Tattoo Chronicles << 101 Most Influential People in Tattooing << #101-#91

Top 101 Most Influential People in Tattooing

Bob BaxterMost people with an iota of intelligence will avoid listing the top ten anything. Name your favorite ice cream flavor and, sure enough, the chocolate-mint-chip people will be all up in arms because they got beaten out by vanilla. Even a list of your favorite movie stars will have irate theater owners refusing to sell you a ticket. No matter how hard you try to assemble a non-threatening roster of favorites, somebody’s going to be miffed. Name a “top one hundred” and the bottom fifty will never speak to you again. The top two-thru-ten will be horrified that they’re not Number One. And the ones you leave out? They’ll spit whenever your name is mentioned.

All that said, Mr. Hemingson asked me to compile my list of the 101 Most Influential Living People in the World of Tattoo and, not wanting to be left out any future list by Hemingson (Joe Vegas once said, “Make a list, and everybody will want to be on it”), I agreed. But before I once again become an object of derision (during my fifteen years with SKIN&INK, I earned the nickname “Target”), please know that I love everybody! Even the idiots, I love. Even the people who swallow parakeets and hate Elvis, I love. Even the numb nuts who are somehow on my list (solely because they are influential), I love. They probably know who they are, by the way, and should thank their lucky stars that I’m in a good mood and don’t compile of list of Tattooing’s 101 Biggest Jerks.

So, here I go leaping into the breach, counting down with numbers 101 thru 91. It is done this way, to both stay organized and build suspense. By the way, all you potential candidates who are thinking of influencing my vote—since this feature will be monthly and run for almost a year—keep in mind that there’s at least one Christmas, my birthday and a Father’s Day in there somewhere.

—Bob Baxter

TOP 101-91 People in tattooing by Bob Baxter
101. David Singletary

101. David Singletary owns a tattoo shop, Sacred Art Tattoo, in godforsaken Chico, California www.facebook.com/david.singletary. Singletary makes the list for, if nothing else, his shepherding of one of the world’s great treasures and charismatic tattoo personalities, the late Capt. Don Leslie (who died on June 4, 2007). Singletary made certain that, in his declining years, Capt. Don, one of the greatest carneys ever to grace a stage, swallow a sword or breathe fire, had a roof over his head and three squares (albeit chocolate bars and soda pop) a day. Modern tattooing was founded on the carney spirit, and Singletary was the Keeper of the Flame for one of its brightest stars. Anyone with that a heart that big deserves a spot on any tattoo lover’s thank-you list.

100. Barnaby Williams

100. Barnaby Williams owns and operates Mom’s Body Shop (www.momsbodyshop.com) in San Francisco’s Haight district. Well known as one of America’s elite centers of tattooing for the last twenty years, San Francisco was the spawning ground for two of the top names in the industry, namely Don Ed Hardy to Lyle Tuttle. But those two icons tattoo no more, so its up to artist/owners like Barnaby Williams, whose shop consistently tops San Francisco’s “Best Of” lists, to maintain the standards that made this one America’s great meccas of tattoo art and innovation. Maybe it’s the quality of the artwork, maybe it’s the customer service, but no matter. Whatever it is, because of Williams, tattooing is alive and well in the City by the Bay.

99. Jan Seeger

99. Jan Seeger was, up until 1997, the primary convention photographer for SKIN&INK magazine. It was then that Jan (www.janseeger.com), who had a gorgeous studio/loft near Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles, began to refocus on different, more photojournalistic subject matter and relocated to New Hampshire with her husband, tribal tattooist Trevor Marshall. Seeger now concentrates on fashion photography and prize-winning news stories, but her significant influence in setting the tine and lifting the quality of tattoo photography to gallery level is still evident in every one of today’s better tattoo publications, both here and abroad.

98. Steve Peace

98. Steve Peace is a tattoo artist who owns Immaculate Concept Tattoo in Calgary, Alberta, Canada (www.immaculateconcept.com) and produces the top-notch Alberta Bound tattoo events in both Calgary and Edmonton. I once wrote that Steve’s shows were “the best in the United States,” meaning that his attention to detail, the way he treats the artists and his overall professionalism was unparalleled anywhere in the U.S. or Canada. When you went to a Steve Peace show, there was a green room with a refrigerator (with food in it), big, wide aisles, a full-on car show, a sound system that worked and large, comfortable booths showcasing many of Canada’s best-of-the-best tattoo artists. In short, Steve Peace showed us all just how a tattoo event should be run. Not bad for a Canadian, eh?

97. Joe Capobianco

97. Joe Capobianco, at Hope Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut (www.joecapobianco.com), has been a major influence on the last decade of tattoo pinup art. Joe’s girls, instead of being the usual copies of Sailor Jerry Collin’s classic but rather simplified and cartoonish hula girls and Army nurses, are outright voluptuous and sexy. To show just how popular he is, tattoo shops around the world post Capobianco pinups on their walls, to, if nothing else, remind them what to aim for in the quality department. A straight shooter, Joe continually inspires other artists with his seductive fantasy girls and his no-nonsense critiques of aspiring artists’ paintings and body art. Tattoos keep getting more sophisticated and artists keep improving their craft, thanks to talented innovators and motivators like Joe Capobianco.

