Don Ed Hardy has created an empire with his clothing line and art. His tattoo print on T-shirts is so pervasive today that I cannot recall another other phenomenon to hit fashion and art so deeply. Don Ed Hardy is the man credited with helping to bring a renegade art form (tattoos) into the mainstream of American and world fashion and art. He lives part of the year in Honolulu, and has a knowledge of tattoos and Asian art that is more than skin deep (excuse the pun).
I plan to stop by his show in Honolulu on Saturday, as we make our way home. The place is Robyn Buntin of Honolulu, and the show is called “Beyond Fashion: The Personal Art of Ed Hardy”. Included will be new layered Lucite paintings that combine elements of both tattoo and calligraphic forms.
When he was a little kid, he thought his best friend’s Dad came home with a really cool tattoo. He set up a toy tattoo shop for the neighborhood kids. He made up flash sheets (design samples) so the kids could pick the images they liked. Though parents were shocked, the kids liked his tattoos so much they refused to wash them off.
He later took up fine art, with a major in printmaking at the San FranciscoArt Institute. But tattoos were his first love. Then he met a professor who described himself as a renegade intellectual, who shared a book of Japanese Tattoos. It was only then that he realized how deep and great the tattoo could be as a form of expression.
Though the quality of tattoo art and sanitation was less than desirable, Hardy went on a mission to deliver safety and art “that should be done really well.” He got to Honolulu in the 60s to surf and study tattooing with Sailor Jerry Collins. He went to Japan to work under classical tattoo master Horihide in 1973.
During this period, he also became absorbed in the mythology and symbolism of Buddhism and Taoism. He found that these beliefs fit his own easy going outlook, partly due to the ostracism faced by people with tattoos. He always felt that tattoos were art, and that having one did not mean you were a criminal or a moron. He calls it a choice for your body, and no one else has the right to tell you what to do with it!
He began working with a small T-shirt manufacturer in the early 2000s to market his designs on apparel. The business went ballistic when entrepreneur Christian Audigier licensed the rights to produce the Ed Hardy line based on his bank of 1300 images. So successful, he retired two years ago to focus on his personal art. He is also in great demand as a curator and speaker on tattoos, woodblock prints, and other Asian art forms.
He was featured in a documentary by Emiko Omori, called, “Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World.” Facilitating his return to the art world was the millennium, the year of the Dragon. He decided to paint 2000 dragons on a 2000 foot scroll. He also realized his aesthetic and intellect were stuck back in a time when he left art school. The quiet of working alone also required a big adjustment.
He still professes not to know why people get tattoos. Perhaps it is inherent in the art itself. It is an individualistic reason or logic that cannot always be explained to others. But he is still amused at how widespread the acceptance of tattoos has become. Hawaii is no exception! Hawaiians love tattoos as much as they love Spam. For those of you new to Ed Hardy, there is a factory outlet store in Las Vegas, near downtown. You must go!!!
PS: We met the nicest young lady yesterday at Lulu’s. Her tattoos are included with this blog