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20 Great Female Tattoo Artists in History Tattooing Over 20 Years

By Dawn Cooke

In honor of women’s history month I have compiled a list of women in the history of tattooing. This is not a complete history by any means. There are hundreds of women throughout time who have contributed to the art form and trade of tattooing. Unfortunately a lot of them have gone unaccounted for.  I have tried to find some of the lesser-known women to highlight here however some of the well-known artists have also been included. I have included women with at least 20 years under their belts. I was overwhelmed with the response to my idea to write this article.

Some of the women earlier on in history who paved the way for us included several sideshow performers. Betty Broadbent and lady Viola are among the most well known. In the 1930’s Mildred Hull was one of the few women tattoo artists working on the bowery in NY.  The beloved Cindy Ray from Australia, tattooed into the year 2007. These ladies have set our roots and our history is being made as we speak. But here are 20 women, most of whom are tattooing still, who deserve recognition for their contributions! These women tattooed long before social media and Reality television. They may not be masters at social media but they are masters of their craft. Take the time too look into these great artists! (In no particular order.)

1.Madame Chinchilla http://triangletattoo.com

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2.Loretta Lue http://leufamilyiron.com

3.Pat Fish http://www.luckyfish.com

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Heartbeat Ink with Jondix

Photos and Interview by Ino Mei

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Jondix spoke exclusively to HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine about his initiation into tattooing, his past as a tattoo nerd, the first tattoo he ever did; at Tas Danazoglou’s neck, his experience in Greece while been Mike the Athens’apprentice and the issue of copying in Dotwork, which he characterizes as “embarrassing”.

What is your actual name? How did the name Jondix come up and what does it mean?

My name is Jondix, that’s who I am. Before Jondix, I was another person. My “baptism” made me the human I am now. During one of the art reunions I used to attend with my friends Ciruelo Cabral, Eva Blank, Heinrich and others, this name came up as a joke, but a year later when Ciruelo published a new book, he used it in the credits and I thought it was a sign and that’s how it started to affect me and change my mind in a more artistic way than before.

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Where you working as an architect in the past? When did you first come into contact with tattoos and how did you get involved with tattooing?

I never worked as an architect. in fact I didn’t even finish the university. After seven years I kinda quit… I needed money and I was into parties and guitars and Harleys and all the typical Mediterranean excess… I saw the first tattoos as a child on people from the army…badly done you know… and then in Boston I saw a good tattoo, a death reaper from Spider Web Tattoo and wanted it immediately. So at eighteen I started getting tattoos, like Steve Vai’s autograph and some stupid biomechs until Tas Danazoglou came to Barcelona and saved me…

Is it true that you were “discovered” by Tas Danazoglou? How did you meet him?

He came to a Barcelona Tattoo Convention and then stayed at the LTW tattoo shop in Barcelona for some years. I got many tattoos from him and we became friends. I was a tattoo nerd already, buying magazines and stuff… I got my first tattoo when I was eighteen, that’s twenty three years ago. There we no tattoo shops in Barcelona like there are today. I was going to tattoo conventions abroad just as a fan and even buying machines just for decoration purposes. Nobody did this in Barcelona, not even the established tattooists. So I knew who Tas was and I knew who Mike the Athens was from “Tattoo Planet” magazine and I wanted to get their more spiritual tattoos, as opposed to the trendy shiny stuff. Then one day on my birthday Tas came home and I played him “Resurrection” by Halford and he in return he showed me how to set up a machine and do a tattoo… and I ended up tattooing a bit on his neck that night…

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To read this full article, visit: http://heartbeatink.gr/en/columns-features/artists-studios-columns-features/jondix/#!prettyPhoto[]/0/


Tattoo Stories Episode 13: Eric Gonzalez

Estevan Oriol


Tattoo Stories Episode 12: Chuey Quintanar

Shot by Estevan Oriol


TATTOO HISTORY MYTHS EXPOSED

By Marisa Kakoulas

Source: http://www.needlesandsins.com

tattoo history myths

Last week, Gizmodo, which is primarily a tech blog, attempted to condense tattoo history, from mummies to Miami Ink, in their blog post “How the Art of Tattoo Has Colored World History.” In what seemed to be research primarily conducted on Wikipedia, the author ended up perpetuating many of the myths and misinformation that float around online.  So I hit up true experts in the field of tattoo history to set the record straight: Dr. Matt LodderDr. Anna Felicity Friedman, and Dr. Lars Krutak.

