Portrait of Tennessee Dave James by Shawn Barber.
Yesterday, the tattoo community lost another great legend, Tennessee Dave James. I read about his passing from Baba Austin online, owner of Vintage Tattoo Art Parlor in LA, where Dave made his home in the recent years of his long tattoo history. He was a mentor and father figure, not just to Baba, but to so many artists. Laid back, with a gift of storytelling, Tennessee Dave James put on a strong tattoo. His tattoo calling card was his little outhouse tattoo design. If you find it inscribed on one of the many bodies around the world, you know that collector has a good Tennessee Dave story.
To read more about Tennessee Dave's incredible stories, check this extensive Skin & Ink Q & A from 1998, with his tales of being tattooed at 15 in the fifties to tattoo turf wars to the Greek Mafia.
You can also read tributes to Dave on his Facebook page.
Legendary DogTown pro-skateboarder and photographer, Pep Williams, may shoot for fashion, sports and music glossies but it's his portraits of tattoo life that have garnered particular acclaim for their penetrating intensity and soulfulness -- a quality that comes from the photographer's own experiences in the community and respect for the craft.
The subjects of Pep's tattoo-focused imagery reflect his Los Angeles upbringing, and largely include black & grey inked bodies and faces. He also captures intimate moments in the tattooer's chair, which have powerful solemnity to them.
Pep will be on tour shooting street culture and skating in Brazil, Dubai, and Australia. Next month, he'll be releasing limited edition prints available for purchase. Updates will be posted on his site and Shockmansion blog.
For more on Pep, check Jinxi Boo's great interview with him.
This Saturday, Nov. 26th, from 7-10PM, tattooer and musician Dan Smith will be signing his new book, "With the Light of Truth" at Sacred Gallery in SoHo, NYC.
Described as "A collection of tattoos, art, and profiles of some of the best Straight Edge tattoo artists in the world," the 256-page hardcover is filled with imagery that will inspire those beyond the drug & alcohol free community. [See sample pages below.]
In this video with Tattoo Artist Magazine, the LA Ink star says the "super-intensive" book is a project he's worked the hardest on in recent years, and represents his friends and something he cares a lot about. A list of artists featured and news on "With the Light of Truth" can be found on Facebook here.
The book is released by Memento Publishing and available for purchase via Dan's online store or at the book signing at Sacred Gallery. Complimentary Shirley Temple drinks will also be served.
For those on the West Coast, there will also be a book signing on December 10th in LA at Kat Von D's Wonderland Gallery.
You can find more on Dan and his tattoo work at DanSmithTattoos.com. And to hear his music, head to Thedearanddeparted.com.
Art by Grez of Kings Ave.
Art by Steve Byrne.
Custom machines by tattoo & graffiti artist NORM of Will Rise Studio in LA are featured on Designboom today. The post includes a video of Norm discussing how he came to tattoo and his interest in building machines, from a "hunk of shit metal, ugly thing" to a tool that makes art. And you'll find more photos including those of his tattoo work and shop.
Thanks to Nick Schonberger for the link.
Professional photography in this post by Lee Corkett of Weathervane Images.
I am grateful to have talked with Roni Zulu, the prolific Los Angeles tattoo artist and owner of Zulu Tattoo. Zulu is a master of symbols and the meanings behind them. He started as a graphic designer and session musician until a yearning for more led him to the world of tattooing.
Zulu has tattooed many noteworthy people including Janet Jackson, Deborah Wilson, Mariah Carey, Queen Latifah, Bruce Willis, Montel Williams, Christina Aguilera, Alanis Morissette, Ben Vereen, Rosie O'Donnell, David Duchovny and Lisa Bonet to name a few.
We talked about how he got his start in tattoo, racism, spirituality, and how the art can evolve.
How did you transition from being a graphic designer and musician to tattoo artist?
Well, the transition from being a graphic designer to a tattooist wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. I didn't know I would be venturing into a field that was primarily dominated by a prejudiced group of people: the underworld of tattooing was dominated and controlled by biker factions, skinheads and a lot of white supremacists groups. Upon entering into this world and seeking an apprenticeship, I couldn't get one. I was turned away, at times, laughed at as I walked out the door with racial slurs escorting me out.
So I realized that the only way I was going to learn was to teach myself. What I would do is go to conventions with a video camera and stand across the room and film people tattooing and in essence create my own instructional videos. Then I would go to the butcher market and buy pigs ears, a big flat piece of meat you can practice on, similar to human flesh. That was the only way I could break in because I could not get an apprenticeship.
When did you start tattooing?
I would say approximately 17 years ago.
Tell me about opening your own tattoo shop.
I assumed, well if I can't get an apprenticeship, I'm sure that I'm not going to be able to get a station in one of these shops. I went into many of them and saw that they were not the kind of places that I would want to be associated with. The one's that would have me weren't very reputable, and I decided I'm going to have to create my own world.
I opened my own shop after tattooing in my home. I started out tattooing friends and they would tell friends and it got to a point where I had to open a shop because I couldn't run that many people through my house.
When you opened a shop, did you get any resistance from other tattoo shops?
I got a great deal of resistance. It would be common to get to work check the messages and have messages such as "Nigger, close down your shop or were going to bomb it," or "Close down your shop or were going to break your legs." I got these kind of threats daily. At one point a lot of bikers came by with baseball bats and told me I had 24 hours to shut down the shop.
I'm not an advocate of violence but also I'm not going to run, so from that point on, for the next year I went to work with a 357 magnum strapped to my chest, where everyone could see it. I would be sitting there tattooing with a gun strapped so they would know. Like most bullies, they were cowards when they find you're not going to run. At that point, it was like by any means necessarily.