Jonathan Shaw

OV Book Review: Vintage Tattoo Flash

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According to the online photo storage site mylio.com, in 2015 an estimated 1 trillion photographs were taken world wide. Even if that number is slightly inflated using their metric, it’s fair to say that in 2016 more pictures will be taken in a 365 period than in the combined 202 years since Joseph Niepce took the what is believed to be the first photograph in 1814.

It’s an easy parallel to apply to tattoo flash; with the amount of tattooers working today and the cross cultural influence that our community has had on the art world with amateur flash designs appearing on tumblr, instagram and even god help us for sale at rock bottom prices on Etsy… a case can be made that there are more sheets of flash being produced per annum than ever before.

Why is it, then, that when you crack open a book like Tattoo Flash: 100 Years of Traditional Tattoos from the collection of Jonathan Shaw you see the designs that scores of artists are trying to reproduce in great volume at their rawest; free of ego or cleverness or embellishment- just pure folk art drawn by tradesmen tattooers, each design tweaked and perfected for the purpose of tattooing within the limitations of their craft. What colors were available and what would hold up, details that needed to be softened because a tattooer who was looking ahead wasn’t thinking about how the tattoo would look when he finally dipped the sponge in the bucket (with a drop of lysol for sanitation) to wipe the blood off before slapping a bandage on but how it was going to look it ten, twenty years… things that tattooers knew that more highbrow artists wouldn’t even consider are reflected in the bold will hold simplicity of an Ace Harlyn designed horse head and banner from 1948. It’s just a design that’s perfect to tattoo.

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Luckily the book doesn’t try to make sense of all that. It’s not a commentary on tattoo culture present or future- just a loving look back at the roots of designing tattoos from some of the art’s acknowledged masters who, along with the unknown tradesmen who carried their designs from town to town- setting up near a military base or carnival, plying the trade for people who didn’t need a sociology degree to pick out the perfect tattoo, right there on the third sheet from the left, for $6 and who walked away with a story right here on their arm.

The book is hefty; coffee table sized to do right by the amazing collection of flash that legendary tattooer Jonathan Shaw  has amassed over his decades of tattooing and traveling. Flipping through the pages you find image after image that the average working tattoo artist could still make a buck off of without having to reimagine or overthink. Lady heads, skulls, Hot Stuff Devils and the ubiquitous snarling black panther already laid out and ready to go (though you may want to change the prices up a little; $12.50 for a chest piece may send the wrong message) for their clientele.

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For newer tattoo collectors who frantically try to keep up with their favorite artists via Instagram, this book will be an eye opener. That weird “neo-traditonal” piece your favorite social media tattooer just dropped a stencil of on tumblr? Bert Grimm designed that when your great-grandfather was out raising hell as a new boot recruit in the USN, piling into the shop with his friends and finding the right Hula girl or WHO ME? duck to add to the growing collection he has under his whites.

Either way, artist or collector, your money will be well spent if you pick up 100 Years of Traditional Tattoos from the collection of Jonathan Shaw. It’s packed with never before seen flash sheets from Shaw’s exhaustive archives; eye-poppers from Tennessee Dave and Greg James circa 60s/70s, Bert Grimm, Bob Shaw, Ed Smith, Tex Rowe…  every page a reminder of the power of simple, clean, bold traditional tattoo designs.

You can find out more about the book at PowerHouse Books, or order it on Amazon.com.

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Rob. Williams and Jonathan Shaw

 

 

 

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Bob Shaw Interview.

I could sit and read these interviews all day. Another one from the very gracious Jonathan Shaw; this time interviewing the legendary Bob Shaw. Bob (1926-1993) was known as an innovative flash painter and letterer. He had full sleeves from Bert Grimm by the time he was sixteen years old and later went on to run Bert’s shop at the Pike. If you haven’t already read the Col. Todd interview I posted, check it out!

Originally Published in 1993, International Tattoo Art magazine Vol. 1 Number 5.


Bob Shaw: The Life and Times of a Tattoo Hero.

Paul Rogers and Bob Shaw.

This interview was conducted with Bob Shaw, several months before his death, at his Aransas Pass home. His frankness, humor and generosity of spirit are clearly felt through his words and anecdotes. Even at death’s door, he was never too preoccupied to share his all with the tattoo world to which he lovingly dedicated to his life and times.

Jonathan Shaw: Bob, you’ve been tattooing for a long time now, over fifty years, right?

Bob Shaw: Fifty-one years.

JS: Fifty-one years. Thats a long time to be doing anything. How did it all start?

BS: It’s kind of strange, I guess. My father died when I was a kid, and my mother remarried when I was 13, and the fellow she married wasn’t very good at taking care of the family. Everything I did was ass-backwards. My brother two years older than me had left home and went into the city about six months before that, and he invited me there in the summer of 1941.
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Jonathan Shaw Interviews: Col. William L. Todd

In the 1990s, Tattooist Jonathan Shaw interviewed an iconic lineup of Tattoo Legends for ITA magazine. With his kind permission, Occult Vibrations is going to be digitizing these must-read interviews.

The first interview is between Jonathan and Col. Todd.
It originally ran in ITA Vol 1. No. 1, 1992.

Enjoy.


Back in the early 1970’s, when I first became interested in the mystery of tattoos, tattooing was a closed world, almost a secret society. Most tattooers were very tight-lipped about their secrets, and tattoo supplies weren’t openly available. Col. William L. Todd was working alongside his long-standing partner, Bob Shaw, at Long Beach, in California’s famous Nu-Pike, a sprawling amusement park surrounded by military bases and studded with a dozen tattoo parlors- a very different scene from today’s genteel tattoo/art studio scene. The Pike is an important location in tattoo history, a place where history and tradition came aline for those of us who were fortunate enough to be around the the words, action and technically superior tattooing of guys like Col. Todd.

A tattooer’s tattooer of the old school, Todd is a perfect southern gentleman with a streak of the badass bootcamp drill sergeant. He always ran a tight ship!

Today, the amusement area of the Pikee is gone, paved over by developers in the endless drive for progress. All that remains of the glory days is one lone tattoo shop where the famous Bert Grimm tattooed for so many years.

Jonathan Shaw: We’re at the Bert Grimm Studio, probably the oldest tattoo shop in the country.

Col. Todd: That’s what they say.

JS: Col. Todd, when did you first start tattooing?

CT: I started in 1947. I was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. I’d always been interested in tattooing. I had a couple of officers who were heavily tattooed, one of them having been in the Navy. I was raised on a farm where you didn’t see tattooing unless it was with a carnival or something like that passing through. I went into town in San Antonio, went up and down Houston street, where all the tattooers were, and down toward the end of the street was a circus trailer set up on blocks by itself that said “Tattoo”. It belonged to a gentleman named Jack Tyron. Anyway, Jack told me that he was tattooed all over when he was 16 by Charlie Wagner. He traveled with the circus for years then he bought a commercial lot and the circus trailer and set up shop. It’d be odd to see something like that today.

I went in, and after talking to him I got a little tattoo and asked him about buying a machine. Oh yeah, he said he’d sell me a machine. He started telling me about the mail order places.

JS: Zeis? Was it Zeis back then?

CT: Yeah, Zeis was in business in those days. I didn’t know the connections. I didn’t know how to go about it. It wasn’t as easy in those days. It wasn’t easy to learn, it wasn’t publicized in magazines like today. And the tattoo artists weren’t giving up their secrets. They wouldn’t give you any information.
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