This weekend, our friend Dr. Matt Lodder, an art historian with a particular expertise in tattoo art, posted to Facebook his recent find: A side-by-side comparison of a painting by J. Trivett Nettleship (c. 1900) and a tattoo of that painting by Alfred South (before 1903).
In his Facebook post, Matt notes that the foregoing, among other examples, could be regarded as a sort of "proto-flash." He explains that there is evidence that tattooers had in their studios pattern books and print collections, which were not what we would consider flash, however, he says, "I think it makes sense to think about this as a genealogical precursor (especially as some of these paintings and prints were reference for actual flash...)."
Matt also writes that South's tattoo was "not the most complex find ever as the tattooer had the foresight to admit the rip, but still a fun comparison I think," adding, "Also shows South was no MacDonald in terms of tattoo ability." Matt is referring to Sutherland MacDonald, on whom he will be giving a lecture entitled "Sutherland MacDonald: The First Tattoo Artist," on January 29th at Cock a Snook Tattoo in Newcastle, UK. In that talk, Matt will delve "into the birth of English tattooing as an artistic profession in the 1880s," discussing the life and work of MacDonald and even show never-before-seen images of MacDonald's work. For tickets to that lecture (which are limited), email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm also anxiously awaiting the tattoo flash collection hardcover, to be published by Edition Reuss, that will feature artwork from the world's very best tattooers and Matt's introduction, which will go into further detail on these types of tattoo art history finds. I'll let y'all know when it is released.
I came across this wonderful "Tattoo Soldiers" video, via Lal Hardy, in which three heavily tattooed Australian soldiers discuss some of the stories behind their tattoos ... or as the voiceover says, it's a "talk on titivating the torso." The video title reflects that the film was taken in 1942, and it's interesting how the discussions of one's tattoos -- and the excitement so often behind such talks -- hasn't really changed much.
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.
Over the weekend, Dr. Matt Lodder sent us this link to the Jezebel Post "World War II's Badass Female Tattoo Artist" -- a look at the UK's tattoo godmother Jessie Knight.
Jessie is considered the first professional British female tattooist, whose career spanned from the 1920s through the '60s. The Tattoo News offers some info on her start:
You can read more and find addition photos on the Tattoo News forum thread on Jessie as well as on Jezebel. Also check the video below (which we also posted last April), showing her in action.
Photo from Amelia Klem Osterud's "The Tattooed Lady: A History"
Inspired by the Ladies, Ladies Art Show, today's holiday gift guide post features books that celebrate tattooed ladies through history. These titles have all been mentioned here before but worth repeating for those who haven't scooped them up yet.
* The Tattooed Lady: A History by Amelia Klem Osterud is a beautiful hardcover that explores the lives of tattoo's godmothers, complete with fascinating narratives and photos dating back to the 1880s. We wrote about its release last November, and it still sits close to my desk for reference. For more info, check out Amelia's blog.
* Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo by Margot Mifflin remains a classic. From sideshow ladies to prominent female tattoo artists, the book looks at how tattoo culture has changed & the roles women have played in it. It features great stories and images as well. Margot's latest, The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman, is also an interesting read.
* The Tattooing Arts of Tribal Women by tattoo anthropologist Lars Krutak is a scholarly book on the role of women as tattooists in many indigenous cultures, with over 250 photos & illustrations. Lars has a new book out called Kalinga Tattoo, which is so gorgeous it warrants its own post. That's coming up.
* Madame Chinchilla's Electric Tattooing by Women 1900-2003 is a yearbook of women tattoo artists over a century. It's not a fancy book but it is a Who's Who of Tattoo up until 2003 with quotes from each artist.
* On the fiction front, check out Tattoo Artist: A Novel by Jill Ciment -- a story about a New York artist who is marooned in the South Pacific and eventually becomes a revered tattooist among the Tu'un'uu people at the turn of the century. It then flashes forward, 30 years later, when she returns as a heavily tattooed woman to New York. A fun read.
If you have your own favorites, feel free to share them in the comments.
The mother of all tattoo websites, The Vanishing Tattoo, which is one of the oldest and most comprehensive online resources on the art, has a new feature that I'm just loving:
Check out the Tattoo Theater, a collection of video interviews, like the one above, with tattoo legends talking about everything from getting your first tattoo to old time tales of tattooists working in meat lockers and plexiglass-protected spaces to keep the bullets away. It's a treasure trove of thrilling stories. More footage will be added to the Theater on a regular basis. Bookmark it!
"The tattooist is almost a fairy-tale figure, hovering in his gloomy, weirdly decorated and mysterious little shop like some grotesque but bewitching hermit ..."
Such a description -- one befitting many of my tattooer friends today -- was written in 1953 by Hans Ebenstenin in what Time magazine called "a short, bright book": Pierced Hearts and True Love. That old review started out with this rhyme:
By electrical means, without pain
Your pure epidermis may gain
From head unto heels -- the idea appeals
Decorations of which you will be vain
I came across Pierced Hearts and True Love via SOI 13 Books based out of Thailand. SOI 13 is a project by C. Wirzman, who tracks down "rare and unusual" books on tattooing and offers them at reasonable rates for resale on his site. I did a price comparison of Pierced Hearts and True Love for example, and SOI 13 did have the lower rate, prompting me to share this online shop with y'all even though the book titles are limited and you'll probably buy up all the ones I want before I get to them.
Other books include Irezumi, The Pattern of Dermatology Dermatography written by W.R. van Gulik, the son of a Netherlands ambassador; Tattoo World, written in Hebrew by Sailor Mosko; and a number of titles on traditional Thai tattooing.
Also on the SOI 13 site, Wirzman excerpts fiction and non-fiction writing on tattooing in his Content section. Here's a taste from The Tattooer, which is the featured text online now:
Visitors to the pleasure quarters of Edo preferred to hire palanquin bearers who were splendidly tattooed; courtesans of the Yoshiwara and the Tatsumi quarter fell in love with tattooed men. Among those so adorned were not only gamblers, fireman, and the like, but members of the merchant class and even samurai. Exhibitions were held from time to time; and the participants, stripped to show off their filigreed bodies, would pat themselves proudly, boast of their own novel designs, and criticize each other's merits.
Bookmark SOI 13 for an update on their book sales and clips of tattoo texts.