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.
Considering just how many tattoo books have been recently published, it's interesting to see how much media attention has been focused on Pen & Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them -- a collection of illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton depicting people's tattoos along with the stories behind them. MacNaughton and editor Isaac Fitzgerald, who based the book on their Tumblr (of the same name), highlight the tattoo stories of rock stars as well as "ordinary people" in an "exploration of the decision to scar one's self with a symbol and a story."
Overall, the book's reception (from outside of the tattoo industry press) has been favorable. For one, Maria Popova had quite a positive review of the book on her Brain Pickings blog (of which I'm a huge fan). In her review, which offers extensive excerpts and illustrations from the book, Popova writes:
From a librarian's Sendak-like depiction of a Norwegian folktale her grandfather used to tell her, to a writer who gets a tattoo for each novel he writes, to a journalist who immortalized the first tenet of the Karen revolution for Burma's independence, the stories -- sometimes poetic, sometimes political, always deeply personal -- brim with the uncontainable, layered humanity that is MacNaughton's true medium.These stories are not necessarily well received by all. As Margot Mifflin writes in her review in SF Gate, she found Pen & Ink to be "a slight and parochial collection of anecdotes that reinforces some awfully weary tattoo cliches." She explains:
One [anecdote], occupying an entire page, written by someone who wears the words "pizza party" across her toes, says only, "I really f-- love pizza." Most of the other contributors muster a paragraph or two, saying in print what you can hear on any tattoo reality show, if you must: backstories for memorial tattoos, pet tattoos, relationship tattoos and "reminder" tattoos -- those permanent Post-its bearing personalized platitudes.Those of us in the tattoo community like to say -- especially in light of the endless reality shows -- that not every tattoo has a story. We can get a tattoo simply because we like it, and the design itself need not be imbued with grave significance and meaning. But really, every tattoo does have a story in some way -- the story of the experience of getting tattooed. And a key component to that experience is the artist. That seems to get lost in Pen & Ink. As Margot notes, "[...] respected tattooists [are] consigned to the back pages of this collection as footnotes to bar tales, some of whom are not even identified by name, but instead by "parlor.'"
As a lawyer, I was naturally intrigued over whether the tattooists ever gave permission to have their tattoos reproduced as illustrations. As I have written about endlessly regarding tattoo copyright, tattooers generally hold the copyright to their designs, or at least share them with the client, unless those rights are otherwise transferred, licensed or assigned. I wonder if the tattooers were ever even contacted to give permission to have their artwork reproduced. [In general, the copy need not be exact, and creators could retain their rights even if their work is translated in other forms.] I'll leave an extensive legal discussion out of this post, but only wanted to mention it in the context of how this book falls short by not giving the proper credit and respect to the very reason why the book exists -- that there were tattoo artists behind every story.
Nothing in this post should be relied upon as legal advice. Obviously.
In November, we posted on Manami Okazaki's Wall Street Journal article entitled Japanese Tattoos: From Yakuza to Artisans, Aesthetes, in which she explored how traditional Japanese bodysuit tattoos -- wabori -- were losing favor among Japan's criminal underworld, the Yakuza, and gaining popularity among young people who are interested in them on an artistic level. You can read Manami's full WSJ article here.Horikazu, photo by Michael Rubenstein.
The article, however, was just a peak into the tradition, artistry, mythology, and magic of Japanese tattooing. For a more in-depth exploration of the art and culture, Manami has published, through Kingyo Books, "Wabori, Traditional Japanese Tattoo" -- a gorgeous 256-page coffee table book, that is not only beautiful to look at, but also provides insightful context in which to view the works. That context is an extensive and exceptional collection of oral histories and interviews with Japanese tattoo artists, compiled in English over a 6-year period.
As noted in the foreword, the goal of these oral histories was not only to showcase the artwork, but also offer the reader a glimpse into the psychology of the artists as well as their personalities. Manami achieves this goal in her discussions with masters who include Horiyoshi III, Horihide, Horitoku, Tokai Horihiro, Horiyasu, Horimitsu, Horinami, Horicho II, Nakamura, Horitoshi, Horihisa, Horihito, Horimasa, Horikazuwaka, Horitsuna, and Horiren. Manami also interviewed Motoharu Asaka, master artisan of woodblock prints, and Shoko Tendo, author of Yakuza Moon, a memoir on life as the daughter of a Yakuza boss.
Horihito, photo by Irwin Wong.
The oral histories are particularly engaging as they paint very vivid pictures of the artists' experiences in this underground art. For example, in his interview, Horiyoshi III muses on first time he saw a tattoo, as a child, at a public bath. He also talks about the meanings and rules in tattooing, working with the Yakuza, and how it was luck that brought him his 10-year apprenticeship under Horiyoshi I. He says, "90 percent of life is timing and luck, and people with bad timing and bad luck are basically fucked." Accompanying that Q & A are wonderful photos of Horiyoshi I, II and III, as well as Horiyoshi III's work from the seventies through today.