96. Henry Goldfield

96. Henry Goldfield, owner and operator of the classic, old-school San Francisco tattoo shop, Goldfield’s, (www.goldfieldstattoosf.com) at 404 Broadway since 1977, started as a sign painter and segued into one of the great tattoo and sideshow banner artists of the last century. A classic curmudgeon and storyteller, Goldfield tattoos the best damned roses in the business. I know because I had him take three-and-a-half hours to do a blue one on my right ankle at the last great tattoo convention in San Francisco in 2005. I’ll always remember Goldfield for coining the statement that SKIN&INK, the publication I edited for fifteen years, was, under my leadership, “the National Geographic of the tattoo magazines.” Thanks, Henry. You inspired me, man.

95. Ann Fitzgerald

95. Ann Fitzgerald was seminal in raising public awareness that tattooing is actually Fine Art and not just the indelible scribbling of a bunch of weirdoes down by the wharf. Within an amazingly brief prep time of six months, Fitzgerald, as Senior Curatorial Researcher for New York’s highly-regarded Museum of Natural History, produced, installed and hosted a Body Art exhibition that featured everything from sculptures of tattooed Mayans and two of Lyle Tuttle’s very best sideshow posters, to a tape-loop of interviews with today’s top tattoo artists and a giant, eight-by-four foot color poster of a giant koi fish backpiece by my son, Jesse Tuesday. All in all, what with that and Ann’s contribution to the modern tattoo world as a whole, the exhibition was, for me, as well as countless others, a tremendously moving and heartfelt experience.

94. Michelle Myles

94. Michelle Myles took over New York City’s Dare Devil Tattoo (www.daredeviltattoo.com) from one of the original movers-and-shakers of the modern, East Coast tattoo movement, Jonathan Shaw. Filling Jonathan’s shoes was a tremendous feat (pardon the pun) for anyone, but even though the city was eat-’em-alive Manhattan and the tattoo industry had just re-birthed itself from a long, legal moratorium, Michelle not only refurbished Shaw’s shop, but built a solid business and survived in one of the most male-dominated industries in the world; all the while retaining her femininity, her warm-hearted charm and her skills as one of the industry’s most talented tattoo artists. Myles helped pull New York out of a moratorium slump by inspiring other artists, men and women alike, and returning the Big Apple to its rightful place among the leaders in the tattoo hierarchy.

93. Mike Bakaty

93. Mike Bakaty opened New York City’s Fineline Tattoo (www.finelinetattoo.com), in a loft in the Lower East Side in 1976, when tattooing in the Big Apple was illegal and forced to exist underground. Still pushing ink today at “2nd and 2nd” with his son Mehai (who, under his father’s tutelage, made needles at fourteen and performed his first tattoo at age sixteen), Bakaty is credited with having the longest continually running tattoo shop in Manhattan. He also penned a column, “Bakaty’s World,” for SKIN&INK magazine, educating us all about the roller-coaster life of a big-city tattooist, years before the advent of documentary TV shows and heavily-inked celebrities. Among his little-known credits, Bakaty has a selection of his art displayed in the permanent collection of New York City’s Guggenheim Museum. One of the industry’s great storytellers, Bakaty is in his shop every day, dispersing wisdom, cool comments and old-school tattoos to all who wander through the door.

92. Billy Eason

92. Billy Eason was the genius behind one of the original heavy-hitter tattoo “conventions,” the Richmond Tattoo Arts Festival in Virginia.” That was some eighteen years ago, when these weekend events were more than a break from the daily grind, but were actually special and exciting. For example, I remember having a booth for my magazine that featured Leo Zulueta and Keone Nunes, all courtesy of Mr. Eason. Always affable and positive, this industry icon has gone through lots of personal challenges during the years, but he keeps overcoming and showing up with excellent, dependable, quality tattoo events and, as an added bonus, never wears the same colorful, one-of-a-kind tattoo-guy shirt twice.

91. Patty Kelley

91. Patty Kelley has been tattooing since 1987. Her shop, Avalon Tattoo (www.avalontattoo.com), in Pacific Beach, California (a small, thriving beach city in San Diego), has long demonstrated how to properly operate a successful tattoo business. Ranked along with Betty Broadbent, SuzAnne Fauser and Vyvyn Lazonga as one of tattooing’s most influential pioneer women, Patty’s beauty not only graced the cover of several magazines but, along with her ex-husband, Fip Buchanan (who runs Avalon II, also in San Diego), Kelley, remains one of the most knowledgeable and personable artists in the business and was recognized for her contributions to the art of tattooing in a special ceremony at the New York City Tattoo Convention in 2006. Although a veteran of twenty years in the business, Avalon was named San Diego’s Best Tattoo Shop by CityBeat magazine in 2009, yet another example of how Patty has never slackened in her efforts to lift both her shop and the art of tattooing to new heights of excellence.

This Way to #90-#81

Tattoo Chronicles << 101 Most Influential People in Tattooing << #101-#91

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