Tattoo Chronicles << 101 Most Influential People in Tattooing << #90-#81

Top 101 Most Influential People in Tattooing

Bob Baxter

I’m only twenty people into this list and I am already having second thoughts. People who I am ranking in the eighties and nineties are the same people for whom I could make a good case for ranking in the top ten. But perhaps, with a little bit of luck and a considerable amount of trust on the part of the reader, we will see how the list develops and how the accomplishments of these influential men and women are reflected in their specific rankings. I’m only glad that I didn’t have to come up with a top 101 list of “all time,” rather than a list of “the top 101 people who are still alive and kicking,” which this is. Samuel O’Reilly, Thomas Edison, Bert Grimm, Paul Rogers: those were some of the giants who built this amazing industry. I, on the other hand, will focus on individuals who have distinguished themselves by keeping it going and, for the most part, maintaining its integrity today.

—Bob Baxter

TOP 90-81 People in tattooing by Bob Baxter

90. Grime

90. Grime (www.theskullandsword.com/artists/grime/) has been an icon in the Northern California tattoo scene for well over a decade. Looked up to by the young powerhouses of the industry, Grime’s artwork is always creative, innovative and, quite simply, like no one else’s. Having endured a catastrophic run-in with a fiery field back when he was a youngster, author, artist and owner of San Francisco’s Skull & Sword, Grime triumphed over adversity and promptly traveled the world, severe burns and all, in a quest for an appropriate meaning of life. A meaning that demonstrated the famous adage, “tattoos are pictures of your inside on the outside.” In Grime’s case, this is indeed true, for his tattoos and paintings reflect a degree of pain, outrageousness, significant loss, protest and a will to survive that is unique among the current tattoo scene. His uninhibited, uncensored graphics have inspired many of his fans and followers to reach beyond standard boundaries, take chances, think independently and produce groundbreaking work that speaks—without censorship, without fear—directly from the heart.

89. Rick Harnowski

89. Rick Harnowski (www.tattoosbyrick.com) is good at a lot of things: tattooing, producing bi-annual tattoo events (Rick’s 14th International Tattoo Convention will take place in 2011) and raising his two sons, Josh and Dan. Instrumental in engineering the tattooing industry rules and regulations within the City of Green Bay and the State of Wisconsin, Rick has been a mainstay of the Midwest tattoo scene for the last forty-plus years. His first tattoo event was in 1982, in the back of a tavern. “We had about one hundred people and artists from the area near us here,” says Rick. “It grew and grew, but it was not an annual thing. It was more whenever we could get one organized.” So, every two years the tattoo community waits to attend a real throwback to the way conventions were a decade or two ago, when booths were filled with legendary artists, the hosts ran like sprinters, whenever you asked for something, and all who attended got a real taste of what old-skool tattooing is all about.

88. Mary Jane Haake

88. Mary Jane Haake of Portland, Oregon (www.dermigraphics.com) was not only Bert Grimm’s final apprentice but one of tattooing’s most resourceful and clever business people. Ever involved, Mary Jane markets a line of cosmetic products, successfully owns and manages various rental properties and has tattooed everyone, from art collectors to motorcycle cops, at her posh, tattoo digs in the heart of downtown. As a liaison between the tattoo world and Portland business community, Mary Jane has operated her low-profile, second-story studio for thirty years; the longest running tattoo parlor on the west coast and, perhaps, in the nation. Specializing in tattooing folks with special requirements, such as inking logos for the local motorcycle cops, the SWAT team and FBI, Mary Jane has a national reputation for cosmetic tattooing. “Back in the day, Bert used to say, “When someone wants to get a tattoo, they expect to go to Skid Row.” Not so with Mary Jane, her second floor, down-the-hall, neat-as-a-pin studio is not conducive to walk-ins or twenty-something groupies, proving that longevity, business acumen and a solid relationship with the city in which she lives, trumps showboating, big egos and a row of shiny trophies in the window every time.

87. John Wyatt

87. John Wyatt (www.johnwyatt.net) has photographed tattooing, for almost thirty years. But not in a predictable way. While others confine themselves to snapping photos at tattoo conventions or arriving “on set” at parades, social gatherings or biker fests, John creates his own focal points, his own themes, and then fleshes them out with gallery-quality images that find their way into collector’s books or on the walls of gallery shows with icons such as Don Ed Hardy and Thom DeVita. Case in point: John’s Under My Skin (Schiffer Books), an enthralling collection of multifarious tattooed people (Mike Bakaty, Jack Rudy, Kate Hellenbrand, etc.) photographed in their personal environments (bedrooms, living rooms, workplaces). Combined with first-person biographies from the subjects themselves, Wyatt’s approach tells us more about the people and is fifty times more entertaining than a hundred interviews. Currently compiling photos for a new book, Tough Guys, which focuses on members of the wrestling, MMA and pugilistic arts, Wyatt continues to take tattoo photography to a high level of acceptance and respect that the art form itself has been working to establish for more than half a century.

86. Doc Forest

86. Doc Forest opened the first officially sanctioned tattoo studio (www.docforest.com), in Sweden, back in 1972. Born Ove Skög, Doc was the very first European tattooer to visit Japan (a tattoo art exhibit in Tokyo). He was the one who brought real Japanese tattoo designs and water shading to Europe. In addition to his artistic contributions to the world tattoo scene, Doc is also an avid experimenter, producing a wide array of quirky, tattoo-themed guitars, futuristic tattoo machines and eye-catching hotrod detailing (www.docforest.com). I spent time with Doc and his wife, Sirpa, a decade or so ago, on our trip to celebrate the 2,000-year anniversary of tattooing in Samoa. It was easy to see how his intelligence, enthusiasm and love of the art has inspired so many, both in Europe and abroad. A wise arbiter, Doc is keenly aware of tattooing’s past as well as its present. In fact, if body art had a Supreme Court, Doc would be my candidate for Chief Justice. His very presence is comforting, reminding that not everything of value in the world of tattoo is created by relative newcomers or artists residing in the U.S. of A.

