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The latest issue of Inked magazine has one of the most favorite interviews I have ever done: a Q & A with the inimitable tattoo legend Spider Webb. I have interviewed Spider before, and every time, there's another fantastic story I have never heard before -- and I want our talks to go on for as long as he doesn't get bored with me, but then there's that limited magazine word count in which only the highlights get put into the article. With Spider, every word is a highlight.Spider Webb, born Joseph O'Sullivan, is considered one of the most important people in contemporary tattoo history. With more than 50 years in the industry, he has legitimized tattooing as an art form, helping to bring it into galleries, museums, and even Christie's auction house, where a tattoo by Spider Webb was deemed "priceless." He fought to legalize tattooing in New York City after it was banned in the '60s by tattooing on the steps of museums. He expanded what some viewed as the limitations of tattooing through his conceptual art pieces and tattoo performances. And he's done all this with humor, flair, and mischief. Spider Webb, who holds a master's degree in fine arts, continues to create art, tattoos, tattoo machines,and trouble at his tattoo museum in Charlotte, NC. You'll also find him at tattoo shows and galleries around the world.
So what I've done is taken an excerpt from the article and put it below. Following that, you can read more and get another crazy tale -- about grave robbing, porn star Annie Sprinkle and more -- which wasn't published.
Learn more about Spider at Spiderwebbtattoo.com.
From Inked magazine:
You've been bringing tattoo art into fine art galleries since the '70s. You're particularly known for your conceptual art pieces. How did that get started?
How it all happened was a girl was interviewing me for a magazine, and she said, "Spider, what are the limitations of tattooing?" Being a big fucking know-it-all, I said that it's the size of the human body; that's the limitation. Then after I saw the interview in print, I thought, What kind of bullshit is this? What limitations? We have to get rid of limitations. So I thought to use a whole bunch of people in X 1000. I tattooed one X on 1,000 people, with a big X on the last person made up of 999 Xs to complete a conceptual piece. ... Then I started to do the Tattoo Vampire. It's a conceptual piece with just two simple dots on your neck. I've been doing that act for 30 years all over the world, from Studio 54 to the sewers of Paris, in Gracie Mansion, and in museums and galleries. It's a great show because there's sex, blood, kiss- ing, and you get to live forever. It's a very beautiful performance. Then I thought to myself that what would be real cool is if I become cupid and just tattoo one dot. So it's the same as the vampire act except I use an arrow and I make one dot for love, usually on a girl, but on men too-- and there'll be the fake blood and a breast exposed. That's what every- one wants, and I give it to them.
What other conceptual pieces have you done?
Do you remember Pulsating Paula? She was one of the photographers when they first started tattoo magazines. She's a biker girl. She's great. I tattooed her clitoris one time with a monkey tooth I pulled out of an alligator's skull. She was one of the first people I did the cupid tattoo on. Now I'm thinking to myself, What am I going to do next? I know what I'll do. I'll become the Invisible Man. And that's what I did. So I started to do the Unwanted Tattoo. I would be invisible. I wouldn't even be there. The first fucking thing I did was I took my doorbell apart, and I took out the black piece that you push to ring the bell, and I put in a piece of an ink an and a thumb tack. Then the mailman of all people rings my bell and he tattoos his thumb. I said, "Oh shit, that's fucking cool." Then I started to make other ones. I made the unwanted tattoo toilet seat. Then I did the greatest one of all: the gas pump. A guy tattoos his hand when he squeezes the thing. A lot of these things I had to rig up a video camera because I don't want to be there when the guy or girl freaks out. They think they can wash it off but they can't. There's a lot of humor in tattooing--people who don't want it, not wanting what I'm giving that day. Isn't that cool? [Laughs.] Children laugh about 2,000 times a day, and most adults laugh about 40 or 50. People are so afraid. I think tattoos take a little bit of fear away. Makes them a little stronger.
Read more from the article here. Keep reading for an unpublished Spider story.
The latest issue of Inked magazine is out, and for the "Icon" feature this month, I had a blast interviewing LA native Robert Atkinson, who is widely respected for his Japanese-inspired as well as black & gray body suits. In the Q&A, Robert talks about how he went from tattooing tribal arm bands to crafting his signature large-scale work. He also muses on custom cars, the state of the industry and how to make tattoos hurt less.
You can pick up a copy at major newsstands or download the digital version here.
It's the making tattoos hurt less part that really had me thinking about what it means to "earn" your tattoos. Here's a taste of our talk where Robert discusses using numbing creams and sprays on certain clients:
Your clients seem to trust you with a lot of their skin. You've done a lot of huge backpieces.
Robert also shared his thoughts on how he's seen the industry evolve and where he thinks it's going. We talked about the progression of his own work and what he does for fun when not tattooing. But it's that pain part of the our conversation I've been fixating on as I'm staring a five to six hour rib session next week. In light of the news that no one will be handing me a badass trophy when I'm done, I may so opt for the Vasocaine.
For an appointment with Robert, hit him up through his site.
The October issue of Inked, which just dropped, has my interview with Joe Capobianco, the Prince of Pin-Up tattoos. In it, Joe talks about his signature style, quitting the convention circuit, hair pomade, and what makes a woman sexy. Here's a taste:
You have such a signature style that one can look at a pin-up tattoo and know that it's a "Capo Girl." What are the elements you put into your work that make it your own?
"There are certain ideas that go into my work: the shape of the figure, the attitude of the figure--in pinups it's important that the girl has the right attitude. I usually start with the face. In my opinion, if you blow the face on the pinup, it doesn't matter if she's naked with big boobs. If the face is shot, the pinup is shot. In everything I've done, I've looked to great artists like Gil Elvgren, Earl Moran, Alberto Vargas, Hajime Sorayama, and Olivia. Their work is in the back of my mind--it's subconscious--but I don't try to copy them. I think that's something some people lack: they try to make their work look like someone else's, but for me, it's more about letting things happen on its own, naturally."
What do you think makes a good tattoo?
"In my opinion, a good tattoo is something that is readable and something that's going last. Outlines are important, shading is important, solid color is important. I even go a little bit crazy with the saturation of color, which some traditional guys say, "Why do you do that? It's too much." But I don't think too much is gonna hurt the tattoo. I want the tattoo to look like I just did it for as long as possible. It's not high art. It's not your vision on somebody. I know this will sound shitty--and I'm not making points with some people--but I don't think it's fine art. A tattoo is a tattoo. "
Especially considering that you tattoo these tributes to women--what is sexy to you?
"It's not about any one thing. A girl can be drop dead gorgeous and have a killer body that men will drop their fucking drawers for, and I'll look at her and go, "eh." It's something about the way the woman carries herself. It's something you can't put your finger on--and you shouldn't be able to put your finger on. So many women try so hard to be what they consider the perfect woman, and they're missing the point. There is no perfect woman. The fact that you come in all shapes and sizes, that's the beauty of it."
Read the rest in Inked. Get it on newsstands or by digital issue download.