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The Forgotten Wizard

Tattooing from 1970 to 1990

by JasonLambertArtist

January 26, 2006

It's no secret that tattooing has gotten immensely popular in recent years; both the mainstream media and the general public are exposed to "the tattoo world" almost constantly. The results have been mostly positive. The average customer now knows what safety issues to address and the demand for good quality art and technique has really pushed tattooing's boundaries forward. Along with this knowledge of contemporary tattoo has come an interest in tattooing's history.

For proof, one needs to look no further than the Sailor Jerry and Ed Hardy clothing lines (and associated products). In a very short time the names of these tattoo pioneers, which were almost completely unknown outside of tattoo studios, have become almost household names to a generation of hipsters and fashion forward young people (few of whom were even alive when Sailor Jerry passed away in 1972). Traditional tattooing has become a staple in the hardcore/ emo/ punk rock world to the extent that the 200 year old nautical star design is now more often called a "punk star" or "hardcore star". This interest in tattooing's past by the non-tattooer public is welcome and flattering, but there is a strange gap in this collective memory, lets call it "the forgotten Wizard" era.

Ask the average, well informed tattoo fan for a rough chronology of tattooing and you will hear something along the lines of "Gus Wagner- Sailor Jerry- Don Ed Hardy- Today" which is true, but what most folks don't realize is that this timeline omits nearly 25 years of tattooing altogether. You see, between the death of Sailor Jerry and the rise of modern neo-traditional (or New School) was a whole lot of fine line wizards, dragons, castles, skulls, and eagles! From the early 1970's to the early 1990's guys like Don Ed Hardy was the exception, not the rule. How did such a long aesthetic period escape the recent spotlight of tattooing's popularity?

After the Vietnam war prisons began turning out tattooers who, due to the limitations of their jailhouse equipment, tattooed with very thin, spindly lines (called "fine line" or "single needle") and gray wash instead of the traditional bold line and solid fields of color that had defined tattooing for 100 years. The new style lent itself to portraiture, wild life and realistic skulls at a time when counter culture and biker art was defined by those images. In a few years shops appeared specializing in fine line and black and gray work. Just as the youth of the time rejected the politics and morality of the previous generation, the new tattoo aesthetic rejected the old fashioned style of traditional tattoos with its associations of patriotism and militarism. The old standards of American eagles and "Death Before Dishonor" gave way to the anti-authoritarian sentiments of the Zig Zag man or peace sign.

What began as the new thing in the early 1970's had become the standard by the mid 1980's. Tattoos by this point had become firmly associated with bikers and social misfits. The aesthetic took on the fantasy elements that these groups prized and medieval dragons, Vikings, leering skulls and wizards were so closely identified with tattooing that the entire visual vocabulary of tattoo art from 1900 to the 1960's was lost to all, save a (continued next page)

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