Yesterday, the NY Times published a feature on legendary tattooer and fine artist Thom deVita entitled "For Restless Pioneer of Modern Tattoo Art, a Life Beyond Ink." As the title reflects, the focus is on how the 81-year-old deVita continues to make art -- from rubbings and stencils on wooden crates, cutting boards, old ledgers...
Chris Grosso described deVita's work as a "compulsion." Grosso is the producer of Vice's Tattoo Age, the wonderfully produced documentary series profiling artists in a way that honors the craft. One such profile was a five-part series on deVita (the first of which is embedded below). Here are our posts on all episodes: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.
Thom deVita began tattooing on NYC's Lower East Side in 1961, over 50 years ago, just as the city instituted its ban on the art form - a ban that was lifted in 1997. His approach to tattooing, even back then, was as a fine artist. The NY Times explains:
"He is one of the founders of modern tattooing," said Mr. Grosso, who befriended Mr. DeVita two years ago while filming a documentary about him. "It's not what you see on reality television, but something that only he and seven other people in the 1960s started, from purely a love for the art form. He wasn't from a sailor or biker background, where tattooing comes with the territory. They appreciated the great Japanese masters, the people from Samoa. Thom was at the forefront of that."Read more here.
As the article further notes, Grosso has set up a website to sell deVita's work. The work has a certain power to it, as if each piece carries with it decades of tattoo tradition. Grosso brings the proceeds from the sales to Newburgh in Upstate NY, where deVita has lived since leaving NYC in the nineties.
Yesterday the NY Times profiled Smith Street Tattoo and offered a beautiful slideshow on the shop. The essence of the feature is how tattoo collectors from around the world will travel to the Brooklyn parlour to get "New York Style tattoos," or as co-owner Bert Krak says, "tattoos that look like tattoos."
Here's a taste from the article:
Mr. Krak opened the shop in 2008 with another artist, Steve Boltz, 42. Mr. Santoro and Eli Quinters, 35, completed their team. The four men, who all are impressively inked themselves, work with a brotherly camaraderie. They chat above the constant hum of the tattoo guns they operate, which drone on like summer locusts. Smith Street Tattoo's international reputation might stem from its artists' frequent trips abroad. "We probably tattoo more Australians than Americans," Alex Kapsidelis, the shop's manager, said. "I booked an appointment for a guy from Singapore who flew here just to get tattooed." And what did he get? Mr. Kapsidelis, 24, looked to Mr. Santoro. "I don't remember," Mr. Santoro said. "Something cool."
Check more of their work at SmithStreetTattoo.com.
Every now and again there's a wave of articles on tattoos in the workplace, and here's how they all go: more people have tattoos so now there are more workers with tattoos who no longer want to cover them up. They cite the latest Harris Poll or Pew Research poll because statistics are sexy. And then they'll use words like "tats" or "inked up" simply to annoy me.
Oh, and then there are the comments from the masses! If you think tattoo discrimination no longer exists, read the comments section of any tattoo article around the world -- go ahead, I'll wait -- and see that there are multitudes of people with unblemished skin who are personally offended by yours. They say that don't want you serving them coffee or selling them panties. There's always some lower level manager who barks that he would never hire someone with tattoos, of course not knowing that his CEO probably has one. With the strong response to these articles -- which advertisers love because they can flash more products in your face while you're seething at Bob from Boise -- you'll find that the same reporting gets thrown out there.
Yesterday the NY Times published its own tattoos-at-work story. I expected it to be better than most, because it is the Times, but there were the usual cliches: "tattoos are no longer the sole province of gang members, garage mechanics ..." Ah mechanics! That's more clever than sailors and bikers. But the verbiage is almost always the same. Then the statistics follow. Then they call in the lawyers to comment on discrimination. Many times that's me, but our answers are usually all the same: Generally companies have a great deal of discretion in hiring and enforcing their workplace appearance policies as long as they don't discriminate on the basis of religion, sex, race, color, or national origin under Title VII of the US Civil Rights Act.
The take-away from the NY Times article is that those in conservative offices are more likely to cover up than those in more creative fields. No will will gasp in disbelief at that. What would have meatier is to do some research on the public perception of tattoos, now that so many more people are covered, now there we are inundated with reality shows, now that Kat Von D is a best selling author. And then see how those perceptions affect people's wallets.
