SAN FRANCISCO – If tattooing has gone in a few decades from the pariahs of the art world to a respected discipline, much of the credit must go to Ed Hardy, whose work is being honored with an exhibit at San Francisco’s de Young Museum.
“Ed Hardy: Deeper than Skin,” which opens to the public on Saturday, ranges from the future artist’s earliest tattoos, executed when he was just 10 years old, to works from the post-tattoo phase of his career.
The 74-year-old San Franciscan recounted during Wednesday’s preview for the media how he opened a tattoo parlor in his parents home, charging his friends pennies to paint designs on their skin.
It’s a “great honor” to have people want an artist to create art on their bodies that they will carry for the rest of their lives, the California native told EFE.
Though the watercolor and eye-pencil tattoos he offered schoolmates were not really permanent, Hardy said he still required prospective clients to be at least 9 years old and to have permission from their parents.
Hardy, who went professional in 1968, was one of the first in the field to have had formal education in fine arts. In those days, most tattoo artists were self-taught artisans who stuck to traditional designs.
“A lot of my influence came from my student days, from very, very classic painters, you know, like Rembrandt and Goya, and of course, the print-making tradition of those people,” he told EFE.
“The paintings of Goya influenced me both in the formal way they’re put together – the way he drew, the energy and the looseness with which he drew,” he said, “And then of course, this kind of nightmare visionary thing he had, you know, of bringing your dreams into reality on the paper and the canvas.”
At 13, when he was first exposed to the works of the 19th-century Spanish genius, Hardy liked to read horror stories and Goya’s imagery resonated with the teen.
Besides Goya and Rembrandt, Hardy drew inspiration from artists such as Edvard Munch, Ben Shahn, Albrecht Dürer and Giorgio Morandi, and from a visit during the 1970s to Japan, where he worked with renowned tattoo artist Horihide.
Hardy, with his daring and innovative esthetic, quickly made a name for himself in the tattoo world.
He urged clients to come to him with their own ideas and concepts, hoping to convert tattooing into what he has described as a “bespoke thing.”
Rock stars, actors, filmmakers and Hell’s Angels bikers made the pilgrimage to Hardy’s San Francisco studio, Realistic Tattoo, for one-of-a-kind tatts.
The exhibit at the de Young includes more than 300 designs and a virtual-tattoo feature that allows a visitor to see a projection of a Hardy creation on his or her arm.