The Official Blog for Tattoo Artist Magazine

Christopher Lee Hanna Remembered

By Hunter Spanks

In an industry filled with clones, wannabes and egos, it is hard to find someone who stands a bit above the rest with his own swagger and style. On February 4th, 2011 the tattoo industry was dealt a blow with the loss of such a man. Lee Hanna passed away and has left a void in the industry that will be a hard one fill.

Lee was a true tattooer in every sense of the word. Hell-bent on keeping traditions of the greats before us alive and well, in a day when it seems that what it once meant to be a tattooer is truly going “out the window.” Lee had a balls-to-the-wall lifestyle and attitude, living every moment at full speed. His tattoos and paintings had the grit and feel of those from a time well before his years. He had a true passion for those who had come before him and he paved the way for all of us, truly loving the art and craft of tattooing.

I have been lucky enough to have known Lee for the past 10 years. He has been an inspiration to me as a person and artist from the first time I had met him and will continue to be for the rest of my years.

I first met Lee around 2000-2001 at Blue Flame Tattoo in Raleigh where he was doing a guest spot. What presence he had. Almost intimidating at first. Quickly realizing that looks and first impressions aren’t everything. He had a way of conducting himself that he could make the most nervous college girl feel at ease and getting her first tattoo seemed like she was a veteran and would take it like a champ.

He could also shoot it to you straight when he had to. I remember such a time that first trip when he had to with me. Two girls had come in the shop one wanting a butterfly and the other a heart. Lee took the butterfly and I took the heart. Easy enough. Well, it was there first and one wanted to sit with the other. You know that sort of thing? Well, this got my panties in a bunch. It was later in the evening and I was ready to get out of there. The butterfly went quickly and now time for the heart. They come out and Lee said, “She’s ready for her heart.”

At this point I had been there stewing about this silly situation and looked at Lee and said, “What do you want me to do about it?” Lee looks at me straight faced and a bit confused and said, “I want you to get up and tattoo this fucking heart.” Which I did. Hesitantly. Ha-ha.

We had been around each other only a couple days, but I really appreciated his straight- talk back to me when I was being a little bitch. As if to say without saying, “Stand up man. You are a fucking tattooer. Now act like one and not a little whiny art-fag bitch.”

He was also one of the most giving and kind people I have ever met despite his tough looking exterior. I was never tattooed by him, but I was able to watch him tattoo and paint on many occasions. He had given me one painting by him on that first trip to Raleigh, stained with the coffee I was drinking that day. I thought “man that’s clever” watching him tattoo with efficiency and ease that few of us have. He has left me with many a fond memory in the short 10 years I got to know him. This gives me some comfort and I know that we will be able to swap stories again. Here’s to one of the leaders in an industry of followers.

Lee Hanna: February 18, 1975 to February 4, 2011…

12 responses

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  2. jtg

    I met him once at the convention in Reno, there was some crazy as shit party at the shop, I remember feeling so honored that I got to see that “Sorry… I Party” tattoo. That was the only time I ever met the dude and it was a night that Hunter S Thompson would have been proud of. I was awfully sad to hear that he passed. I hope in some way it makes some of us take a step back to look at how we are living, to be a bit more aware and to try and capture even a small bit of his spirit.
    God Speed Lee

    February 23, 2011 at 10:57 PM

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  4. Daniel albrigo

    I miss you already lee
    A true gentleman and friend, I also was lucky enough to have known him for 10 years or so. I’ll be thinking about you mr.hanna, save a seat for me on the cosmic bus.
    Love you brother
    Albrigo

    February 26, 2011 at 1:20 PM

  5. Buck B

    Awesome write up! It gives me some insight to what a good tattoo artist he was. We were good friends back in the days before he was a popular artist in the tattoo world…

    March 3, 2011 at 3:03 PM

  6. Buck B

    And I forgot to mention that I am proud to have his third tattoo. I got it in his basement in Cottonwood when we were 17 or so…

    March 4, 2011 at 2:03 PM

  7. Cami Hanna-Schmidt

    Lee Hanna is my brother. This article brought tears to my eyes but made me laugh at the same time. This is very much how my brother was! He was such a big teddy bear on the inside and a hard ass on the outside! Thank you for writing this!! I am blessed to have only been tattooed by my big brother! I have so much to remember him by. He is gone but definitely not forgotten!! Long love the legend of Lee Hanna!!! I love you big brother!!!!

