The wonderfully intriguing wooden sculptures by Takeshi Haguri, with their fine tattoo details, were shared by Melina Bee in our Needles & Sins Facebook group, but in case you didn't catch it, here's just a taste of the artwork.
You can see more sculptures and close-ups of the work on the gallery page. As noted on that page, Haguri, born in 1957 in Nagoya, Japan, has been sculpting in wood mainly, using aluminium for outdoor works. The tattoos are largely acrylic paint, inspired by tattooed bodies found at Matsuri (Japanese festivals). I particularly love the movement of those tattoos on sculptures. A great marriage of body art and fine art.
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.
The work of tattoo artist nomad Fidjit has been popping up all over my social media feed with her upcoming guest spots across the US, and I realized that I hadn't yet shared her work on blog. Consider that oversight now rectified.
While Fidjit's portfolio is far from limited to the soulful and hypnotic female figures that you'll find on her Instagram and Tumblr, these characters that she draws are signature pieces that have garnered fans around the world. In May and June, she'll be taking care of those fans from the East Coast to the West Coast:
May 14 - 21: Saved Tattoo in NYC, NY
May 27-30: Scapegoat Tattoo in Portland, OR
June 3-6: 2Spirit Tattoo in San Francisco, CA
For bookings, hit her up at fidjit.m at gmail.com.
I love stories of body transformations, particularly large tattoo work, so I thought I'd share a piece by Brian Dunn, entitled, "Kuniyoshi Dreamin'" on Medium's Human Parts collection.
In his essay, Brian writes on the creation of his Utagawa Kuniyoshi-inspired Japanese backpiece, tattooed by Jay Cavna in Mesa, Arizona; however, he shares more than just the process, but also the thoughts that run through one's head when making such a huge personal change: the leap of faith with the artist, finding the right expression, dealing with the physical pain ... and how to tell your wife. Brian is a really engaging writer and uses words like "sweet, callipygian backside," so how could I not share it?
Here's a taste:
Despite not having any recent successful pain management campaigns to point to, I was confident that I would lie like a cadaver while still recognizing that what men think we're capable of is both wildly optimistic and grossly inaccurate. We consistently overestimate our ability to do everything from throwing a football over those mountains to drinking a gallon of milk in one hour. That I had zero qualms about my ability to lie perfectly still while someone carved into my dermis for hours meant nothing in the final analysis, but blind self confidence was one thing I had going for me.Read more of "Kuniyoshi Dreamin'" here. And see more of Jay Cavan's tattoo portfolio on Instagram.
I was excited to learn that, earlier this month, one of NYC's premiere tattoo studios, Kings Avenue Tattoo, welcomed a new tattoo artist to their roster: Zac Scheinbaum. Zac rounds out the Kings Ave crew with a portfolio filled with my favorite things: dots, geometry and lots of black ink. I hit up Zac with a few questions about his work:
You've recently become a part of Kings Avenue Tattoo, coming from Saved Tattoo. As both studios have a high bar for excellence, what was your path like in tattooing to reach that bar?
I learned to tattoo in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at a shop called Four Star Tattoo. Mark Vigil apprenticed me. He is a very knowledgeable and incredibly talented tattooer. When I met him, and the years that followed, he showed me everything about how tattoos should be done, and the right and wrong ways that he thought to do things. I feel like I still learn and recall things he said to me all those years ago and they are totally relevant. But he also definitely "raised" me in a sense to have a high volume of respect for everything dealing with the craft...and artists that do it.
I initially came to New York to get my arm done by Mike Rubendall. He was a huge influence on me and definitely helped me to be where I am today even from back then. I also would've never met Chris O'Donnell without Mike. I had gotten tattooed by Scott Campbell over at Saved many years before and always thought that it would be so awesome to work there.
Long story short (sort of, after a rocky goodbye and a few months on St. Mark's), I ended up at Saved. Both Kings Avenue and Saved have always been gigantic influences on me and my work. It is a fulfillment of life dreams and goals to have the opportunity to work around these amazing artists.
How do you work to become better and better at your craft?
