In the past, tattoos have been associated with the rebellion and criminal activities. But today, it is not the case. With the emergence of famous tattoo artists, we can see that the art of tattooing has become strikingly more accepted in the world, and no longer associated with criminal groups and prisoners. Today, tattoos are seen as a form of art, a subtle rebellion, and can be seen everywhere, from the arm of the motorbike enthusiast to the ankle of a pre-school teacher. Approximately one in five Americans has a tattoo on their body, and that rate is much higher for the Millennials who don’t shy away from decorating their bodies and showing off the amazing designs. Famous tattoists have millions of Instagram followers, their own TV shows, and a great online presence, making the tattoo art a part of the world of contemporary art more and more each day. Since the stigma around tattoos in the workplace is slowly evaporating, tattoos can be seen everywhere nowadays, in the small artisan shops and serious companies equally.
But is tattoo art real art? If we take into account that numerous high-end tattoo auctions and gallery and museum exhibitions have been organized, showcasing the best of the tattoo art, we can safely say that the contemporary art world has got a new subcategory. In November of 2015, the auction house Guernsey’s has offered up a series of over 1000 images by the world’s leading tattoo artists. A traveling exhibition was showed at Richmond’s Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and featured large-scale photographs of traditional Japanese tattoo art, shot by the photographer Kip Fulbeck. In 1995, Michael Kimmelman, the New York Times art critic stated that tattoos were interesting to the art world because of their “outsider status.” In 2016, tattoos are not outsiders anymore but, as with performance art, it is difficult to put them in museums, for obvious reasons. Many famous names, including the Japanese master Horiyoshi III, assert that drawings can come alive in all their glory only on the skin. He even went on and told the Japan Times in 2007 that that was the reason he never shows his designs as “so-called art.”
Tattoo art has evolved from “flash” (the pre-designed drawing) to drawings that can take up 30 or 40 hours of an artist’s time. These pieces are custom made and often carry a large dose of significance for the future owner. Best tattoo creators are so good at their jobs that clients have to wait from several months to even several years for an appointment with them. The unique designs they create are not only beautiful, they also serve as reminders of personal stories told on the human skin. In that spirit, we have comprised a top list of our favorite famous tattoo makers, so go ahead and scroll down to see their amazing work.
Editors’ Tip: Margot Mifflin – Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo
Margot Mifflin’s Bodies of Subversion was the first book dealing with the history of women’s tattoo art when it was released in 1997. The book offers an amazing view of the tattoo subculture that spans over the course of centuries and includes a great number of never-before-seen photographs of tattooed women and female tattooists. Revised and expanded, this book was and still is the only one which offers an extensive history of the tattoo world, and includes the documentation of the Victorian women who proudly wore tattoos as custom couture, Maud Wagner, the first female tattoo artist, and breast cancer survivors who tattooed their mastectomy scars instead of having reconstructive surgeries, to name a few. Bodies of Subversion offers 50 full-color images, including the recently discovered work of Jessie Knight, Britain’s first female tattoo artist; the wrist tattoo of Janis Joplin; the tattooed pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. The book also contains a section of the famous tattoo artist Kat Von D.
Featured image: Scott Campbell via tattooblog.com
Images in the slider: Dr Woo © Robert Gallagher via gallagherphoto.com | Kat Von D via keybase.com | Paul Booth via adrenalinecrew.com | Wes Lang, photo by Roman Barrett via issuemagazine.com | Don Ed Hardy, right, works on Mark McClane's tattoo in his Lombard Street studio Wednesday, Dec, 29, 1999, in San Francisco, AP Photo/San Francisco Chronicle, Carlos Avila Gonzalez via sfgate.com
Native Americans and drawings of Walt Whitman, Chet Baker, and Ernest Hemingway, old school rock lyrics, American biker culture references, snakes, Playboy bunnies – all go into the sampler of the artist Wes Lang. His work is a topology of Americana in all its horror and glory. Wes Lang is one of the famous tattoo artists who ventured onto doing more than just tattoos. He designed a big box set for the band Grateful Dead. He has his own clothing line, Best Wishes. He designed Kanye West’s merchandise for his Yeezus Tour. A self-taught artist from New Jersey worked in a tattoo shop when he was young and is influenced by the great Cy Twombly, Martin Kippenberger, and Philip Guston.