85. ManWoman

85. ManWoman (www.manwoman.net) has gone where others have feared to tread. A poet, artist, researcher, musician, social activist and teacher, ManWomen is one of tattooing’s most dedicated and learned advocates. Born in 1938, in Cranbrook, B.C., his accomplishments in expanding the awareness of our limited view of icons, symbols and lifestyles has had a major impact on the acceptance of new ideas within the tattoo community. His brilliant 114-age book Gentle Swastika (Flyfoot Press), one of many he has authored, detoxifies and redeems the prestige and beauty of the Swastika, a centuries-old symbol of innocence in cultures as diverse as the Native Americans, Celts, Norse, Africans, Japanese, Thais, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians. Winner of the Award of Excellence from the governor of Alberta, ManWoman has contributed enormously to an acceptance, among the tattoo family, of new ideas, different opinions and has, most importantly, planted a hopeful seed of tolerance within an industry not as accepting and broad-minded as it could be.

84. Larry Brogan

84. Larry Brogan (tattoocityskinart.com) credits a lot of people for his success: first and foremost, the grandmaster of sci-fi fantasy art, Frank Frazetta.“Without discovering Franzetta’s paintings as a child on the cover of books such as Conan the Barbarian,” remembers Brogan, “I may not have been inspired to pursue art the way I did. My tattoo influences include the usual suspects such as Guy Aitchison, Filip Leu, Cap Szumski and Paul Jefferies, to more recent heavyweights like Joe Capobianco, Nick Baxter, Nikko Hurtado, Jeff Gogué, Kory Flatmo, Steve Moore and Bob Tyrrell.” Larry has owned and operated Tattoo City in Lockport, Illinois since 1994, but his influence is international. Strongly opinionated, Brogan has lately become a respected teacher and resource for young tattooists who search for a qualified mentor. Larry speaks from two decades of experience and, most importantly, is able to formulate key tattoo procedures, strategies and techniques in unique, fact-filled, student-friendly presentations which he shares at conventions and in his “Tips & Tricks” column on the Tattoo Road Trip website (www.tattooroadtrip.com).

83. Mike Skiver

83. Mike Skiver runs Personal Art Studio & Museum in Somerset, Pennsylvania, a historic, four-story building housing his and his wife Mary’s massive collection of tattoo collectibles and paraphernalia. “It takes nearly two hours to see everything,” says Mike. In his thirties before he started tattooing, Mike got into collecting when he traded tattooing with a guy who had some sheets of original Bert Grimm flash. Mike was interested but dubious. It turned out that there were nearly one-hundred-and-fifty sheets. Mike’s been into tattooing for over forty years, but, on that day, he was like a little kid who’d just scored some baseball trading cards. Now, his museum boasts over thirty display cases of real-deal tattoo memorabilia in this, the largest collection of American folk art on the East Coast.

82. Mike McCaben

82. Mike McCabe tried tattooing for a short time, but, thankfully, decided to be one of its foremost historians and journalists. Two of his books New York City Tattoo: The Oral History of an Urban Art and Tattoos of Indochina: Magic, Devotion, & Protection reside comfortably on any true tattoo enthusiast’s library of must-read volumes. Mike is an excellent researcher and, having lived in China for the last few years, is always ready to steep himself in cultures, environments and situations that broaden our understanding and perception of tattoo art both here and abroad. A regular contributor to SKIN&INK and Tattoo magazine, among others, McCabe has done much to perpetuate the legends of old-school tattoo artists, as well as open out eyes to the indigenous tattoo practices of other cultures. One of our best writers, perhaps his greatest contribution is the clarity of his message and the way he brings us into the world of tattoo in a respectful, educational and always intriguing manner.

81. Charles Gatewood

81. Charles Gatewood (www.charlesgatewood.com) has reported on the tattoo and body art phenomenon for well over three decades. Documenting the tattoo scene since the mid-1970s, Gatewood quickly established his own, indisputable niche in the world of erotic art by capturing, on film, the worlds of radical sex practices, bondage & discipline, dominance and submission and just plain sexy pinups. His photos of modern primitives, erotic tattoos, extreme body-piercing and even a book called Messy Girls (young women who, after a Gatewood typical photo session, happily submitted to spirited paint-and-chocolate-sauce-splattering episodes!) has placed Gatewood in the top rank of erotic photographers, although his well-disciplined exposés on the ink scene in San Francisco and the practice of “tribal” markings ranks among the best of tattoo reportage. Add to Gatewood’s list of credits three books with Spider Webb - Pushing Ink: The Fine Art of Tattooing, Tattooed Women and X-1000. Gatewood also helped create Modern Primitives (the RE/Search book that sold 100,000 copies) and was a photographer for SKIN&INK for nearly fifteen years. Quite simply, Charles has been a brilliant translator and guide into the often kinky worlds that most of us have never visited, except in the deep, Puritan, guilt-ridden recesses of our minds.

This Way! 80-71

Tattoo Chronicles << 101 Most Influential People in Tattooing << #90-#81

top of page ^