Born in 1945 in the US, Ed Hardy is a tutelary figure of tattooing. His career, his work and his commitment to the medium make him one of the historic names of the modern and contemporary tattoo. He was interested in tattooing at a very young age: at 10, fascinated by a piece worn by a family friend, he went to the legendary Bert Grimm’s studio to watch him work. Back home he opens his own “tattoo studio” and reproduces with a pencil on his friends the most emblematic flashes of his first master. Although he will ultimately learn to tattoo by himself with a sewing needle, he will then abandon the tattooing, his young age being too great of an obstacle. As an art student, Ed Hardy is passionate about contemporary art, culture and beat literature, but also the hot rod and surf cultures; it is in 1966 at the San Francisco fine arts that he returns to his first love on the occasion of a presentation on “the tattoo as a forgotten popular art”. Soon after he meets Phil Sparrow – whose tattoo shop was in 60’s the first to present works of art and pictures on its walls in an atmosphere more akin to that of an art gallery. The latter will attempt to discourage him at first, before providing him his first professional education.
Ed Hardy then continued his training with Zeke Owens and Doc Webb, then meets in 1969 the famous Sailor Jerry, who invites him to work with him in his studio in Honolulu. His stay at Sailor Jerry, undisputed master with a strong character, historic messenger figure of the tattoo community and of exchanges between East and West, and fervent activist for the defense of tattooing as and art, will be the foothold of his career. After a stay in 1972 in Japan, invited by Oguri Horihide, Ed Hardy opens his first shop, Realistic Tattoo, in 1974 in San Francisco: with no flashes on the wall, he works only with customers looking for a “unique” tattoo and only by appointment – a practice then unique in the United States. His style celebrates the mastery of the traditional Japanese tattoo and the meeting with the American old school iconography.
Ed Hardy is one of the handful of historic artists who connected, via an intellectual reflection, the specificity of the tattoo as folk art and outsider art, to the realm of “great” art – he revolutionized, as such, the Western tattoo. In 1977 he opens Tattoo City with Bob Roberts, became friend with Leo Zulueta with whom he initiates new tribalism, which will have a considerable impact on modern tattoo. Becoming an international reference, in 1982 he organized the historic convention Tattoo Expo’82, the first convention funded privately by studios, and creates the same year the likewise historic Tattootime magazine that will be published until 1991.
Since ten years, Don Ed Hardy is dedicated to his painting, continuing his reflection on the deep links between art history and tattoo art. The deep understanding, irrigating his paintings, of the tattoo’s pure spirit gives his work a timeless, magical dimension, at the exact and unique crossroad of two art histories.
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