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.
The December/January issue of Inked Mag is now out and along with beautiful heavily tattooed women in lesser and lesser states of undress (it is a men's "lifestyle" mag after all), there are a number of features you got to check out, especially because we wrote them.
Our Patrick Sullivan has a great feature on how technology is changing tattooing including the new air-pressured tattoo machine and one-shot laser removal inks.
There are the party photos from my Black Tattoo Art book release shindig at Tattoo Culture.
And my Icon interview with Brad Fink, the most fun I've had interviewing a tattoo artist in a while. Here's a snippet as to why:
[As a young tattoo apprentice] Did you have to clean toilets and all the nasty stuff?
I did it but it wasn't Mitch telling me to do all the disgusting things. It was me knowing it needed to be done and doing it myself. This leads to my disdain for the younger generation coming into tattooing today. Back then there were no references or all the information on the Internet that is readily available. Back then, I had to search and search for it. I had to go to the library, seek out Easy Rider tattoo magazines and Ed Hardy's Tattoo Time series. Today, there are instructional DVDs and all this crap on how to tattoo. They even have premade needles now. When I started, I had to get to the shop two hours early to make my needles for the day or next two days. Today, people get very good in a short time, and there's this sense of entitlement young people have in the business that everything should be handed to them.
We didn't have a "shop person" back then to wipe people's asses. Today, these kids want to come in, do their tattoos, and leave. Back then, I had to make needles, clean the shop, stock my station, and answer the phones.
Did you also walk miles in the snow to the shop barefoot back in your day? [laughs]
Yes, I did! I wrecked enough cars by 17 years old and my insurance was cancelled, so as a matter of fact, I had to ride a bicycle or walk to the shop. Yes, Marisa, I did have to walk to work in the snow. [laughs]
Now you have a young apprentice. What lessons are you passing down?
I teach him life lessons! That there's more to tattooing than actual tattooing. I teach him everything from adapting to every quirky personality that walks through that door without those people you would have nothing. I'm teaching loyalty and respect. I want him to know the history and how tattooing got to this level.
Brad splits his time between his three studios, DareDevil and Fun City in NYC, which he co-owns with Michelle Myles; and Iron Age in St. Louis, which he co-owns with Mark Andrews and spends most his time. Brad is also a partner in Me Against The World clothing, a new advertiser to N+S.