I never feel satisfied with my work, and I think that's important. I'm always trying to learn and get better. I sort of think of it as getting an education from all of these different amazing teachers, then taking things you like and don't like about what advice you are given, and deciding how to implement that to best fit your clients and your vision of the final piece of work.
I'm a fan of your style of blackwork and dotwork tattooing. How did you come to your style and what references do you seek out for your work?
The use of black and white imagery is what I have always been the most comfortable doing. I would love to do more color work also, but it is definitely a little harder for me to grasp sometimes. That being said, the strong use of dotwork and geometric tattooing that I do, I can attribute directly to Thomas Hooper. When he came to Saved, it definitely changed my mentality -- whether it was about my philosophy for tattoos, work ethic, design, and overall aesthetics, he had such a smart and different way of doing things. I really admire him and wouldn't be where I am without him. I've always loved this type of tattooing (Xed Le Head, Tomas Tomas, Jondix, Mike the Athens), but never understood how it was even possible. Thomas showed me how to make mandalas and how he suggested doing things, and I sort of took that, then just ran with it on my "own" after he left.
I'd say that, just within five years, the appreciation for blackwork and dotwork tattoos has grown exponentially in the US. Do you think that's accurate \? What are your thoughts on the growing interest in these styles?
I think every style of tattooing has a time and a place, and this just happens to be the time where this type of tattooing is getting a little bit more notoriety and acknowledgment, but I'm sure, as with all things, it will pass and something else will come up instead of it. Not that that's a bad or a good thing, but I think it's definitely something that, when people think of tattoos, this was just something they hadn't seen before and that's why it got so big -- because they didn't realize what was possible, or that a tattoo could be so detailed.
What do you love about tattooing?
I love tattooing because it's has given me the opportunity to do art every single day. I feel so honored that anybody would like to get tattooed by me. It means the world to me. Not only has tattooing integrated itself into every aspect of my life, whether I'm reading or having dinner or whatnot, I always can find new ideas everywhere. It lets you create all the time! You get to make people happy, and give them something that can change their lives.
What projects, travels, events are coming up for you that you'd like to share?
I'm working on a series of new paintings, and hopefully some flash. I am planning a trip to Japan early next year, but am not sure the exact dates yet.
Find more of Zac's work on his site and Instagram.
UPDATE: The wonderful Helena Wissarionowna posted, in the Needles & Sins Facebook group, two other tattoo-related New Yorker Covers, which I added below.
Yesterday, I posted on Instagram and Facebook, the image above of the recent cover of The New Yorker magazine illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti. It was a "Like" parade, but also inspired some serious critique, particularly the context of the illustration, rather than the artwork itself. Gawker Media's Lux Alptraum noted on her Facebook page that she found it a fetishization of tattooed women by a publication trying to be edgy. It's a good point, although I noted that more objectification and exploitation of tattooed women comes from our own industry media.
back story of the cover, Mattotti himself says: "Doing fashion illustrations is part of my work, but for me it's all about women [...] It's all about women--very pictorial women putting on dresses, putting on a show."
This wasn't the first time The New Yorker made tattoos a central theme of its cover. In the October 29, 2012 issue, the "Skin Deep" cover below by Barry Blitt offered an homage to the Norman Rockwell painting "The Tattoo Artist." In that New Yorker back story, Blitt says of his cover illustration: "'The Tattoo Artist' features a sailor with a long list of girlfriends' inked names crossed out on his arm," he said. "This seemed like a nice tableau for highlighting Mitt the politician's shifting positions and convictions."
So, is this an out-of-fashion publication trying to bank on tattoo cool, or just another example of mainstream media embracing the art form?
Share your thoughts on the Needles & Sins Facebook group page or hit me up on Twitter.
Cover above by Peter de Seve.
Art work above by Alex Binnie.
On September 18th, the highly anticipated "Body Electric" exhibit at the Ricco Maresca gallery in NYC will open, featuring the fine art work of a stellar roster of tattooists, who include Saira Hunjan, Jef Palumbo, Duke Riley, Noon, Nazareno Tubaro, Amanda Wachob, Jacqueline Spoerle, Colin Dale, Scott Campbell, Peter Aurisch, Chuey Quintanar, Horiren First, Alex Binnie, Minka Sicklinger, David Hale, Stephanie Tamez, Virginia Elwood, and Yann Black.
