Hardy’s memoir/cautionary tale about art, commerce, skin and ink, written with the assistance of San Francisco Chronicle music writer Selvin (co-author: Peppermint Twist: The Mob, the Music, and the Most Famous Dance Club of the ’60s, 2012, etc.).
In the relatively closed world of tattoo artists, Hardy was a groundbreaking figure, tattooing sailors and longshoremen in states where the artistry was illegal. Sadly, most people know Hardy’s name from the ubiquitous brand foisted upon a specific demographic of young men by French fashionista Christian Audigier. (See comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates’ “This Party Took a Turn for the Douche” and “#124 Hating People Who Wear Ed Hardy” from Stuff White People Like.) It is an unfortunate cross to bear since much of Hardy’s story details cross-cultural experiences that are unique and fascinating. After studying at the San Francisco Art Institute, Hardy fell in with other famous artists like “Sailor Jerry” Collins. Inspired by 19th-century Japanese printmaking, Hardy traveled to Japan in 1973 to become one of the first Western artists to study with Japanese masters. Hardy’s work changed from trite tattoos of anchors on rough-hewn sailors to the dramatic images of skulls, devils and samurai that worked their way into California biker culture and eventually onto rock stars and masters of industry. What limits Hardy’s memoir is his plainspoken, slow-but-sure storytelling. While the culture of tattoo art is clearly bold and sometimes risky, Hardy admits he would have become an academic if he hadn’t plied his trade in this different medium. A coda about Audigier admits Hardy’s inner conflict about the deal as he tells a friend, “This guy is at ground zero of everything that is wrong with contemporary culture,” before ultimately taking the deal. “I just wanted to get paid and to be left alone,” he says. Be careful what you wish for.
The lesson in this surprisingly heartfelt memoir by an iconic American tattoo artist is that the man is not always the brand.