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Confidential, Thursday, June 4, 1998
Once illegal throughout much of the U.S. because unsterilized equipment resulted in infections, tattoos are now not only legal but obviously ruling many people’s planets. That’s the impression I got on May 15, 1998, when I attended the first annual New York City Tattoo Convention at the Roseland Ballroom. The event, coordinated by Steve Bonje and Butch Garcia, was a showroom of over 75 artists and exhibitors from such far corners of the world as Japan, Iceland, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, France, Italy, England, Texas, Rhode Island, New Mexico, California, and, yes, even Maplewood, New Jersey, not to mention several Long Island locations.
From the moment I walked in, the sound of drills buzzing everywhere pervaded my ears. This is not the place to go for anyone who has a dental phobia. The associations conjured up in one’s mind is enough to give anyone who needs root canal a heart-wrenching panic attack. But alas, it’s just skin burning, not teeth and gums.
As I made the rounds, I met Jean-Chris Miller, the editorial director of Tattoo and Outlaw Biker magazines, who sports an interesting tattoo. It’s a stamp-size figure of a mini Leonardo DaVinci done by Nic Gupta, whose work includes a series of 12 stamp-size figures. Jean-Chris’s skin features collector’s edition # 7.
It didn’t take me long to realize that the place was a sailor’s heaven. At the bar, I met navy man, Fred Freedman, who now works as a prison guard in New Jersey. I asked him if he got the job because of his tattoos. He just laughed and explained that all sailors have tattoos. And one tattoo seams to lead to another, and then another. Today, he desperately wanted one done by Abstract Tribal artist Craig Cooley, based here in the city, but Craig said he was just “too busy to do him.”
There were a few non-tattoo notables adding to the entertainment. Kombustible Kira swallowed fire, which made me a little thirsty, so while Fredini, a magician and comedian, poured a ninja sword down his throat, I poured a beer down mine. Zanobia, a bearded lady, asked me for a piece of gum, but the piece in my mouth had already lost its flavor so I didn’t bother to offer it up. I noticed that External Affairs Health Department Officials were on hand for emergencies. I asked them if they were going to be tattooed. A staunch “No” was the only reply. Need I say, I didn’t want to hang out with these guys for too long, so I continued on.
Living in New York City, I thought I had seen every possible body part pierced. That is, until I met Johnny Donahue – AKA Spike – who has a surgical stainless steel spike inserted in his chin. This is called Labré piercing, I’m told. Spike is a tattoo artist in Lynbrook, Long Island. He was currently having a tattoo of a Modu Devil (a mean looking Japanese mask) designed on his arm by Timothy Hoya of Tony’s Tattoo in California.
All of this artistry, by the way, was being judged. The judges, two of whom hailed from British Columbia and Thailand, chose Tom Sharon of Physical Graffiti in Rochester, New York, as the winner of tonight’s festivities.
One of my favorite tattoo artists of the night was Chris Dingwell of Julie Moon Designs in Seabrook, New Hampshire. Chris designs “tattoos like grandma used to make.” He began as a painter, but then decided to express himself beyond canvas, and chose flesh. (Freud would have a field day here, I’m sure.) Chris taught me a bit about the chemicals, which are mixed differently for different effects, and the inks, which are all manufactured by one company. His collages and designs are excellent. If you live in New Hampshire and want a tattoo, he’s definitely your man.
Toward the end of the night, I struck up a conversation with Bob Baxter, editor-in-chief of Skin & Ink magazine, published by none other than Larry Flynt (who, needless to say, is an expert of sorts in the business of flesh). Bob handed me a complimentary issue. The bottom caption on the cover read “Young Woman Befriended by Giant Moth.” I thought, “I’m young, I’m a woman, maybe I’ll get lucky.”
For those who missed or couldn’t get enough of this event, NYC’s Biggest Tattoo and Motorcycle Convention will be held at Coney Island’s Astroland Amusement Park on August 16th at 7 p.m. See ya there.
More NY Rock Confidential Installments:
09/01/98: Hellfire '98 with Go-Go Pups and Double Dong
07/28/98: Mad Daddys, Nina Hagen, Blondie
05/02/98: Didi's S&M Special with Flesh Fetish
03/28/98: No More Tears and Soft Parade
02/27/98: Ace Frehley, Sebastian Bach, Mick Rock, Lenny Kaye,
12/26/97: Ramones, The Dictators, The Undead, more
11/29/97-12/11/97: Sexus, Princess Superstar, more
09/19/97-10/16/97: Blowtop, Crazy Raymond & the Watchdogs, more
05/21/97-08/17/97: Toilet Boys, Nashville Pussy, Turbo A.C.s, Waldos,
07/23/96-09/09/96: Electric Frankenstein, The Wild Bunch, more