The show is guest curated by the wonderful Margot Mifflin, author of Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo (and my co-conspirator in recent lectures, including Women's Ink). In her essay, "Visionary Tattoo," Margot writes that "tattooing has sprung free in the new millennium, liberated by artists who combine fresh concepts, holistic design, and masterful technique in thrillingly original styles." It is this "new generation of conceptual trailblazers" whose work Margot and the Ricco Maresca gallery have chosen to display in "Body Electric." Margot further writes:
The visual art featured here reflects their tattoo sensibility--the next best thing to showcasing the living canvases that bear their designs. They hail from around the globe: In Lucerne, for example, Jacqueline Spoerle uses Swiss folk motifs in lyrical silhouettes perfectly suited to tattoo's inherently graphical nature. In Los Angeles, Chuey Quintanar takes fine line black and grey portraiture to a new level of grace and power. New Yorker Duke Riley's maritime narratives betray a blush of nostalgia through strong line work and meticulous cross-hatching. In Argentina, Nazareno Tubaro blends tribal, Op Art, and geometric patterns in flowing compositions that embrace and complement human musculature. And in Athens, Georgia, David Hale, a relative newcomer, folds the curvilinear lines of Haida art into his folk-inflected nature drawings.I'm incredibly excited to attend on the 18th, not simply to view the works, but also to spend time with a number of the artists who will be arriving specifically for this exhibit. For one, Nazareno Tubaro of Argentina, one of my most favorite blackwork artists, will be at the show (and he'll also be a guest at Kings Avenue Tattoo NYC from 9-12 to 9-15). In addition to those artists whose work is on display, I hear many more will come to celebrate the opening. I hope you'll join us as well.
Art work above by Horiren First.
Art work above by Colin Dale.
Here's some fun mental gymnastics: "Tattoos for Time Travellers," an event at the British Science Festival in Birmingham, England, this weekend will be chatting/debating on the following scenario:
her Guardian article. When I read about the scenario, the first tattoo that came to mind is "Everyone is equal," a reminder not to fall victim to oppression during humanity's darkest times. [Of course, we still have so much work to do on equal rights today.] You can tweet your own ideas to @HPS_Vanessa, or just use the hashtag #BSFtattoos.
Beyond "Tattoos for Time Travellers," Vanessa's Guardian article offers some "Tattoos in history" info, and one text she discusses is "The Savage Origins of Tattooing," published in Popular Science Magazine in 1898 by Cesare Lombroso, deemed one of the first criminologists. She writes of his work (with her links included in this excerpt below):
Lombroso became most famous for his theory that criminality is inherent, that it is fixed biologically (we would say inherited, or genetic) and not a consequence of psychological or social factors. Because it was inherited he believed it was possible to judge someone's personality based on their physical appearance - in other words that you could literally see that someone was (or would grow up to be) criminal, or violent, or lustful. Lombroso's theories formed part of a racist eugenics movement which argued that non-white races were inferior to white races - and that you could tell which were more inferior by the slant of their foreheads or the size of their noses. So getting a tattoo was a "savage" act - and when a white European chose to get one this indicated something doubtful in their character, especially if it was a woman. Of course, there were exceptions - both King Edward VII and his son George V had at least one tattoo.Unfamiliar with "The Savage Origins of Tattooing," I read the article and found it interesting how various forms of tattooing were processed by Lombroso, and how so many of the prejudices conveyed in that 1898 article are still around today. I recommend reading it for that reason, and also the discussion of specific tattoos of those he studied, including illustrations like the one above. You can also read the article on Wikisource.
Oh, and if you do Tweet your ideas for a time traveling tattoo, I'd love for you to cc me on your replies @needlesandsins.