So, you can take a minute and read the Gizmodo article first. Or not.

I first asked Anna what she thought were some glaring mistakes in the post. Here’s what she said:

ANNA:  By the third sentence of this “article” I knew it was going to be a doozy. The problem with this statement, “That tradition continues today, just with a much smaller chance of infection” is a) it’s incredibly melodramatic and b) it’s just not true. Many (if not most?) traditional tattoo practitioners were acutely aware of the possibility of infection, one of the reasons why we perhaps see suspension mediums in traditional tattoo “ink” recipes like alium juice or even one of my favorite rare ones, human breastmilk, both of which contain natural antibacterial agents. Rest periods for people having undergone tattooing are common cross-culturally (presumably to let the body heal and lessen the chance of infection). And with the rise of “tattoo parties” and so much home-tattooing by amateurs untrained in proper safe practices with bloodborne pathogens, there is a huge risk of all sorts of infections in the contemporary era.

Re: the image of the “Pict” “tattoos”: had the writer just done a tiny bit of searching re: this image, he might have realized this image is a fantasy and does not represent tattoos. Scholars are still not sure if the descriptions of body art on the Picts were tattoos or just body painting (leaning toward the latter), but they definitely were not 16th century French-inspired floral designs in multi-color (they were described as woad-like, which is blueish in color). The image is also not attributed to the source, and I’m guessing when the owner (Yale University) finds out it’s been used without attribution, they will have it pulled.  Here are some links to some of my posts on one of the other images from the same book (John White’s equally fantastic Pict images), which mention fantasy and have more elucidation of some of these problems: Image 1 (below), Image 2, and Image 3.

tattooed Pict

Matt also noted the misinformation on Picts and cited “The Pictish Tattoo: Origins of a Myth” by Richard Dibon-Smith for reference.

As for the “These days, it’s not just sailors and ruffians that get inked” line (and the whole paragraph really), read Matt’s attack on tattoo cliches.

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Above: Lars Krutak with one of the last tattooed Kalinga warriors Jaime Alos outside of Tabuk, Philippines.

I’m also grateful for the extensive critique of the article that Lars offered:

LARS: Otzi is not the oldest evidence as this article seems to purport. The oldest is a 7000-year-old male mummy of the Chinchorro culture of South America and this man wears a tattooed mustache on his upper-lip, so the earliest evidence is cosmetic. [Actually, the cited Smithsonian article had several glaring errors and I never cite it - period! - even though I work at the Smithsonian! Dr. Fletcher stated that Otzi is the oldest tattoo evidence, but she is no doubt incorrect and I like mythbusting this oft-stated "fact."]

Gizmodo: The Inuit, for example, have been tattooing themselves in the name of beauty and a peaceful afterlife since at least the 13th century.

LARS – The earliest evidence of tattooing in all of North America is a Palaeo-Eskimo ivory maskette from Devon Island, Nunavut, Canada whose face is completely covered with tattoos and it dates to -3500 BP. This object most likely represents a woman. So the practice is much older than the author presumes. For “beauty” is pretty much horseshit – see my comments below. Much circumpolar tattooing aimed to repel the advances of disease-bearing evil spirits and there were multiple forms of medicinal tattooing to relieve painful rheumatism (a la the Iceman), painful swellings, facial paralysis, and even to increase the production of a woman’s breast milk.

Gizmodo: Similarly, in the the [sic] Cree tribe, men would often tattoo their entire bodies while the women would wear ornate designs running from mid-torso to pelvis as protective wards for a safe pregnancy.

LARS: I have never heard anything about safe pregnancies in relation to Cree tattoo, although I am aware of tattoos in other parts of North America to promote fertility or ensure that the first thing a newborn saw was a thing of beauty (eg, inner thigh tattoo, Inuit region). Indeed, Cree men (Plains Cree, Wood Cree) were tattooed on their torso, but only for war honors. These tattoos had to be earned so only successful warriors would have worn such tattoos. The author makes it sounds like every man had them, but this is simply not true.