    March 4, 2011 at 7:09 PM

    • I knew Lee from American Graffiti and Virtual Reality in AZ. I Knew him inside and outside the tattoo shop. Before he moved to Reno from Tempe, we had a going away party which was a blast, then we had a nightcap back at his parents house. I think you may have been there? This was a great night! I also remember sharing a Cigar with Lee after the birth of his first daughter Dixielyn. I loved to hang with Lee, but had lost contact with him over the years. I am so very sad to hear of his passing. My thoughts are with your family, Poppy, his girls, and friends. How did he pass? I would really like to know. I considered Lee a good friend. Email for privacy, if it’s ok. Take care.

      -Sam Smith

      P.S. He tattooed a Nintendo controller in a coffin with a banner in digital type clock lettering that read: Game Over. One of my favorite tattoos. I traded him a pair of black and gold Emerica high-tops, xbox games, and controllers for this, I believe. We were all about the barter system.

      June 3, 2011 at 3:33 PM

  8. Doris brooks

    I was fortunate to have his art all over n will. Truly miss him until he left us all I didn’t realize how much he made an impact on my life. I feel like a true family member n will b happy to someday tell Dixie n freya about their father. Sometimes life goes so fast but I know lee made the best of it n lived it to the fullest. I’m happy he taught my daughter Emily alot n helped her learn the trade. Will always cherish my painting he made especially for me. Can’t wait till we meet again brother! Skins forever->

    March 10, 2011 at 12:29 AM

  9. Janalyn January

    A I am Lee’s mom. your article brought me to tears. you captured the true essence of the man he was. He was not only my son, but my friend. He truly was larger than life. Lee showed his artistic talent when he was in kindegarten. Few people get to work at what they are passionate about. Old school tattooing was his love and style, as were his girls. This world is a richer place for his having been in it. Thank you for sharing about him. These words will be cherished by his daughters someday. I

    July 20, 2011 at 7:15 PM

  10. brennon graves

    lee hanna was a bad ass and the most honorable tattooer i ever me it didnt matter what time how he felt or any situation if you wanted a tat he was ready i have got alot of tats from him and he was a real friend and helped me out with alot of lifes issues you will always be missed… Viking Lee Hanna

    July 26, 2011 at 4:56 PM

  11. My name is Robby chestnut. Lee was a big bro to me that last hard year in 2010-2011.
    Was some of the most fun i ever had in my life was with that man. i remember win i first came around the shop to hang out with my friend that worked for him. lee would say things like ”get the fuck out are you here every day don’t you have a home”. ”stop bumming around my shop”. he gave me shit everyday. but i always came back…

    One day he came up to me and sad your OK kid come down stars and hang out. after that he was like a big bro to me i met him at the shop every day i cud . he tough me so much about the way things are and the way i needed to carry myself so i never got walked on or fucked over. i looked up to that man vary much.

    Lee tattoo me and everyone that worked for him 2010. That shop was my home.
    I don’t think i can not have that kind of fun and live. Not with out him
    I will all ways remember those days forever.
    I know a lot of you out there new him for 5-10 years and the 1 year i was there EVERY DAY. i was 19-20 years old win i met him he made me a man no joke.

    the last time i saw lee he gave me tattoo that has the red playboy bunny and sad Dixie Rose 2010. then he sad ”there you go you real playboy now i am going to miss you” After that he told me he was moving the next day and told me to be there to help pack up but buy the time i got there every thing was gone.

    4 months or so later hes gone

    i miss his SUPER PUMPED in you face bad ass way life he lived
    thanks for everything bro.

    friend idle legend
    i miss you

    .
    .
    .
    email me
    fastroth775@hotmail.com
    robby

    February 19, 2013 at 3:46 AM

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