Portrait of Isobel Varley by Antonio Florez.
Yesterday, the wonderful Isobel Varley passed away at the age of 78, leaving behind a universe of fans. Isobel inspired, entertained, shocked and awed. You could fall in love with her just hearing her bawdy laugh.
Isobel is widely known as the world record holder for Most Tattooed Female Senior Citizen, but to me, she will always be a beacon of badassery -- the one I will continue to point to when people ask me that ridiculous question: What will you look like with all those tattoos when you're older? I want to look like Isobel. I don't necessarily mean having the same look aesthetically, although she had some beautiful tattoos by some of the best artists; I mean that I want to have that look in my eyes that I just enjoyed doing something bad, like getting some younger people to take off their clothes and show me their tattoos while I show them mine.
Isobel did that to me over ten years ago, maybe almost 15. I was at one of the smaller European tattoo conventions at the time, I can't recall which one now, when I saw her hanging out in the lounge area. Actually, I probably heard her first. Like Isobel, I also have one of those loud "particular" laughs, so there was immediate kinship there. We were introduced by a mutual friend, and almost immediately afterward, she was giving me a tour of her body, pointing out some of her favorite tattoos, especially the erotic ones. I'll never forget seeing her masturbating frog ejaculating tadpoles tattoo. Yup. You could also tell that she had a lot of fun showing off her numerous genital piercings. But she wasn't just sexy, she was sweet and lovely. And she had amazing stories.
Her story of how she came to tattoos is interesting because she did so later in her life, around her late 40s. Guinness World Records wrote on Isobel's passing today and what sparked her tattoo love:
"A visit to a tattoo convention at London's Hammersmith Palais in 1986 saw her go under the needle for the first time, kicking off an obsession which saw her have an incredible 200 pieces of body art inked over a ten-year period. During that time Isobel estimated she spent over 500 hours having her body decorated."Guinness also notes that, at last tally in 2009, Isobel had 93% of her body covered in tattoos. Here's a clip of her below when she appeared on UK TV show Guinness World Records in 1999 when she had 72% of her body covered.
As a media darling and muse, Isobel was painted, filmed, and photographed by numerous artists. One of my favorite portraits of her is shown above, taken by Antonio Florez in Berlin in 2008, when she began to tattoo her head. [I also love this photo of Isobel and Antonio together, which Antonio just posted to Facebook.]
On Isobel's official Facebook page, her family has invited everyone to share their experiences and photographs with her on her page as a tribute. There you can see what a dynamo she was and how many smiles she inspired.
The tattoo community recently lost another legend: Roger Ingerton.
While it's always sad to write these posts, they are important to honor the men and women who shaped our industry. I learned of Roger's passing from tattooer, anthropologist and author of numerous books on Polynesian tattooing, Tricia Allen. In a memorial post on her Facebook pages, Tricia captures Roger's tattoo legacy:
Roger incorporated Polynesian legend and myth, blending it with traditional (and sometimes contemporary) motifs to create the most impressive Maori/Polynesian-inspired art decades ago, well before the revival got started. In fact, Roger truly kick-started the Maori tattoo renaissance doing moko kauae [chin tattoo] on Maori women back in the 1980s and creating these spectacular renditions of Maori legend. Besides being so creative, he was kind-hearted.Roger's work (and kind personality) are featured in this 2007 video profile we did for my old Needled.com site (embedded above). In it, Roger discusses his beginnings in tattooing, from learning to hand-poke at age 16, to the great influences in his life, such as tattoo master Paulo Sulu'ape, who is honored for his work in the traditional Samoan tattoo revival. You can read more about Roger's journey, in his own words, on this Yellowman blog post.
Roger's own adaptation of traditional Maori patterns was innovative and inspiring, and tributes across social media attest to how open and giving he was in sharing his art and knowledge. He will be missed.
Portrait of Bob Baxter by Bob Tyrrell.
I'm saddened to write about the passing of one of our community's strongest proponents, Bob Baxter.
[UPDATE: Bob's wife and business partner Mary Gardner has written post where people can leave remembrances ("raucous or reverent") of encounters shared with Bob.]