To read this full article, go to: http://www.needlesandsins.com/2014/03/tattoo-history-myths-exposed.html


Don Ed Hardy & Bob Roberts: “Exhibition Match”


Tattoo Stories Episode 11: Macko

Shot by Estivan Oriol


Skin Deep – A Youth Culture Tattoo Documentary


Tattoo Age: Troy Denning Part 3


Fitzroy X Some Quality Meat new year’s BASH 2014

Some Quality Meat collaborated with Fitzroy Amsterdam to organize their annual new year’s bash.  Kim Papanatos Rense made six classic nautical designs that are now placed on Fitzroy’s office walls, dishes and pig legs.  The night ended in a huge party.


Tattoo Age: Troy Denning Part 2


The Opening of ATAK:SF

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After a year & a half search, six months of construction, blood, sweat, tears, etc., we at last announce the opening of the ATAK:SF creative workspace & gallery.  Located in the heart of San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood within a lofty brick building, this flex creative space will allow us to peruse new & different avenues while still focusing on our core mission of tattooing.  The main floor will host the gallery & creative workspace with tattooing on a private second floor loft.

To consecrate the space we are hosting an inaugural exhibition centered around the ubiquitous theme of rebirth.  The event will feature over forty artists from around the globe.  Come & celebrate this new beginning with us.

RE:BIRTH
Thursday, March 6
7pm ’till late
1038 Larkin St
SF, CA 94103
Earth

Advice for the New Year

By Dan Henk

Dan Henk

I want to address two things in this blog. They might seem unrelated at first, but I’ll try my best to tie them together.

The first is that people love to complain, and they have a ton of excuses on why it is someone else’s fault. You know what I’ve learned in my 41 years on this planet?

Shut the fuck up, put your nose down, and try doing some ground work for a change.

I hear all the time “I’m a good artist, but no one would give me a chance, so I bought this kit of eBay and starting tattooing out of my house.”

Unless you happen to be one of the very few who just stumble into opportunity, like Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton, you have to go above and beyond, spending countless hours trying to realize your dreams.

I spent years doing menial jobs until, at age 28, I finally started tattooing for a living. Even then it was a touch and go at first. But after striving for so long, I was not about to give in. The guy who taught me was in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. I lived in Brooklyn, New York. Working at his shop was not an option. The first shop I worked at was way out in the ghetto in Queens. I would barely even call it a shop. The second shop I worked at was Underground Tattoos on Pitkin Avenue in Brooklyn. That is where Mike Tyson is from. We closed at dark so we didn’t get robbed, I got called “white devil”, and we had to call the cops more than once when we were being scoped out by some guy who wanted to rob us. People tried to pay with food stamps. My third shop was also a nightmare, one of slowest shops of an infamous chain in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. I wasn’t until my fourth shop, on St. Mark’s Place in NYC that I could finally pay rent and afford 3 square meals a day.

Piers Anthony

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Himalayan High: Tattooing in the Shadow of Everest

By Kiri Westby

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When I first heard there was a tattoo convention in Kathmandu, Nepal I was astounded!

I lived in Nepal as a college student, worked there as a human rights activist during the recent civil war and have spent a lot of time studying Nepali language and culture. I also married a tattoo artist seven years ago and have been on a crash course of American tattoo culture ever since.  Nowhere in my mind did the tattoo scene that I had come to know and the traditional culture of Nepal mix.  But there it was, website and all, and I was instantly fascinated.

My friend Eric Inksmith, a veteran of American tattooing, challenged me to take him to Kathmandu, having never really left the U.S. before. Like a butterfly suddenly wondering about the storms it’s own wings have produced, Eric was curious to follow the trail that he himself had blazed.  I was honored to be enlisted for the job and to have the chance to experience alongside him what tattooing on the other side of the world has become.