Rose HardyFilip Leu
Claudia De Sabe
UPDATE: In just a little more that a month, the fine art exhibit "Time: Tattoo Art Today," on view at Somerset House in London, will close on October 5. Our friend Serinde recently visited the show and sent photos, which we've posted to our Flickr stream. Serinde described the show as "surprising, striking, and above all extremely well executed." If you plan on attending the wonderful London Tattoo Convention, make sure to put this exhibit on your must see list while you're there.
Garnering rave reviews in London, "Time: Tattoo Art Today" presents the fine art of 70 some of our finest tattooers around the globe, including Filip Leu, Ed Hardy, Horiyoshi III, Paul Booth, Guy Aitchison, Kore Flatmo, Rose Hardy, Mister Cartoon, Chuey Quintanar, Volker Merschky and Simone Pfaff, among other artists. "Time" opened at Somerset House in London last week, and drew a great deal of media attention, highlighting just how skilled the artists in our community can be in mediums beyond skin. For a glimpse into the exhibit, the BBC offers this video.
Curated by tattoo artist Claudia De Sabe and publisher Miki Vialetto, the tattooers were asked to create a new work for the exhibition on the theme of time. Here's more from Somerset:
The resulting collection ranges from oil painting, watercolours and traditional Japanese silk painting to paint layering on real skulls, airbrush and bronze sculpture. Time and all it infers (such as life and death) is a classic, common motif in tattoo art, expressed through a vast variety of iconographic combinations. For example, the popular inkings of butterflies, blossoms and the handled cross signify life, while memento moris such as skulls or the goddess Kali denote death. Many of these symbols are also present in the original pieces displayed.See more works from the exhibit on the museum's site and on Miki's Tattoo Life site.
"Time: Tattoo Art Today" will be on view at Somerset House until October 5, 2014. All artworks on display, as well as the show's catalog, prints and other memorabilia, are available to purchase at the Rizzoli Bookshop.
Tattoo above by Yann Black.
Tattoo above by Mel of Sin City studio.
Tattoo above by Anam of Kustom Kulture studio.
The MTL blogs' "Best Montreal Tattoo Artists" is an extensive list of top tattoo talent, which also shows the breadth of unique styles, expertly rendered in that one fabulous city. It seems that the MTL blog culled Instagram for their choices, and did a good job of doing so; although, as one commenter of the post noted, some of the choices of tattoos picked to represent the artists did not reflect their most dynamic work. Nevertheless, I highly recommend scrolling through the 47 picks, a number of which I've posted here.
Many of these artists, as well as renowned tattooers from around the world, will be working the Montreal Tattoo Convention coming up September 5-7. It's one of my favorite shows and I'm bummed that I can't be there this year, but I welcome pics and stories from the show from anyone who attends.
Tattoo above by Pierre Chapelan, owner of Studio TattooMania.
Tattoo above by Vero of Studio TattooMania.
Tattoo above by Simon Golygowski of POL Tattoo studio.
Two weeks ago, I put up this post on Cedric Arnold's "Yantra: The Sacred Ink,"
which is, as I previously wrote, an exceptionally beautiful series of portraits and documentary
photography -- a product of four and a half years of travel throughout
Thailand to fully explore Yantra, or Sak Yant. Yantra are sacred marks performed
by monks in Thailand in which the wearers believe that the tattoos are
imbued with magic, offering protection and even bestowing certain
Showing the tattooing process and ceremonies attached to the tradition, Cedric Arnold recently posted this 4:34 minute documentary short (embedded above), which uses footage shot between 2008 and 2014, and includes incredibly powerful scenes of "Khong Khuen," states of trance that tattooed devotees enter when "possessed" by the spirit of their tattoos, as Arnold writes.
The full version of the film will be released online at a later date, and is currently being screened at the "Tatoueurs, tatoues" exhibit at the Museum du quai Branly in Paris until Oct 2015.
For more info, visit "Yantra: The Sacred Ink."
Sydney Parkinson's illustration of a tattooed Maori from Cook's first voyage.
In case you missed it on the Needles & Sins Facebook group yesterday, Anna Felicity Friedman recently posted a large portion of her tattoo-history dissertation on her wonderful TattooHistorian.com blog about the "Cook myth," which, as she writes, is "the common assumption that modern Western tattooing somehow derived from contact with Polynesian peoples during Captain James Cook's voyages in the late 18th century."
