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Tats life!

A new book celebrating body art really gets under the skin of tattoos

05 May, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Anthony Bennett’s waxwork of the heavily tattooed Horace Ridley (1892-1969), who appeared in sideshows and circuses as The Great Omi

IT is estimated that one in three people in the UK now has a tattoo – a striking figure and one that surely rises as you walk through the counter-culturally rich streets of Camden Town.

In a new book, Tattoo: An Illustrated Miscellany, by tattoo artist and historian Lal Hardy – who runs a parlour in Muswell Hill – the extraordinary history of body art comes alive.

“The seeds of my passion for collecting tattoo memorabilia were planted in childhood,” says Hardy. “I spent my early life living with my grandparents and my grandfather lived films with a naval or pirate theme.

Artist Beryl Cook’s painting of Doc Price’s studio in Plymouth. Image courtesy of www.ourberylcook.com/john cook

“Adventures on the high seas with galleons in full sail atop the ocean waves and journeys to far-off lands in search of treasure were very exciting and they fascinated me, as did the tattooed arms of my uncles Fred and Peter, both of whom served in the Royal Navy and had classic Clipper ship tattoos with the names of places they had visited beneath them. They really fired my imagination.”

He recalled as a teenager staying with relatives in Brighton and one day wandering down into a tattoo shop and coming out with a sailing ship on his arm.

“In my youth there were very few tattoo studios – and now in the Camden Market area there are more than there were in the whole of London in 1976.”

Hardy recalls scouring jumble sales and second-hand books shops for anything remotely to do with tattoos, his search taking him beyond the British Isles into other cultures such as Maori, who have a long history of body art.

Describing the book as a “treasury that documents much of tattooing’s past”, it covers everything from the machines that are used to adverts for tattoos, tattoo transfers in bubblegum packs, through to designs and portrayals of tattoos in arty works.

1934 Nestlé trading cards depicting Maori and South Pacific islanders

And Hardy has drawn on other’s collections and expertise – including Naresh Bhana, who runs the famous Flamin’ Eights parlour on Kentish Town Road.

“I got my first tattoo when I was 14,” recalls Naresh. “I resolved to become a tattooist, but it took till my early 20s to find a path into the trade. I began to collect books, machines and other tattoo items on my travels and from friends and colleagues who needed to declutter or realise some assets.

“I have also felt these treasures should be shared rather than hidden away, which is why I have a museum at my studio, Flamin’ Eight, known as the World’s Smallest Tattoo Museum.”

This beautifully presented and illustrated book shows the development of a sub-culture that is not mainstream. It both celebrates and explains its enduring appeal, and walks the reader through more than 100 years of history from the tattoo pen designed by Thomas Edison to toy wrestling figurines.

Tattoo – An illustrated Miscellany. By Lal Hardy, £20, Little Brown


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