by Jessie Roberts
[Hardy] opened Realistic Tattoo in San Francisco, the first appointment-only shop devoted to custom designs. Realistic is the reason tattoo shops today are more like art studios, galleries, or hair salons; the reason name tattooists have waiting lists stretching sometimes years into the future; the reason more people plan out their tattoo collections and research the best artist for a particular job; the reason so many art school graduates are pushing ink; and the reason that despite the ocean of bad skin art sloshing around the globe, the best work is increasingly excellent. Do an online search, for instance, of Duke Riley (Brooklyn), Roxx TwoSpirit (San Francisco), Colin Dale (Copenhagen), Saira Hunjan (London), or Yann Black (Montreal), then sit back and allow your brain to quake.
Hardy’s ambition has always been to bridge the worlds of fine art and tattooing. “I wanted to elevate the art form,” he writes:
Having graduated from art school, I brought […] a sense of art history, a fierce dedication to the medium, and something of a chip on my shoulder toward the rest of the world that failed to hold the art of tattoo in the same regard I did.
Until recently, that was a failed mission. The establishment art world has shown little interest in tattoo as design, fine art, street art, or fashion, for reasons involving money, class bias, and the difficulty of exhibiting human bodies. But the first stirrings of change are evident: last year, the Honolulu Museum of Art mounted a show of ten contemporary Hawaiian tattooists. The Milwaukee Art Museum just opened an exhibit of the work of Amund Dietzel, a legendary Old School Milwaukee tattooist. And this year, museums in Germany (The Museum Villa Rot) and Switzerland (the Gewerbemuseum) have organized tattoo exhibitions.
(Photo of work by Amund Dietzel at the Milwaukee Art Museum by PunkToad)