Volume 80, Number 37 | February 10 - 16, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Clayton's Page

Original skin: Eighties ink

Back in the 1980’s, when tattoo parlors were illegal in New York City, skin art flourished on the Lower East Side among a core group of ink artists. Documentarian Clayton Patterson photographed them, and even formed a club, Tattoo Society, to help him to better do so. Tom DeVita, below left — at an early-’90’s show of his work at Patterson’s Essex St. gallery — was a central figure. “He started on the Lower East Side in 1961, the day after tattooing had become illegal,” Patterson noted. “He was at Fourth and D for years.” Also in the photo are bohemian scenester Bill Heine’s original tarot cards. Mike Bakaty, inking Pat Storm, above, on the Bowery in the ’80’s, still does needle work in the nabe, at Fine Line Mike, at First St. and First Ave. As for Storm — then a popular, spoken-word, performance artist — he disappeared, Patterson said. Cat, at right, seen at a Tattoo Society contest, sported a blue, tattooed right ear (not shown) and an abstract bird wing on her left arm. She ran an E. Fifth St. basement tattoo studio with Mike McCabe, in photo at top right. Californian Ed Hardy, bottom right, was a big supporter of DeVita and frequently visited. Today, Hardy’s Japanese and traditional American tattoo patterns are worldwide, everywhere, “shower curtains, underwear, energy drinks,” noted Patterson. Tattoo Society, of which Patterson was president — “with Elsa Rensaa as vice president,” he noted of his wife — met at places like CBGB and Pyramid. In 1997, fearing a crackdown by Mayor Giuliani, Patterson, then-Councilmember Kathryn Freed and Canal St. tattooist West Wood successfully worked together to legalize tattoo parlors in New York. That effort spawned the New York City Tattoo Convention, at Roseland each May, of which Patterson is an organizer. A few months ago, Bob Baxter, Skin and Ink magazine’s former editor, ranked Patterson No. 46 among the “101 Most Influential People in Tattooing.”

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