher Tattoo Kings," Walter learned to tattoo at night after spending the day studying the Torah and Talmud at a Brooklyn yeshiva. The article quotes Walter as saying "It has been a very interesting life. I came in contact with every type of personality, from the highest to the lowest -- and sometimes the highest was the lowest."
An interesting life is a humble understatement. Many of us tattoo history buffs pass around stories of the Bowery Boys with a bit of awe. McCabe says it best: "Young tattoo artists are always asking me about the Moskowitzes. The mythology of these guys is like that of the Bowery in the 1940s and 50s -- big, bad and bold."
I love that mythology, the stories. But I'm also thankful that I got to meet Walter in person, feel his strong but friendly handshake, and thank him for the history lesson.
I'm still nursing a Greek Easter hangover, and in this spirit of piety meeting debauchery, I'm posting these tattoos that take an irreverent look spiritual themes.
The work is done by Iban who is a resident artist at Fuer Immer Tattoo in Berlin. Iban was born in Mexico City but has been working at Fuer Immer for over eight years. His portfolio is diverse, from solid classic Americana to trippier New School-styled work.
See more of it here.
This Saturday, March 19th, is the official opening of Skin and Bones: Tattoos in the Life of the American Sailor at the Mystic Seaport in Connecticut.
The traveling exhibit from Philadelphia's Independence Seaport Museum (which we first wrote about in April 2009) explores the connection between tattooing and maritime life:
Skin & Bones presents over two centuries of ancient and modern tattooing tools, flash, and tattoo-related art, historic photographs, and artifacts to tell the story of how tattoos entered the sailor's life, what they meant, and why they got them.Nick Schonberger, consulting curator, says one of the highlights of this exhibit is the C.H. Fellowes book of flash, one of the oldest surviving American flash books. Also on view is Samuel O'Reilly's electric tattoo machine of 1891. Read more on the exhibit's other artifacts and programs here.
Skin & Bones runs until September 5th. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
[As I noted in my initial post on the exhibit: If you're wondering what the pig and rooster on the feet mean, read the Tattoo Archive's article on the symbolism of sailor tattoos.]