Interview by Daniel Sawyer
Daniel Sawyer: So then into the 80s you started to have a lot of contact with American tattooers, who were starting to come over, right? Leo Zelueta, Malone…
Hank Panky: Everybody eventually came over. Also, in the very early days, Bob Roberts came over. Because at the first convention, it was Hardy, it was Greg Irons, and the Leu family—Philip Leu was about seven, I think. Greg Irons, he stayed in Europe. He wanted to go travel. He stayed in Ostender, did a couple of tattoos in my shop. And Bob, who was friends with Greg, came after him. He also went to Ostender, and then stayed in Amsterdam for a long time. When Bob went back, he sent me some very young kids, a young band. They were like 19 or 20. They were called The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and I had no fucking idea who they were, or what their music sounded like. But they were very, very young. So I tattooed them, and they turned out to do whatever they do, with the socks around their dicks and all that. But so the tattoos were very much seen. Everywhere. And these kids were sending me all the rock and roll people. And together, with all of that stuff, a lot of very young tattoo artists came to Amsterdam, and wanted to work a while in the shop, as part of their training. Mike Wilson, Freddy Corbin, Eddie Deutsche. Almost everybody…
DS: Your shop was very much an institution, yeah? For young artists, and then also the established guys as well.
HP: The established guys would just stay for a couple of weeks, just for the hell of it. But the smaller kids, they’d stay for a long time. They’d stay half a year, or a season, or the whole year, because they were still in their learning process. They all got their asses in fucking trouble somewhere down the line in the city, because Amsterdam was a wild city. Nothing compared to now, but they liked it. You were in the middle of the red light district, so it was like a Disneyland for adults, and there were the sex shops, the coffee shops, the rock and roll in the city, and the tattooing—so they loved it.
DS: Apart from that though, you had a lot of guys who apprenticed in your shop, right? Who learned there, and you kind of pushed them in different directions. I remember you once saying that you wouldn’t actually apprentice them, but you would point them in the direction of your friends, who would keep them traveling, and all that.
HP: Sometimes, I’d take part in it… at the very beginning. A little bit, and if I liked them, if I thought the attitude would be right, I’d help them get set-up temporarily or I’d send them somewhere else. So they’d go work with Good Time Charlie, or whoever. The European thing had started by this point. Tin-tin came up, and the Leu family was developing, so there were a lot of things going on. And we were slowly working on the first museum. Which was more or less a wall, with windows built in, that was actually in our old shop.
DS: So the original museum was in the red light shop?
HP: The whole thing was pushed to the back room. Which, at first, was unused because we had a pool table back there. We had a pool table behind the curtain, so we could play pool. With women. [Laughs]
HP: So we turned the back into the working area, and the front we sort of made into a permanent exhibition on tattoos. That took a while, and we were still doing conventions. So, the money I’d make at the conventions, I’d use to buy big collections. At a certain point, the George Bone collection was for sale, and I bought that from him with money I made from a convention. And then we decided to get a bigger building.
DS: That was in 1996? When you guys opened up the first museum?
HP: That was the second time. That was the big museum.
DS: Ok. So you had another one…
HP: Before that. In the shop.
DS: Right. Ok.
HP: We took everything out of the shop, and we built an exhibition space. It was about 220 square meters, with a library and everything. Which was pretty cool. We had a couple of good, funny years there.
DS: But that was privately funded then, yeah?
HP: I made a 100,000 guilders on a huge convention, and I built the museum from it.
(Hanky Panky is featured in Tattoo Artist Magazine #27 and more info on Henk can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Schiffmacher-Veldhoen-Tattooing/115262188503345.)