Here's a bit from her writing:
In addition to demonstrating that tattoos were often seen in a positive, or at least neutral, light, a crucial subsidiary aim of this dissertation is to debunk what can be termed the "Cook myth": the perception in many scholarly and popular texts from at least the 1950s that the historical origins of modern tattooing among Westerners exclusively derived from Cook's first voyage to the Pacific and his and his crews' encounters with tattooed people in Tahiti--that Cook, et. al., somehow "discovered" or "reinvigorated" tattooing. But this is clearly not the case. A look at texts from before the mid-eighteenth century demonstrates that many authors, explorers, scientists, etc. were wellfamiliar with the practice of permanently marking the body with a substance embedded underneath the skin. For example, one of Cook's contemporaries, explorer Charles Pierre Claret de Fleurieu, writing about the Marquesan tattooing he saw in 1791, noted the similarities to and contrasts with the European tattooing that he said was not only common but of great antiquity:Read more, and check the footnotes for additional reference, here.
French artist FUZI-UVTPK was interviewed by Complex Magazine in this video (shown below) while he was in Brooklyn, tattooing at Muddguts gallery.
Complex describes FUZI as the pioneer of the "Ignorant Style," which I have to admit, I'm pretty ignorant about myself; however, in the video, FUZI explains his tattoo philosophy, heavily influenced by his graffiti background, to shed some light on how he approaches his work. For example, he says that one of the most important things for him to "be free to create [his] art, to have no rules" -- how he's not looking for someone to tell him to do his tattooed lines better; he wants to do his lines, his own way.
Whether his lines are strong or not, FUZI was booked solid for his NYC trip. See more of his work here to see if you dig his style yourself.
If you ever hung out in an American independent record store in the 90s, there's probably no doubt that you've heard of Rocket From The Crypt - an awesome alt-punk band (with a horn section!!) who emerged from the San Diego scene in 1989. Well, they've recently reformed for a reunion tour - which some pals of mine just caught in Los Angeles, and they'll be in NYC for the next two nights - but there's some unfortunate news for those who have chosen to permanently adorn themselves.
Here's the backstory: around 1991, the band decided to take a logo from one of their singles and get it tattooed on themselves. Then, they decided that anyone who got the tattoo would gain free admission to their shows FOR LIFE.
But, as the Wall Street Journal reports - it simply isn't feasible anymore on their current set of dates.
Mr. Reis says the group heard from "hundreds" of tattooed fans asking about admission. When the band asked clubs to let them in free, they were told there was no room. The venues had sold out. "When we were around the first time, selling out shows was not our forte," he says. "There was usually plenty of room."
What was fun was to see how artists (and clients) reinterpreted the design to their own personal interests.
[Tattoo by Mike Stobbe]
Long before I ever decided to get tattooed, I always that this was a brilliant piece of marketing (as well as a way to truly connect with your fans). Sure, it's real easy to get your favorite band's logo tattooed on you, but it's rare to get something back from it; true artistic reciprocity.
While most of the work that I've found online isn't of the caliber we usually feature, I still think that they had an awesome idea.
Read the WSJ article here.
Featuring some of black & grey's finest, "Tattoo Stories" is a video series by Estevan Oriol and Mister Cartoon, with the goal of exploring the work, and personal lives, of esteemed tattooers from an insider's perspective -- and not just the usual "How long have you been tattooing?" Q & As.
The videos, which average around 6-7 minutes, take you into the studios of legends such a Jack Rudy and Rick Walter's, who offer tattoo history as well as philosophy lessons. There are also interviews with some of the most exceptional tattooers today, including Shawn Barber, Chuey Quintanar, Carlos Torres, Luke Wessman, Franco Vescovi, and many others.
The series launched last summer, and when I first checked their SanctionedTV YouTube page at that time, I thought it was largely focused on their "LA Woman" series. As we stay away from the "tattoo model" thing, I didn't share it. And so it was a happy surprise to go back and see that so much important tattoo footage, and not just T&A, had been amassed and offered in an engaging way.