At almost 70 years old, Eric recalled stories from the National Convention in Philadelphia more than 30 years ago. As I listened to tales of rival biker gangs fighting on convention room floors and people being thrown from hotel room windows, I tried to imagine how the kind, soft-spoken, Nepali people have embraced and come to celebrate tattooing. And not in a subtle, underground way either, the convention was being held at the famous Yak & Yeti hotel, one of the most iconic establishments in the Kathmandu valley.

As these things go, friends were recruited, word of the adventure spread and we soon had a posse heading East from the U.S., including: Mike Wilson, Mac Bibby, Robert Ryan, Jae Connor, Phill Bartell and Chad Koeplinger. Eric handled the longest flight of his life and no one killed each other on the way over…in fact, from the beginning, everything felt pretty magical.

Kathmandu has changed significantly since 2007. Corruption and an inefficient, newly-Democratic government have left city services under-funded and unattended. Half-finished construction projects leave gaping holes and exposed power lines, not to mention the electrical brown-outs and water shortages, which have left things feeling chaotic on the streets. But the upside to Nepal’s new political landscape is that there is also more public art and individual self-expression, and many people I spoke to were hopeful and optimistic for Nepal’s future, a far cry from my time here during the war in 2003. Part of this new self-expression has manifested in a relatively fresh and exciting tattoo scene.
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Tattoo Age: Troy Denning Part 1


*NEW* Photos Added to the Gallery

Tattoos by Marco Tafuri

http://www.facebook.com/marco.tafuri

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NYC Tattoo Convention March 7-9

By Marisa Kakoulas

Source: http://www.needlesandsins.com

NYC Tattoo Convention flyer

As we first posted back in October, the original the NYC Tattoo Convention will be taking place March 7-9, 2014 at the the historic Roseland Ballroom — before this legendary venue closes in April (hence, why the show won’t be taking place as it usually does in May).

And as always, we’re stoked for the show, particularly for its finely curated line-up of tattooers from around the world, including long-time legends, and also traditional hand-tattooing booths. There are some great sideshow performances, and tattoo competitions that really present some stellar work. Plus, the kickass vendors offer badass merch. [Literally, "badass."]

I have been attending the NYC Convention for 13 years, and it has consistently been one of the most electric shows I attend. I’ll be doing a book signing there this year for my latest monster, “Black Tattoo Art II.” Just follow the loud maniacal laugh when you get to the convention and you’ll find me.

Read the full article here: http://www.needlesandsins.com/2014/02/nyc-tattoo-convention-march-7-9.html


Alex “Kofuu” Reinke Horikitsune

Photos and interview by Ino Mei

Source: http://www.heartbeatink.gr

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Alex “Kofuu” Reinke Horikitsune, the only apprentice of Horiyoshi III apart from his son Souryou Kazuyoshi and part of Horiyoshi III family, spoke exclusively to HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine about the path in tattooing, the “Shu Ha Ri” learning system, the highly importance of the design and the “limits” of tradition.

How were you first introduced to tattoo?

When I was twelve years old I started Martial Arts. As a kid, from a really young age I was constantly drawing. So when the Martial Arts came into the picture, I started drawing Asian themes and especially Japanese; like dragons and all sorts of stuff. When I was fourteen, we were on a trip with my family to San Francisco and by chance I walked into “Tattoo City” which is Ed Hardy’s tattoo shop. Of course I had absolutely no idea about it. I bought Ed Hardy’s yellow “Tattoo Time” and Sandi Fellman’s “Japanese Tattoo” book and then I was drawing out of those books all the time. I was crazy for them. At that age, I had many older friends and when we returned to Germany after San Francisco, they asked me to design some tattoos for them because they liked my drawings and they couldn’t draw themselves. So I drew some designs for them and they went and got them tattooed.

