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…