Oh, and there's also this really moving Snoop Dog (yes, Snoop Dog) vid.
When I think of talented tattoo families -- and the warmest and kindest -- one of the top that comes to mind are the Chapelans of Studio Tattoo Mania in Montreal, Quebec. Second generation tattooer, Pierre Chapelan and his wife Valerie are not only renowned for their stellar studio, but also organizing the fantastic Art Tattoo Show Montreal.
Pierre is celebrating 20 years in tattooing, and there's a wonderful online (and offline) appreciation of his dedication to the craft. Here's more on this milestone:
"It's been more then 20 years since Pierre Chapelan first held a tattoo machine in his hand, but in 2013, he celebrated his 20th anniversary as a professional tattoo artist. He fell into the tattoo world early on while watching his dad Michel tattoo his way around France and accompanying him to various tattoo shops and conventions in Europe. He was only 17 in 1993 when he started tattooing full time in Bordeaux, France. A mere few months after starting, he came to Canada for his first tattoo convention as a professional artist.
The Montreal Tattoo Convention was filled with many well known artists including Tin-Tin, Bernie Luther, Eddy Deutsch -- all artists Pierre looked to as inspirations. A year later, he came back to Montreal, fell in love with his future wife,Val, and soon enough, decided that Montreal would be home. He worked at Tatouage Artistique along side Keith Stewart and Bill Baker for a few years until he opened his own shop.
Studio TattooMania opened in 1997, the same year his daughter Audrey Lune was born. What was a small one-person operation is now one of the most renowned tattoo parlors in Canada with 9 artists, as well as guest artists who have included Filip Leu, Horizakura, and Tin-Tin, among many others.
Pierre is fully dedicated to his work; he truly "eats,*•#s, sleeps tattoo," as one of his t-shirts states so well. He's been involved in the tattoo community as the host of the Art Tattoo Show Montreal, one of the most successful tattoo conventions worldwide.
He's a polyvalent artist who believes it's his duty to do great work, whether it's a full backpiece or a small walk-in. At only 37-years old,Pierre still thrives on learning and loves talking about his craft.
His next 20 years are looking bright and fun as ever with new projects but always bearing the same respect and love of tattooing."
Celebrity portraits are common tattoo odes that pay tribute (whether seriously or ironically) to someone whom the wearer may not have met, but feels a connection to. What if the person being memorialized on one's body is not on the A-List, but instead, has been marginalized and often ignored by society? Tattooist Matt C. Ellis uses his particular skills in tattoo realism and offers clients a chance to make a connection with those who are forgotten, shedding light on the issues of poverty and homeless.
Last Friday, November 22nd, would have been the 76th birthday of an iconic tattooer and a truly good man, Walter Moskowitz of the legendary "Bowery Boys."
Walter and his brother Stanley (who still tattoos today) learned the craft from their father Willie Moskowitz. Willie emigrated from Russia and opened up a barbershop on The Bowery in NYC, but soon learned that he could support his family better through tattoos than cutting hair, and so he had his friend Charlie Wagner, another legend, teach him the craft. Along with tattooing came the drunken shop brawls between (and with) rowdy clients, police harassment, and the general hustle to make a living during and after the Depression. Not an easy life, but it made for good stories.
Many of those stories are captured on the Last of the Bowery Scab Merchants, a wonderful two audio CD set (more than 2 1/2 hours of tattoo tales) accompanied by a 24-page color booklet with photos and articles. The audio documentary also includes guest commentators, and I'm honored to be one of them.
As I wrote on this blog in 2011 when the audio collection was released, Walter's son Doug recorded these stories in the last year of his father's life so that they may live on. The stories are funny, educational, sad and triumphant. As Doug says, "You will not only get to hear great tattoo stories but you will also get a nice perspective of who my dad was as a person; the era he, his father, and brother tattooed in; and how that related to what he did."
In commemoration of Walter's birthday, Last of the Bowery Scab Merchants will be discounted for the next few days, and can be purchased for just $15 on Amazon. It is the perfect gift for tattooists, collectors, history buffs, and, really, for yourself (you deserve it!).