I kept drawing and drawing tattoos until I finished high-school and went for my A – levels. At that time I started tattooing. It was 1995 and I was twenty-one. I bought a starter kit and I began teaching myself; I am self-taught. Pretty hideous, but what can you do? Then I went straight to the army, where I was also tattooing. Afterwards I met Horiyoshi III in Bologna at a convention in 1997. A few months later, in 1998, I went to Japan to start my body-suit. There I saw and realized that I could make a decent living from tattooing. Back then things were different and therefore I took a huge risk; in many people’s eyes it seemed “crazy” that I became a tattooist. It was socially “unacceptable” and perceived as “a step down” from my family; although they offered me the freedom to decide what I wanted to become. My dad is a surgeon and told me “you have to decide yourself about what you want to do for a living. When I am dead, you’ll still have your job and I don’t want to be responsible for you not being happy with your job”. He knew I was into tattooing, but he thought that tattoo was a phase. Like all kids go through phases. But this one stuck (laughs)!

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What happened when you went to Japan to get tattooed by Horiyoshi III?

I was totally into Japan, as I’ve previously mentioned, since I was a kid. I was also used to serving from being in the army; therefore I believe that the combination of those two resulted in me knowing my way around Japan quite well and I think that Horiyoshi III was taken by it, and we got along very well. At the end of 1998 Horiyoshi III came to Germany for the Berlin Tattoo Convention; he wrote me a letter asking to whether we could meet there and I took some time off in order to meet him. All of a sudden, I was the “organizer” for everything, because I could communicate with Horiyoshi III. It turned out really great. We had a great time together and we became friends.

How did your friendship “evolve” from this point onwards?

In the beginning of 1999 I went back to Japan to get tattooed again. I asked Horiyoshi III if he had a student, and he was like “no I don’t take any students”. Then, there was the Tokyo Tattoo Convention towards at the end of the same year and he said “you have to come again to Japan”. That is when I met the old-timers and many of the friends I have today like Lucky Bastard (Horiko), Mick from Zurich, Filip Leu, Luke Atkinson, Chris Garver, Marcus Paecheco; all super-great guys. It was a really important convention for all of us.

A couple of months after the convention, Horiyoshi III came to Germany again and I joined him on a trip to London to buy antiques. And Horiyoshi III asked me there, in London, in a black cab on the way to some antique shop, if I was still interested in being part of the Horiyoshi Family…

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To read the full article, visit: http://heartbeatink.gr/en/columns-features/artists-studios-columns-features/horikitsune/#!prettyPhoto[]/0/


Tattoo Stories Episode 8: Shawn Barber

Shot by Estevan Oriol


Lyle Tuttle Tattoos on All 7 Continents

Anna Felicity Friedman                                                                FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 2/10/14

tattoohistorian.com

+1 773 307-2753

tattoohistorian@gmail.com

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Lyle Tuttle Tattoos on All 7 Continents

Becomes First Person to Accomplish This Feat

On January 21, 2014, 82-year-old tattoo legend Lyle Tuttle became the first person to

tattoo on all 7 continents. A long-standing “bucket list” item of his, this accomplishment

fulfilled a personal mission for Mr. Tuttle. He said of the endeavor: “Because I was lucky

to have the greatest time slot that any tattoo artist ever had in tattooing, it wound up

that I had tattooed on six continents. So I had an opportunity to tattoo on seven

continents. Well, I’m not out to break any records but why not do it, it’s there! Edmund

Hillary, they asked him why he climbed Mount Everest, and he said ‘because it was

there’.”

After a long trip to the tip of South America, he and project assistant/tattoo historian Dr.

Anna Felicity Friedman, flew across the Drake Passage on a 6-seat charter flight. Still

plagued by after-effects from a bout of frostbite acquired while serving in the Marines in

the Korean War, the trip posed a particular challenge for Mr. Tuttle. The two travelers

spent a full day touring, seeing—among the many wonders of the icy southern world—

glaciers, icebergs, penguins, seals, and whales—and experiencing what life is like for

those who live in Antarctica for extended periods of time. Then, late at night, Mr. Tuttle

set up his tattoo station in a scientist’s guesthouse at the Russian Bellingshausen Station

and tattooed his signature tattoo—his autograph—on Dr. Friedman’s leg, later adding

“ANTARCTICA 2014” when back in Punta Arenas, Chile. They were among only a

handful of tourists who have the privilege of sleeping on the continent each year.

