Volume 80, Number 48 | April 28 - May 4, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Clayton's Page

Photo by Clayton Patterson

A performer with Tom Blue at Wildstyle and Tattoo Messe in Vienna, Austria, two weeks ago. Messe means “fair” in German.

Connecting the lines from Tattoo Society to Wildstyle

By Clayton Patterson

Documenting the Lower East Side has opened many doors for me. The video and photo camera have taken me to places I would never have been able to reach, stretched my imagination, expanded my education, introduced me to people I never would have met, and enriched and made my life more interesting in so many ways.

One of the most important contributions that the camera has given to me is a purpose and a reason to be somewhere. I am not the “hang around” type and I like to be busy and occupied. The camera offers a sense of freedom in terms of the use of one’s space and time. If you find yourself in a public space you’d rather not be, you can use the camera to take yourself into your own private mental space.

I have always been interested in outsider art, art closer to the outside edge of society, rather than what is average, well-known, percolating in the center of a common area of interest, the principal focus of status and popularity. This particular excursion started in 1986 and has lasted up until today.

It all started with an ad in the back of the New York Press. The Tattoo and Body Art Society of New York was meeting at the 6th Sense Gallery on E. Sixth St. It sounded like an interesting place to take pictures — I have always been intrigued by tattoo imagery. What I saw at the meeting held my attention; I was fascinated by the art, its aesthetics, and the people wearing it. I was intrigued and wanted to see more. The club met once a month and I became a regular; but, in short, the club was not meant to last. The club’s original principal, Roger Kaufman, and his friend Mike, could not keep it going. I was disappointed that it was ending and I had made some friends that I wanted to keep documenting.

One friend in particular, Ari Roussimoff, a painter and filmmaker, was as enthusiastic about the club as I was, so we agreed to keep it going. There was one stipulation: We were to change the name to The Tattoo Society of New York. The club acted as an inspiration for Ari, and he ended up directing a feature-length film, “Shadows in the City,” that used as actors a number of the T.S.N.Y. members. I was the creative art director.

By the early 1990s, Ari moved on and Elsa and I took over the monthly meetings. As president, one of the more odd inquiry situations came in the form of a phone. The hip underground book, “Modern Primitives” (published by RE/Search), had an information section that listed the Tattoo Society of New York and my contact information. The year was 1994. The person calling was Jochen Auer, who lived in Austria. He had this new idea: Wildstyle and Tattoo Messe. The concept of the show was about what was exciting, but not mainstream, in youth culture. He wanted to include customized cars and motorcycles, tattoos, piercing, music, jewelry, clothing, a stage act with beautiful dancing women, fashion shows, tattoo contests and what he deemed a “Jim Rose Circus-type” show by Austrian sideshow performers. He saw my name and read about the T.S.N.Y. in this RE/Search book, as well as in some American tattoo magazines. He wanted to know if I could bring some famous American tattoo artists. I told him to let me see what I could do.

I got back to him and the journey began in 1995. Here it is, April 2011, and we are still going strong. I just finished a Wildstyle show in Vienna, and my work with Jochen takes me to Frankfurt. I am writing this report in Bad Ischl, Austria.

Because of Jochen and his show, Wildstyle and Tattoo Messe, I have been able to open up the opportunity for many talented artists to work in Austria, Germany and, on one occasion, Hungary and Holland. A partial list of tattoo artists: Jack Rudy, Gill Montie, Spider Webb, Bill Beccio, Scotty Kelly, Sean Vasquez, Hougen, Horizakura, Horimatsu, Horitsuna, Ishi Kaiichi and Augustine. As far as sideshow performers: Indio the escape artist, all-around performer Harley Newman, Ula and Sharka, the Pain-Proof Rubber Girls, Slymenstra Hymen of the band Gwar, Lucifire from Scotland, Reverend B Dangerous, Todd Robbins, professor of sideshow entertainment, Kiva, the Fire-Eating Diva. Also featured several times were Steve Bonge — who has published two tattoo photography books, was the original photographer for International Tattoo Art Magazine, and went on to create the N.Y.C. Tattoo Convention — and myself. I documented the different Wildstyle tours and showed photographs and videos on the tour.

There is no question that Wildstyle was ahead of its time. In 1995, tattooing was still quite an underground activity in America, but more so in Germany and Austria. There are many people outside of the tattoo world who find the idea of tattoo to be exotic, alluring. There is a curiosity factor related to tattooing as spectacle. Beyond the tattoo fan, Wildstyle provided the general public an opportunity to watch a tattoo being applied, under no pressure or feeling of being an outsider or a voyeur, since it was safely woven in with top-quality entertainment and a wide variety of high-end products sold at the show. This meant that thousands of people visited the shows — thousands of people who would never have gone to a tattoo convention. A whole cross-section of society came and was excited by what they saw.

The tattoo world is still mostly isolated from the larger society, and Wildstyle is still ahead of the social and cultural curve.

Jochen in recent years has added in an acrobatic, theatrical stage show. The performance is directed by Tom Blue. The acrobats perform with a complement of live drummers playing metal drums, accompanied by recorded, operatic-themed original songs sung by Domino Blue, Tom’s wife. The viewer is lifted from the moment by computerized stage lighting and video images played on a backstage screen. The lighting, Domino’s recorded singing and a film of a water drop are all elements that transform John Kamikaze’s pierced-back-hanging piece from what could be the mundane into a breathtaking avant-garde art performance.

While Tom was at the Wildstyle show in Vienna, another part of his trained troupe played in Dubai, then headed for Israel.

To commemorate the history of Wildstyle and Tattoo Messe, Jochen and I produced a book called “Wildstyle – The History of a New Idea.” The book is now a rare item and can only be purchased from me or at the show. Last night, Jochen and I sat around talking about producing a Wildstyle magazine. Jochen thinks with the help of his talented brother, Mike Auer, he can have the magazine out by September — just in time for the start of the next Wildstyle journey, which reignites in October.

The 1986 New York Press ad is still working its magic and I am still following the same path, wondering which corner Wildstyle and Tattoo Messe will lead to next.

Edited by Monica Uszerowicz


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