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|The conventions were his revelation on the road to Damascus. Like Paul, he saw the light. On his return to Vancouver he opened his first tattoo shop. He studied tattooing like a science. He was a man possessed. He built up a huge reference library. He craved knowledge. Studied the history of tattooing. Took art and drawing classes. Delved into the chemistry of the inks he was using, explored their effects on human skin, and he became a pioneer in using sterilization. But he knew he needed to study with the master tattoo artists of his era if he wanted to become a great tattoo artist in his own right. Every painter has to go to Paris. Every great painter has his own style and Thomas knew he had yet to find his own.
The Denver convention was important for another reason. It began Thomas' connection to Japan, which would culminate in his first of many trips there in 1982. At Denver he met, Oguri, a Japanese tattoo artist who spoke English. Oguri was from Gifu City and he and Thomas kept in touch by correspondence.
Over the next half decade Thomas made a series of pilgrimages to the artists leading what would later become recognized as the West Coast renaissance in tattooing: Dave Shore in Vancouver, Don Nolan in Seattle, Cliff Raven in Los Angeles, Ed Hardy, Lyle Tuttle and Chuck Eldridge in San Francisco. Thomas learned something from each of them. Don Nolan started by in large part inking Thomas' sleeves, the tattoos that cover his arms from shoulder to elbow. Later Thomas would extend the ink all the way to his wrists. But the work Ed Hardy was doing was something special. Ed Hardy was heavily influenced by the traditional Japanese style of full body tattooing. A style introduced into the west by the legendary Sailor Jerry. Sailor Jerry's tattoo shop in Honolulu was the gateway through which the Japanese form entered the West. It was a style that spoke to Thomas in a way he still can't fully articulate. But he knew he had to go to Japan. Had to see it for himself. He had to make the pilgrimage to Mecca.
So in 1982 Thomas went to Japan. To seek out and pay homage to the style of tattooing that so moved him. It would be the first of several trips. The Japanese he met were all impressed by the quality of the work Thomas already had inked on his body, particularly the work of Ed Hardy. His friend Oguri introduced him to another Japanese tattoo artist in nearby Yokohama, Mitsukai Ohwada. Thomas was interested in having traditional work done. Ohwada introduced Thomas to rising young star Yoshito Nakano, who ultimately became known to the tattooing world as Horiyoshi III. Horiyoshi III would become a man acknowledged as one of the greatest masters of the traditional Japanese style of tattooing. Would in fact become legendary.
In 1982 Horiyoshi was a relative unknown to the outside world. He was eager to tattoo Thomas. Especially upon finding out that Thomas was committed to getting a full body suit, the Japanese "kimono". Tattooed in the old way. Hand tapped. A stick with up to forty needles attached. Thomas was a canvas that Horiyoshi wanted to paint. Because this canvas would travel back to the West. It was a process that was to take years. Thomas soaked in the art form like his skin absorbed ink. Took in every one of Horiyoshi's stylistic subtleties and nuances. By the time his tutelage and tattoo were complete Thomas and Horiyoshi were friends.
More importantly, Thomas Lockhart had found his style. The style in which he would define himself as a tattoo artist, build his reputation and refine his oeuvre. Thomas began to be written about in the magazines and journals of the tattooing world. His profile and acclaim began to grow. In the following years Thomas has done what has been recognized in the tattooing world as some of the finest Japanese style work that exists. Soon tattoo enthusiasts, aficionados and other tattoo artists were coming to see Thomas. Often traveling hundreds and even thousands of miles to get a tattoo from Thomas Lockhart and Thomas Lockhart alone. West Coast Tattoo became the place to go if you wanted a Japanese style tattoo, sleeve, kimono or bodysuit. A burgeoning film industry in Vancouver discovered Thomas and hired him extensively to recreate his art for the movies. The local media found in him an articulate and passionate advocate of his art form. If you wanted an opinion about tattooing from Thomas Lockhart all you had to do was make sure the tape recorder was turned on. The world was Thomas Lockhart's oyster. Or so it seemed.
Thomas continued his travels in the eighties and nineties. Now a master tattoo artist, he found himself spending an increasing amount of time in South East Asia because of his fascination with their cultures and traditions, particularly the native tattooing. His experiences with Horiyoshi had kindled an interest in the tattooing of other cultures. While in Borneo he got a group of ancient tribal elders to give him an authentic tribal tattoo. As the old men worked on Thomas's arm he couldn't help but wonder, who would follow in their footsteps. Where were the young men who would take their place?
The younger artists all used the latest Western technology. Thomas himself had passed out a number of electric tattoo machines as gifts all over South East Asia. Had in fact usually been the first on the local Asian tattoo scene with modern Western tattooing technology. Thomas had given Horiyoshi III himself his very first electric tattoo gun, which Horiyoshi was using. Thomas had always thought the giving of these gifts was an innocent act. Had thought that in giving out the tattoo equipment he was doing his newfound friends a favour. The local tattoo artists loved the machines Thomas had given them. Never before had they been able to do so much work so quickly. When they quickly abandoned the slower traditional methods of tattooing for the speed and efficiency of the electric guns, Thomas began to wonder if instead he hadn't opened a Pandora's box.
What were the consequences of these changes? In freely distributing the tattoo machines had Thomas in fact sown the seeds of the destruction and ultimate demise of the authentic tribal tattoo? Would the traditional ways of tribal tattooing die out? Would an ancient art form be lost forever? Would the traditional tribal tattoos done in the original authentic hand tapping style vanish? Thomas began to be haunted by what he suspected he himself had set in motion. For a man who prided himself on his abilities to live and work harmoniously with the native cultures he traveled so extensively amongst, Thomas began to experience a terrible sense of remorse and regret.
Contact Thomas Lockhart at email@example.com