Tattoo anthology reveals art from the sublime to the macabre

A large, blue eye staring out of the back of a head, nature running the length of a body, a tall ship sailing upon a torso –tattoo art has come a long way from its traditional beginnings.

Lal Hardy, tattooist and owner of “Muswell Hill’s best kept secret” the New Wave Tattoo studio, has compiled and edited The Mammoth Book of New Tattoo Art, with more than 500 full colour photos from artists in the UK and across the globe.

Visual poetry celebrating the sublime to the macabre and everything in between, it celebrates both old and new techniques and is a comprehensive anthology of tattooing culture today.

The 55-year-old got into tattooing during the Teddy Boy revival of the ‘70s. “Being a bit rebellious back then, I got a tattoo done and then got another one, and another one. I was 17, under-age really, but you know it was a very big movement, the rock and roll revival.

“Gradually, I got into punk and tattooed a lot of punks in London and made a name for myself. Back in the 1970s, it was quite a revolutionary thing, now it’s an everyday occurrence.”

Human beings, he says, are never satisfied with how they look. “If you look at the year 2014, we’ve got people having extensive tattooing, cosmetic tattooing, cosmetic surgery, teeth whitening, hair dying different colours, body modification, laser hair removal, collagen lips. Human beings for some reason have this compulsion, in all cultures, to change themselves. The motivations and reasons for doing so are very diverse.

“Tattoos may celebrate the birth of a child, a wedding, a death. Young people want to emulate stars.”

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Celebrity clients

He bought his shop in Sydney Road nearly 30 years ago and, in that time, has inked the skin of many a celebrity. “I reckon we’ve had more celebrities come to this shop than any other in Muswell Hill,” he says. He cites Liam Gallagher, Dave Grohl, of the Foo Fighters, “all the Tottenham squad, lots of the Arsenal players”.

“Patsy Kensit came in many years ago, The Saturdays, lots of singers. Lots of women do come into the shop but some of them don’t want it made public that they’ve got tattoos.”

His most popular designs are religious tattoos, lots of black and grey style work which is influenced by the prison system and gangs of East LA. “This has come over into the mainstream now and is very, very popular. When David Beckham started to get black and grey sleeve work done, lots of people started to copy that.

“We do everything here from a little love heart to a whole Japanese body suit.”

Tattooing itself has changed over the centuries: “Tattoo machines are much better quality than they used to be, the colours are much better quality. People good with Photoshop have taken it to new levels.

“In the book, you’ll see there are people who still love old, traditional work. It’s become a very broad spectrum.”

One of the biggest phenomena now is the increase in female tattooists, brought about in part, he says, by tattooing entering the mainstream, which he attributes to the internet and reality TV.

“Programmes like Miami Ink have shown that women have a place in tattoo and are very influential in it.”

Hardy’s own experience is vast. An early trip to America meeting Ed Hardy in San Francisco, opened his eyes to different styles.

“He has international renown for his clothing but, in the tattoo world, he was the most visionary man, he was the guy who influenced lots and lots of people.”

Travelling to countries such as Borneo, Tahiti, China and Japan increased his networks and contacts and made him a lot of friends as well as influencing his work.

Hardy, the secretary for the Association of Professional Tattoo Artists for 15 years, has selected a rich variety examples to show just how far this medium has come.

The Mammoth Book of New Tattoo Art, published by Mammoth Books, is out now priced £10.99.