For stories harkening to the early relationships formed between Japanese and American tattooers, Horihide's interview is a must-read. Horihide shares stories on how he was "astonished" when he first witnessed tattoos with color on American servicemen in Japan; he learned that they had been tattooed by Sailor Jerry, and so he began corresponding with Jerry in English for 4 years. They later met, exchanging American color inks for Japanese tattoo motifs. There's also a great photo of Horihide tattooing Sailor Jerry in Hawaii.
Moreover, Manami does an excellent job of offering a history lesson on Japanese tattooing in her introduction. She also highlights stunning images, from various photographers, of the Matsuri festivals -- one of the rare occasions when people with traditional Japanese tattoos can be seen in their full glory.
In all, Wabori is a wonderfully curated collection of art and stories, offering unique insight into traditional Japanese tattooing and also inspiration for further masterful works.
You can purchase Wabori on the Kingyo website as well as Amazon.com.
Horimitsu, photo by Irwin Wong.
Dedicating his life to Japanese tattooing and educating others on the art, Kazuaki "Horitomo" Kitamura -- resident artist at State of Grace in San Jose -- not only keeps the tebori hand tattoo traditions alive but also the rich history of the art and the meanings behind its iconic motifs.
In "Immovable: Fudo Myo-o Tattoo Design By Horitomo," he shares this knowledge in a beautifully illustrated 9" by 13" softcover art book. Fudo Myo-o (also known as Acala, which translates into "immovable") is one of the Five Wisdom Kings in Buddhism. His role is to fight ignorance and delusions, and lead people to self-discipline and peace. He is shown sitting on a pedestal, surrounded by flames (among other representative elements), but of course there are many artistic ways to embody this Esoteric Buddhist icon. In these pages, Horitomo presents various interpretations of Fudo Myo-o, often with information on that particular composition.
What I particularly enjoy about this book is how he breaks down the elements of many of his drawings; for example, he highlights the different manifestations of weapons, hairstyles and garments. He even devotes pages to close-ups of postures. It's an excellent study for artists, but also a great resource for anyone fascinated by Buddhist art and stories.
"Immovable" is available at State of Grace Publishing for $120 (US orders) and $150 (outside US).
If you'd like to learn about Fudo Myo-o drawing and design from Horitomo himself, he'll be giving a seminar with Horitaka on July 29th at 10am at the Kings Avenue NYC location (188 Bowery 2nd floor at the corner of Spring St). The cost of the seminar is $200 ($220 by PayPal). Space is limited. More info on the Kings Ave blog.
I also recommend checking out Horitomo's spectacular portfolio, which includes the tattoos shown below.
Last Friday, we announced yet another giveaway for -- not one but two -- lucky readers thanks to Prestle Publishing and Dr. Matt Lodder.
Prestle offered a copy of the wonderful "London Tattoos" book by Alex MacNaughton to a winner in the US, and then Matt jumped in and offered a copy to a winner in the UK. [Matt wrote the foreword to the book.] Read our review of "London Tattoos" here.
The winners were picked by Randomized.com from those who posted in our Needles & Sins Syndicate Group on Facebook or who Tweeted at me.
And they are: Nicki Hoffman and Claire Woodworth. Congrats!
Many thanks to those who played along. The book is a gem to gift to family and friends and even treat yourself. You can purchase the 304-page paperback from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com in the US.
More contests and gift guide picks to come!
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).
This week I received a copy of Homeward Bound: The Life and Times of Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry and devoured it instantly. This limited edition hardcover is 128 pages filled with rare photos of the tattoo legend and his work, as well as images of turn-of-the-century newspaper clippings, vintage flash sheets, circus sideshow promos, snapshots of WWII sailors on shore leave and "hula girls," and so much more. It is quite rightfully described as using "the life of Sailor Jerry as the conduit to deliver a visual ethnography of American tattooing."
Beyond the images, what makes this book noteworthy are the essays on his Sailor Jerry's life and the historical information on tattooing in America that precedes it. Tons of fascinating facts and stats can be found right at the beginning, including bios on the first notable tattooers in the US, a glossary of sailor tattoos, and the general income of brothels that surrounded tattoo parlors in Hawaii where servicemen shipped off and returned home. ["Honolulu brothels took in $10 million during the war."] Then there are tattoo tidbits on the man himself, like the story behind the iconic Aloha Monkey design, and how Sailor Jerry got his name:
Although born Norman Keith Collins on January 14, 1911, his father nicknamed him him "Jerry" after the family's unruly mule. The nickname and the stubborness stuck.As we noted in January, this year Sailor Jerry would've turned 100 years old. Perfect timing for this tribute. The book is a companion to the Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry film written and directed by Eric Weiss, who is also the creative director and a contributor to the book. Other contributors are Jason Buhrmester, David Farber, Beth Bailey, & Nick Schonberger.