By sharing his stories, Walter gave us a gift, one I'm grateful for.
Yesterday, the Miss America pageant crowned its first beauty queen of Indian descent, which led to an onslaught of racist tweets by those who take beauty pageants seriously. "America's Choice," as decided by an online vote, was not the winner, but instead, a pretty blonde from Kansas who represented "American Values": she's a sergeant in the National Guard, she's a hunter who can skin a deer herself, and she's tattooed.
Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail strutted across the stage with a large-scale rib tattoo of the serenity prayer, which she says she used to recite when bullied as a child. Her tattoos were a big part of her platform, which centered around "empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers." She told ABC News:
"What I really want is just to inspire people by showing my tattoos," she said. "That's a bold move! And it's risky, it could very well cost me the crown. And if it does, I just want people to see that you can step outside of the box, you can be yourself. And I can only hope that it inspires them to do the same."She didn't win the crown, but she won a lot media attention for being the first Miss America contestant to openly display her tattoos. Or at least that what the headlines touted.
But Teresa Vail was not the first tattooed beauty queen. It was Betty Broadbent, shown above on the cover of the first edition of Margo Mifflin's "Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women & Tattoo" (a must-have book). This cover photo captures the iconic circus attraction as she made history competing in the first televised beauty pageant at the 1937 World's Fair. As Margot Mifflin notes, "She knew that as a tattooed contestant she didn't stand a chance of winning, but she gladly reaped the free publicity." The same could be said for Miss Kansas.
I'm not a fan of beauty contests. Despite the fact that Miss Kansas has a degree in chemistry and speaks Chinese, she still had to put on stilettos and a bikini to put forth her "empowerment" platform. But I am a fan of those working in some way to stir a little trouble, to change up beauty ideals. So good on Miss Kansas for following in Betty Broadbent's high heels.
Tattoo above by Amanda Wachob.
My morning has gotten off to a great start thanks to BBC Radio 4's "A Mortal Work of Art" -- a wonderfully produced program that explores the intersection of the tattoo and fine art worlds. With the program 28 minutes long, I figured I'd just let in play on my laptop while I busied myself with other tasks; however, the really insightful discussion on the artistry of tattooing stopped me from doing anything else, so I just sat down and learned something.
What makes the program so compelling is that Mary Anne Hobbs, who hosted the piece, talks to the very people who have changed tattooing in the fine art context and who have shared very different ways of viewing tattoo art:
The legendary Spider Webb brought tattooing into galleries, museums, and even Christie's auction house, particularly for his conceptual tattoo projects, which he still continues to innovate today. He also talks to the BBC about fighting NYC's tattoo ban (which wasn't overturned until 1997).
London's Alex Binnie, owner of the famed Into You Tattoo, shares his thoughts on tattooing's impact on pop culture -- an impact greater than any the fine art world has had. The program ends on a strong note with his assertions on why tattooing doesn't need validation from anyone other than those wearing it.
Amanda Wachob discusses what motivated her to experiment with nontraditional tattoo imagery, to offer something different to clients beyond the standard menu, which has made her one of the most sought-after tattooers in New York.
Of course, our good friend Dr. Matt Lodder, art historian, is brilliant when he discusses what tattooing can gain by being accepted as an art form; that is, real critique of what is good, bad, derivative, ethical, new ... rather than looking at tattoos as one homogenous thing. He's currently writing a book on tattooing in the UK from an art historian perspective, which will be an important contribution to our community.
Also in the BBC program are Shelley Jackson, renowned for her "Skin" project, where a story she has written is conveyed through words tattooed on people around the world; artist Sandra Ann Vita Minchin discusses how mortality & legacy inform her own use of tattooing in her performance art -- and how she plans to grow skin through her DNA and tattoo it as an extension of her body project; and Sion Smith, editor of Skin Deep, and Trent Aitken-Smith, editor of Tattoo Master, weigh in on tattoo culture today.
Again, this is a fantastic listen and worth the time. Check it here.