Featured image: Wes Lang - artwork, Photography by Casper Sejersen via journal.beoplay.com
Images in the slider: Wes Lang - The Presence of the Departed, 2014 via pinterest.com | Wes Lang art via weslang.blogport.rs
Louisiana-born tattoo artist Scott Campbell is known as one of the most talented masters in the world of tattooing. He learned the craft of tattooing at the Picture Machine, which is one of the oldest shops in California. Nowadays, he owns and runs the famous Saved Tattoo in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and his client list includes the elite names of celebrities and famous fashion designers such as Marc Jacobs, musicians such Sting, Courtney Love, and actors such as Robert Downey Jr., Orlando Bloom, Penelope Cruz, and the late Heath Ledger, to name just a few. He has gained acclaim from the world of fine art for his work in the medium of sculpture (made out of US currency), watercolor paintings (inspired by his 6-week stay in a maximum security Mexico City prison), and graphite drawings (made on the insides of eggshells).
Featured image: Scott Campbell tattoo art via savedtattoo.com
Image in the slider: Scott Campbell tattoo art via savedtattoo.com
Don Ed Hardy is a legendary American old school tattoo artist who worked as an apprentice of Sailor Jerry for many years. He studied Japanese classical tattoo under the master artist, Horihide, and began incorporating the Japanese style and technique into his own art. Together with his wife, Hardy established the Hardy Marks Publications and published a number of books that deal with alternative art, such as the series Tattoo Time. He is also the owner of the Ed Hardy clothing line and mentors upcoming tattoo artists in his San Francisco studio, Tattoo City. However, he is retired from tattooing. Hardy’s son, Doug Hardy, is also a famous tattoo artist.
Featured image: Hardy works on a new piece in his studio CHRISTINA KOCI HERNANDEZ/THE CHRONICLE via sfgate.com
Paul Booth is an American tattoo artist known for his mastery when it comes to black and white imagery. He is a master of tattoo art, a leader in his field, and sought after by numerous celebrity clients and rock stars, and some of his clients include band members from Slayer, Soulfly, Slipknot, Mudvayne, Pantera, and Sepultura, to name a few. He is the creator of Art Fusion Experiment, a venue where tattoo artists can collaborate in order to make magnificent artworks. Booth is the owner and operator of the Last Rites Tattoo Theater in New York. His style is dark and macabre, and many up-and-coming tattoo artists look up to him and draw inspiration from his works. See Paul Booth tattooing a Cheshire cat in the video below.
Featured image: Paul Booth flash sheet via harlinestattoo.wordpress.com
Brian Woo aka Dr Woo is one of the famous tattoo artists whose work is globally recognized and sought after by many celebrities. However, only the lucky few can get the chance to be inked by the popular artist, as his waiting list is year-long, and his clientele includes the most popular influencers of today. He is famous for his single-needle, black and grey tattoos. His instantly recognizable style landed him clients such as Drake, Elli Goulding, Zoë Kravitz. He works in a Shamrock Social Club in Hollywood, right between the Viper Room and Soho House. GQ Magazine described him as “the most in-demand tattoo artist in the world”, and The New York Times wrote that he possesses “a level of detail that might have made M.C. Escher raise an eyebrow.”
Featured image: Dr Woo - Headphones single needle tattoo via illusion.scene360.com
Image in the slider: Dr Woo Ship tattoo via shamrocksocialclub.com
Kat Von D is an American tattoo artist best known for her appearance on the reality TV show LA Ink. She is often considered one of the foremost women in the tattoo industry, not just because of her fame, but because of her astounding work. She specializes in photorealistic portraiture. Kat Von D is known for tattooing a myriad of famous musicians, from Soulja Boy, Lady Gaga, Ville Valo, and Dave Navarro, among others, and she herself has tattoos of the emblems of the bands such as HIM, Misfits, ZZ Top, Guns N’ Roses, and Slayer, and has even appeared in HIM’s music video for the song Killing Loneliness. She is the creator of a cruelty-free makeup line, and of the MusInk Tattoo Convention and Music Festival. She released a couple of best-selling books and runs a tattoo studio High Voltage Tattoo. Unfortunately, Kat is no longer accepting requests due to the high volume of clients she has to catch up with.
Featured image: Kat Von D - Redrum for Jeffree Star via highvoltagetattoo.com
Image in the slider: Kat Von D tattoo via highvoltagetattoo.com | Left: Kat Von D - Edgar Allan Poe tattoo via highvoltagetattoo.com / Right: Kat Von D - Mona Lisa for Jeffree Star via highvoltagetattoo.com
San Francisco, United States of America