Homeward Bound can be purchased for $75 on the SJ online store. For a better look inside the book, check the video below.
I was once told by a Maori artist, who wore and tattooed his ancestral Ta Moko designs, that you're not really tattooed unless you have a badass skull on you. [His was an 80s metal version.] Skull imagery hold a sort of power, a reminder of our mortality that can evoke fear or defiance (a la 80s metal skulls). Its artistic interpretations are vast, particularly in our tattoo community. Paying homage to memento mori is Cranial Visions: Exploring The Skull Through Artistic Interpretation.
This 240-page hardcover, released by Memento Publishing, is the brainchild (sorry) of Mike DeVries and Jeff Johnson and edited by the wonderful Jinxi Caddel. Here's what Jinxi says of the project:
Cranial Visions honors the skull through artistic interpretations and many different mediums, including: tattoos, paintings, sketches and drawings, mixed media, digital art, graffiti, photography, and "skullptures." Each chapter is dripping with inspirational images created by masters of their crafts. Over 800 diverse, bold, and creative images of skull-related artwork. An outstanding book for reference if you are a tattoo artist, as it features angles and ideas from all sorts of perspectives.You can purchase the book on Mike's online store for $69.99. I highly recommend it.
Cranial Visions: painting by Shawn Barber
Cranial Visions: tattoos by Daniel DiMattia
See more samples from the book on Jinxi's blog.
I'll begin simply by saying that These Old Blue Arms: The Life & Work of Amund Dietzel is a bookshelf mandate for lovers of tattoo art and culture. Written by Jon Reiter of Solid State Tattoo in Milwaukee, it not only captures a legend but the richness of tattoo Americana.
Last month, Patrick posted a preview of the book, and over vacation, I made it my essential reading -- although not beach reading as I didn't want to risk damaging the 200-page hardcover. While I devoured the entire book in just a few hours, its resonance is long lasting. It is in one volume a book of history, artistic reference, and tattoo lore as well as a meticulously researched biography.
As Fred Stonehouse says in the Foreword, Jon Reiter has made it his mission to "clarify much of the shadowy information" surrounding Dietzel. Reiter cites the Norwegian National Archives to early US newspapers to direct quotes from Dietzel's grandson to paint a picture of a man deemed "one of the last true gentleman tattooers."
The book begins with a short introduction to Dietzel's family life, illustrated by photos from the late 1800s and beyond. We learn that he went to sea at the age of 14 and got his first tattoo--an anchor on his hand--when he docked in Southern Wales in 1907. It was aboard the Augusta later that year when he started his 60+year tattoo career with "six needles bound with cotton and set in a block of wood."
More than tattoo facts, the book tells stories of alleged ship wrecks, war time tattoo culture, and carny life--where Dietzel spent a good portion of his career tattooing and as a "Tattooed Man" sideshow performer. It also shows Dietzel as an artist constantly seeking to refine his craft, noting that he took art classes at Yale and elsewhere at various times in his life. His artistry is ever-present in the hand-painted flash spreads--these pages alone are worth buying the book. [Reiter also gives some background on the root of the word flash, which is fantastic.]
A cast of other characters populate the book like William Grimshaw, Thomas Riley, Cliff Raven, Phil Sparrow, Gib "Tatts" Thomas, and Kenneth "Shaky Jake" Jacobs--a villain who tries to put others out of business through badmouthing and even setting up crooked cops outside of competitors' shops to steer away would-be clients. These great stories never detract from Dietzel's work, which attracted tattoo collectors from all over the world to his Milwaukee studios even before tattoo magazines, the Internet and general acceptance of the art, as Reiter notes.
Dietzel retired in 1967 when Milwaukee banned tattooing. He and Tatts, at the ages of 75 and 65, put up a fight at City Council meetings, but they were largely alone in doing so. In 1974, Dietzel died of leukemia, three weeks before his 83rd birthday. His life is illuminated and honored in this excellent book.
You can order it here for $50 plus shipping.
A second installment is in the works and I'll have more on that as it progresses.
I'm sitting here with the new tattoo book by the publishers of the UK's Skin Deep mag, written and edited by the fabulous Alex Guest. The Tattoo Bible is 164 pages of everything you always wanted to know about
Here's my problem with it:
We're in it, and they say nice stuff about us. And so even if I give The Tattoo Bible a fair shake, it'll still bring all the haters to the yard with statements like "Oh, well the book highlights Black Tattoo Art and Needles & Sins, so of course she has to say something nice in that big tattoo circle gerkin." Or something to that effect.
So, instead of the glowing review I just deleted, I'm going to offer the book basics, have you decide for yourselves, and hope that Alex Guest won't regret ever mentioning my cursed name in his first tattoo testament.