Bob left a legacy of tattoo scholarship. As Editor of Skin & Ink magazine for over 14 years, he educated artists and collectors on tattoo cultures across the globe, particularly revivals of indigenous tattooing, from Samoa to the Philippines. He was a savvy interviewer, eliciting juicy tidbits from normally tight-lipped tattooers. And he brought in many writers with particular expertise to share their knowledge and experience. [Bob featured my very first column on legal issues in the tattoo community in the magazine over ten years ago.] The most controversial part of the magazine was his editorials -- some of which I disagreed. But no matter how opinionated -- and he ruffled feathers -- his writing was thoughtful and reasoned. Under Bob's guidance, Skin & Ink was respected beyond our industry and even won a Folio Magazine Editorial Excellence Award.
When Bob left Skin & Ink, he started his own publication online, Tattoo Road Trip, which is also the name of his series of publications, including the most recent titles (written with his wife Mary Gardner), Tattoo Road Trip: Best of the Southwest: Arizona & New Mexico (2014), and Tattoo Road Trip: The Best of Oregon (2013). His Tattoo Road Trip Two Weeks in Samoa, published in 2002, remains my favorite. The site also includes a dynamic blog of his own personal stories as well as those of other contributors.
Bob also shared his writing on The Vanishing Tattoo site -- the most popular feature being 101 Most Influential People in Tattooing. That list riled a lot of people up, but in the process, led to some wonderful discussions.
If you're going to read just one essay of Bob's, I suggest you click Tattoo Chronicles: A Life in Ink (Episode 1). Here's a taste:
My first tattoo was also a mistake. An accident. I was in the fourth grade at San Mateo Park School, back when Eisenhower was president. Back before the current tattoo phenomenon. Back before I knew anything about tattooing. Back before I knew who Lyle Tuttle was. Or cared.I looked to see if there's a crescent moon tonight. There isn't. But when I see the next one, I'll think about Bob -- about him being an advocate, educator, mentor, and troublemaker. He will be missed.
The NYC tattoo community -- rather, the worldwide tattoo community -- has lost a true gem with the recent passing of Mike Bakaty of Fineline Tattoo, the longest continually running tattoo shop in Manhattan since 1976.
I learned of Mike's passing through his friend Dana Brunson, who also pointed out a touching tribute by former Skin & Ink editor Bob Baxter. Bob encouraged Mike to write a column for Skin & Ink called "Bakaty's World," which showed the world what an amazing storyteller Mike was as well as an artist. In Bob's memorial post, he published one of Mike's stories. Here's an excerpt:
Back around the time that it dawned on me that I could draw better than what I was doing off of the few sheets of commercial flash I had, I was tattooing a number of young guys from the Lower East Side, aspiring bent-nosed types, you know what I mean? Whenever they got work, you'd be paid in single dollar bills. If you did an eighty-buck piece, you got eighty singles. The one time I asked about it, the response was, "You do dollar action, you get dollar bills."
Read more on Baxter's Tattoo Blog.
I'm lucky to have had to pleasure of meeting Mike. Back in my old Needled.com days, Mike and his son Mehai were the first artists featured in our tattooist video profiles (published in 2007), which I've embedded below. In the video, Mike talks about tattooing underground during NYC's tattoo ban, which was lifted in 1997, and also how he came to tattooing as a fine artist ("You didn't have to kiss dealers' asses to get an exhibition"). The video is a good way to spend 4:54 minutes.
Mike left his mark, and he will be fondly remembered by so many.
Another tattoo legend has passed: Huck Spaulding, whom many know -- not just for his tattoos -- but for having one of the first international tattoo supply companies, Spaulding & Rogers, which still going strong today. Huck also published what many deem the "tattoo bible," Tattooing A to Z: A Guide to Successful Tattooing.