Internet comment trolls aside, are people who don't like tattoos not going to go to a restaurant or not buying a Starbucks coffee because some employees may have them? Does their cash follow their opinions on the art? In a number of cases it may. The Starbucks in a small religious town may feel backlash but it's not going to happen in my hood in Brooklyn. Perhaps having managers of different regions decide the policy would be a better option than a company-wide ban.
I do think companies that have a legitimate right to want to protect their brand image should be able to do so within the bounds of the law, but they should do so within the bounds of common sense. I've used this example before, but I do think that if I wanted to hire just heavily tattooed badass attorneys, I should be allowed to. If I want to reach a tattoo collector and artist clientele, having just tattooed attorneys conveys that we have a personal understanding the issues. And that may be total bullshit. You don't need a tattoo to provide effective legal services to a tattoo studio, but creating brand trust -- just like all luxury brands do -- has a greater reach to your target market.
Bottom line: We need to fight discrimination. We need to do so by gathering information to prove that the stereotypes are wrong. But we also need to balance that with legitimate rights of people and companies to do business the way they want. There needs to be corporate responsibility but also personal responsibility for our decisions. There needs to be a balance.
Here are some past post on tattoos and discrimination on N+S:
Thanks to Bill of Tattoosday for the NY Times link!
Our good friend Viktor Koen -- fine artist, illustrator, professor and mensch -- sent me this photo of the tattoo above, which was designed by him as an illustration for the NY Times in 2010 and later tattooed by Errol of Inkstitution in Rotterdam on Ruud, a PhD candidate in the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. Obviously, Ruud has a professional interest in this art.
Viktor says on his Tumblr that he believes "butterfly-brain man" was one of his first illustrations to appear on the front page of the printed NY Times edition (on Tuesday June 29th, 2010). When Ruud saw the illustrations, he ripped them from the paper and took them to Errol. [The illustrations are placed on the back of Ruud's arms facing each other.] This June, after the last session, Ruud contacted Viktor to say that the artwork was now permanently displayed on his body. Viktor was happy.
I wanted to share this with y'all because I really liked how Ruud let Viktor know just how much his art was appreciated. Often when images are ripped from media, the original creators aren't made aware of how their work has been translated on skin. Of course, legally, it's better practice to get permission first from the artist for copyright purposes but I'll save the copyright talk for another time. I just thought this was cool on many levels.
I'm also digging many other works in Errol's portfolio. Check them on Facebook and the Inkstitution site.
Dr. Lakra photo by Chad Batka for The New York Times
Yesterday, the New York Times profiled Dr. Lakra and his first solo show in NYC. The article is accompanied by a great photo gallery of his work. The exhibit is currently on view at The Drawing Center at 3 Wooster Street in Manhattan and runs until April 23rd.
The Mexico City tattooist, born Jeronimo Lopez Ramirez, got the name Dr. Lakra because he used to carry around his homemade tattoo machine in a doctor's bag, as the NY Times notes, and "lacra" is slang for a mark on skin and "scum of the earth." In 1993, he moved to Oakland, CA and soon met Ed Hardy who helped him evolve from scratcher to, well, an artist who's having his solo show profiled in the NY Times. Here's more from the article:
Mr. Hardy, impressed by Dr. Lakra's drawings, traded him professional tattoo equipment for a painting and took the younger artist under his wing. 'I couldn't do a proper apprenticeship because I was working,' Dr. Lakra said, referring to his job as a dishwasher. 'He let me be in the shop just watching. I became friends with all the other workers, and I got many, many tattoos.'Eventually, Dr. Lakra went back to Mexico City and got hooked up with the Kurimanzutto gallery, which encouraged him to do large scale work beyond his tattoo-styled drawings on vintage magazines and found objects. This show at The Drawing Center features large scale wall drawings as well as paintings he created during the 10-day installation of the show.
Check the article for more on Dr. Lakra, and the The Drawing Center's site for an online peak at the show.
Many essayists use tattoos as metaphors, often in cringe-worthy cliches. But I love this one from Shonna Milliken Humphrey in The NY Times today called "When a Former Life Beckons." The author who is my age, 37, looks back on her first tattoo and who she was then compared to the woman she is now as her tattoo is reworked and revitalized. Here's a taste:
Instead of walking unsteadily along a dimly lighted Savannah side street, I found the tattoo parlor door in the bright afternoon outside a familiar area of my Portland, Me., home. The tattoo artist, a woman named Danielle, wore a Bettie Page hairstyle and carried a vintage leopard print bag, and I knew immediately that I'd like her.
Get a hardcopy of the article in this Sunday's The NY Times.