Along the way, Mr. Tuttle acquired two new tattoos (he calls them “stickers on your

luggage”), the word “LIMA” during a stopover in Lima, Peru, and “ANTARCTICA 2014”

with a small penguin after returning to Patagonia. A natural prankster, he delighted in

surprising local tattoo artists along the way with his completely unexpected visits.

Mr. Tuttle, noted for his role in helping bring tattooing to a wider clientele in the 1960s

and 70s, began his career in 1949. He has tattooed such prominent clients as Janis

Joplin, Joan Baez, and the Allman Brothers and was featured on the cover of Rolling

Stone Magazine in 1970. Mostly retired from tattooing, Mr. Tuttle hosts an annual tattoo

convention every fall in St. Louis, travels widely educating about tattoo machines and

other topics, and maintains one of the world’s largest collections of tattoo-history

artifacts and ephemera.

You can read more about the project and view some images at: http://bit.ly/ltaproject

Media inquires: Please contact Lyle’s assistant on this project, Dr. Anna Felicity

Friedman, at tattoohistorian@gmail.com or +1 773 307-2753. High-resolution images

and video are available. Thumbnails on request.

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Shenpa II

By Nick Baxter

http://www.nbaxter.com

Here’s a process sequence for a tiny diptych painting I did a few months ago related to the recurring theme in my work of healing wounds.

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Tinted panel with drawing, color block-in, building detail, adding final glazes and highlights, and finished painting.

 This tiny little pair will be included in the forthcoming art catalogue Pint Size Paintings Volume 2, which compiles these small paintings completed by members of the worldwide tattoo community, and features them in a traveling art show.

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Shenpa II )Toward Healing), oil on panels, 4 x 3 inches (diptych), 2013

wrote about the Tibetan Buddhist symbolism surrounding my use of the hook symbol last year, after completing Shenpa I (which now resides in the collection of the amazing and prolific figurative painter Shawn Barber!).

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Shenpa (Toward Healing), oil on panel, 11 x 14 inches, 2013


The Canvases Walk in the Door: A Brooklyn Tattoo Parlor Popular with foreigners

By Carroll Gardens

Source: http://www.nytimes.com

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The owner of Smith Street Tattoo Parlor described its style as traditional American, with a bit of Japanese thrown in.

The brownstone-lined streets of Carroll Gardens may not seem like much of a tourist destination. But brand Brooklyn is ascendant these days, and foreigners come to idle at farm-to-table restaurants and browse in fanciful boutiques.And farther south, where affluence gives way to aluminum siding and Smith Street dead-ends under the din of the Gowanus Expressway, visitors come for a more permanent souvenir: authentic Brooklyn ink.

On a recent Thursday, Yossy Yoshino, 35, a tattoo artist from Japan, lay face down on a massage table at Smith Street Tattoo Parlour while Dan Santoro, 31, inscribed a pig in a bikini on his back (“three tops, one for each set of teats,” Mr. Santoro explained). The words “Weird World” floated above the pig’s head.

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Mr. Yoshino, a teardrop tattoo dripping from his eye, said he had traveled thousands of miles from his home in Okinawa to get a “New York tattoo.”

Just what makes a New York tattoo can be a bit difficult to pin down. The shop’s owner, Bert Krak, 35, described the parlor’s style as traditional American, with a bit of Japanese thrown in.

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THIS IS NOT A TOY

An Exhibition of the Contemporary Art + Collectible Design

Celebrate the World’s First Large-Scale Exhibition Dedicated to Designer Toys at the Design exchange.

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This Is Not a Toy at Canada’s Design Museum, Design Exchange, featuring Better Knowing by KAWS

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – TORONTO, Canada – February 7, 2014Design Exchange (DX), Canada’s Design Museum, is proud to present a series of firsts with its playful, unprecedented exhibition This Is Not A Toy, guest curated by music and fashion mogul Pharrell Williams. The first major original programming produced by DX. The first foray into museum curation for cultural connector Williams. The first time coveted artists, Brooklyn’s KAWS and Japan’s Takashi Murakami, have shown their work in a design museum. Dedicated to exploring the conceptual toy – a form made solely as an expression of an aesthetic or idea – as a fine art and design object, as well as a contemporary cultural signifier, This Is Not A Toy marks the first time these vibrant collectible sculptures, figures and paintings have collectively been on display in a museum setting.
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For Restless Pioneer of Modern Tattoo Art, a Life Beyond Ink

By David Gonzalez

Source: http://www.nytimes.com

Visitors to the cluttered studio inside Thom DeVita’s Victorian house marvel at the artwork that covers the walls, his drawing table, even his hands. The images reflect not just his interests, but his skills, which he honed as a tattoo artist on the Lower East Side for some 30 years; a storied era to aficionados. The accomplishment was all the more remarkable because it was illegal in New York City at the time.