Early this morning, this message appeared on the Facebook page of the Tom Spaulding Tattoo Studio:
We are all deeply saddened to let you know of the death of Tom's dad, Huck Spaulding. He was a pioneer in the tattoo industry. His innovations brought tattooing out of the back alleys, and into mainstream America, as well as around the world. He was the first worldwide distributor of quality tattoo equipment. He was at the forefront of tattoo safety, with disposable needles and autoclavable machine parts. He was a big man who lived a big life. He was a trapper, a stock car racer, a big game hunter, and a classic car enthusiast. He was a husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather. He was so proud of his wonderful family. He will be sorely missed by his family and friends.RIP Huck.
Portrait tattoo of Billy Eason by Phillip Spearman.
The tattoo community has lost another one of its original badasses. Billy Eason, owner of Capital Tattoo and B.I.R.D. Productions, who put on the Richmond Tattoo Arts Festival in Virginia, just passed away. He was 72 years old. This past weekend, at the 18th annual Richmond show, Billy's tattoo family got to see him one last time. He was loved by many and even immortalized in this portrait tattoo above by Phillip Spearman. You can read tributes to Billy and see photos on his Facebook page.
I just learned that a gem of the tattoo world, Herbert Hoffman, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 91. You can easily tell from the photo above (at the 2006 Milan Tattoo Convention) that Herbert was a warm, sweet man who was generally excited to meet people who shared his love of tattoo. In fact, he's been described as a "friendship collector."
On my bucket list was to travel to Switzerland to have him tattoo me with his iconic anchor design and signature. I regret I missed that chance.
Often, when I've mentioned a tattoo book that I love here, I say it is "one of my favorites." Herbert's Living Picture Books: Portraits of a Tattooing Passion 1878-1952 is the favorite. The book is a collection of photos and "the family stories" behind them of tattooed people--400 in total--born between 1878 and 1952. For thirty years, Herbert traveled around taking portraits of his favorite subject with his Rolleiflex camera. This collection of images is beautifully presented in a large format hardcover published by Memoria Pulp. While their site says the book is sold out, you can find it online at Book Mistress and on Amazon. You can also purchase his book of flash via Amazon.com as well.
To view photos from Herbert (and of Herbert) from 1955 on, check his online photo album.
Memoria Pulp also did a documentary featuring Herbert, as well as Albert Cornelisse and Karlmann Richter, called Flammend Herz or Blue Skin in 2004. It's a truly moving film about the passion these men had for tattooing and what they gave for it. It also delves into the complex relationship that they had with one another, a relationship that began when they met at Herbert's tattoo shop in Hamburg, "the oldest tattoo parlor in Germany." Eventually, that relationship soured when Herbert gave the shop to his cousin and not the others. The film brought them back together after all that time. Read more about this beautiful documentary on IMDB (particularly the reviews). The film is also available on Amazon.com.
For more on Herbert, including links to interviews and photos, go to his Facebook Fan Page.
I will miss Herbert dearly.
I'm saddened to learn that one of Old Guard of the tattoo world, Crazy Ace Daniels, died this Monday, March 8th, from natural causes. He would have been 59 years old on April 30th.
Ace described himself on his Facebook page as the "janitor" of Way Cool Tattoos in Woodstock, Ontario, adding "I mop the floors, clean the toilets and once in a while they let me do a tattoo!" It was his sense of humor and love for the art and history of tattooing that endeared him to so many in the community, even those like myself who never met him in person.
For just how much he was loved, read the stories on the FB memorial page dedicated to him.
I only spoke with Ace online. He was generous to school me in tattoo anthropology and lead me to information on his wonderful tattoo archive Bod-Mod.com, the online incarnation of his "World's Strangest Museum," which housed over a thousand artifacts and art surrounding all types of body modification, from tattooing to scarification to corsetting. [The museum closed in 2003 and re-opened as A.C.E.S. Place in 2003.]
Here's a time line of his life, from his first tattoo at 13 to opening Way Cool Tattoos in Woodstock on October 1, 2006. Also read a fun recent interview with Ace where he talks about his artifact collection, the best weed in the world, and GWAR.
This Saturday, March 13th, a celebration of Ace's life will take place at Way Cool's Woodstock studio from 2-4 PM. Then on Sunday, there will be a wake, or rather a goodbye party, in Toronto at the Cadillac Lounge starting at 7 PM.
For more information on these memorials, click here and here.