* First note, The Tattoo Bible is described as a "bookazine," that is, a book/magazine hybrid that is perfect bound on thick paper with a glossy softcover but with lower production costs than a traditional book, and so they are more affordable.
* The layout is also slick like a magazine so those of us with attention deficit disorder won't miss juicy quotes from tattoo legends like this one from Lyle Tuttle:
"Each of the six major religions of the world have some type of prohibition against tattooing--that just tells you that tattoos are really hot sh*t!"
* An extra bonus for the ADD set is that information--from Otzi the Iceman to needle configuration to fine art techniques--is clear and concise; thus, you learn a lot in a short time and can immediately impress your friends on facebook without a lot of study.
* The Tattoo Conventions chapter is the best money-saving primer on how to choose which shows to attend and which to avoid giving your entrance fee to.
* The Tattoo Removal chapter not only provides important practical info but also features some brilliant tattoo transformations.
* Oh, and the PainOmeter graphic rocks!
... Yup, this is spiraling into a review.
For a better idea from a neutral source, read TattoosdayUK's review and interview with Alex.
You can purchase The Tattoo Bible online for 9.99BP at Amazon UK or directly from Jazz Publishing.
In December, we wrote about the release and exhibition of Tatted: A Documentation of Self Expression the Most Permanent Ways. Father Panik got the book and offers his thoughts.
Guest review by Father Panik:
I'm here to tell you what the problem with tattoos is. It's OK, I don't mind.
Too much damn thinking. That's the problem with tattoos today.
Like when you watch those tattoo reality shows. All the tattoos start with the artist asking "So what does this tattoo mean?" which is bullshit in the first place because those guys really don't give a shit what your tattoos mean. They're not therapists or dream interpreters or whatever. Besides, all we ever hear are tales of woe. It's like there's a country song behind every tattoo. In order to get a tattoo today you need to have some deep story to back it up. It gets all wrapped up in convoluted symbols, fancy script and general all around jerking off.
We need to stop forcing ourselves to be deep thinkers. That's how you end up with NBA quality or minor Hollywood celeb tattoos. Garbled deep/stoopid quotations that don't make no sense. People are working too damn hard to squeeze something out of the sphincter between the ears.
Now take Philly. Philly is a good tattoo town. Your average tattoo fan in Philly knows we're all kind of thick skulled. They take pride in it. Philly is to tattoos what Papst is to beer. Trailer park porn stars.
Tatted, published by Grit City Inc, gets it. Photographed by Marlanne Bernstein in Philadelphia, it's a large coffee table-style book filled with fantastic, deceptively simple photos of tattooed locals. A small, hand written, one-page note where they write about their tattoo, accompanies each photo of a person and their tattoo. Not a lot of room for over-analysis or deep thinking. We get lots of spontaneous wise-assness, accidental ballpoint haikus, misspellings and attitude.
You get the feeling those being photographed kind of resented being given homework. What you have are average people with average tattoos and it's beautiful. A rare honesty is conveyed through the photos and notes. The cover blurb says, "Stunning photographs and simple hand written notes." That's pretty much it.
The first 30 pages or so are filled with interviews with tattoo artists and writers. I don't know, I just sort of skimmed through that part. Like I said: Too much thinking.
I like to look at pictures.
You can purchase Tatted for $20 from Grit City here.
Brian and I were supposed to be back in Brooklyn today, blogging our hearts away after a refreshing sojourn to San Juan, but because of the beautiful NY weather, our flight has been cancelled and we're "stuck" in Puerto Rico. Oh no!
While I was taking an internet break (I had to get back online to stop the nervous twitching), the powers that be at BoingBoing reviewed my book Black Tattoo Art. Xeni gave it a gracious review and I'm thankful. She asked that I send her more "techy" photos from the book, and I sent her many from the Art Brut chapter, which she loved.
The commenters were less generous than Xeni, however, (except the one person who actually owns the book) and offered insight like "I do believe tattoo overdose is this decade's mullet" or comments (a lot of them) on whether a butt tattoo was of Starsky and Hutch.
Rather than play with the trolls there, I'll simply answer 'em here before I go back to the pool:
* The book is covers everything from traditional tribal (e.g., Maori and Filipino tattooing) to Zuluetta's Neo-Tribal to Dotwork as well as the "techy" tattoos of Art Brut. You can see more photos here.
* I am not independently wealthy nor a construction worker. I am a lawyer who has worked on Wall Street and international firms in Europe. I just didn't go to work in a bikini.
* Every page has the artist credit so you know right away who did the tattoo. Their contact info is in the back of the book.
* You CAN get a tattoo simply because you think it's cool.
* As for the Starsky & Hutch(??) butt tattoo, well, I'll let you have some fun with that in our own comments section.
Ok, off to bathe in SPF50. Hasta La Vista!