Nowadays, it seems everybody has a tattoo. If there is someone to thank for the art’s increased acceptance and visibility, it might be Mr. DeVita. Every month, Chris Grosso brings admirers up to visit the old master, in Newburgh, the upstate town where he has lived since leaving the Lower East Side in the early 1990s.

“He is one of the founders of modern tattooing,” said Mr. Grosso, who befriended Mr. DeVita two years ago while filming a documentary about him. “It’s not what you see on reality television, but something that only he and seven other people in the 1960s started, from purely a love for the art form. He wasn’t from a sailor or biker background, where tattooing comes with the territory. They appreciated the great Japanese masters, the people from Samoa. Thom was at the forefront of that.”

Growing up in East Harlem, the son of Italian immigrants, Mr. DeVita did not set out to be an artist. After high school, he worked at various jobs, from factory hand to messenger. He recalled how his parents used to refer to some people as “bohemians,” and how he warmed to the idea.

“It seemed like a nice life to live, being with artists,” he said. “It didn’t seem like they went to work. Then I realized when I got to the Lower East Side, I was 30 years too late to be a bohemian. But I caught the tail end of the beatnik era and the beginning of the hippie era.”

His own entree into the art world was improvised, when a potential girlfriend asked him what he did.

“I had to be something, so I told her I was an artist,” he said. “So I became an artist. I had to show her I was an artist, so I started doing some artwork.”

He decided to become a tattoo artist when the city banned tattooing in 1961 (the ban was lifted in 1997). He figured business would be good, since the law drove out his competitors, and the police on the Lower East Side had more pressing concerns than outlaw skin art.

Mr. Grosso said that Mr. DeVita created new designs incorporating nontraditional elements, such as Pueblo Indian iconography and even the rose from the Lord & Taylor shopping bag. He said he admires him for his restless creativity, even if — at 81 years of age, with hands trembling from Parkinson’s disease — he no longer does many tattoos.

Instead, Mr. DeVita resorts to rubbings, stencils and stamps, making montages of old tattoo designs on recycled wooden crates, paper, cutting boards and even ancient ledgers. He signs them with his surname, rendered in snakelike letters that would be the envy of any graffiti writer.

“He paints on everything,” Mr. Grosso said. “Maybe if he had seen graffiti he would have been a tagger. He just doesn’t stop. It has to be a compulsion.”

Mr. Grosso can understand. After making a documentary on Mr. DeVita, he set up a website to sell his work. Now he visits him monthly, to give him cash from the sales and pick up new work to ship. He is often accompanied by a friend or two who might want to learn about tattoo history firsthand, like Fernando Lions, a tattoo artist from Brooklyn who recently accompanied him on a trek.

The two young men peppered Mr. DeVita with questions, and asked to see some classic designs or snapshots from his time on the Lower East Side. Depending on his mood, he may or may not comply; pictures he had told Mr. Grasso never existed magically appeared during this visit. At one point, Mr. DeVita took out some panoramas he had painted in bold, black brush strokes.

“These are beautiful,” Mr. Lions said quietly.

“You know how they’re done?” Mr. DeVita asked. “The paper is scrap I cut off bigger pieces. I paint on them with whatever is left in the ink pot.”

Before they are sent off to customers, Mr. DeVita packs a slip that reads: “Any Imperfections Will Add to Its Beauty.” He first saw the phrase when he bought a china closet, and liked it so much he appropriated it.

“All my art is imperfection,” he said. “I dwell on imperfection. I’m constantly pulling things out of the fire.”


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