Tattooing A to Z #24: Don Ed Hardy

Don Ed Hardy is an American artist, perhaps the most famous artist in the world of tattoo. He is best known for his tattoo work, his art and his eponymous apparel and accessories brand “Ed Hardy”.

Ed was a pioneer in the field, pushing the tattoo art form to new heights and publishing books that told the history of the craft. Hardy was born in 1945 in Iowa, then moved to California. He attended the San Francisco Art Institute and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in printmaking. He was a student of Sailor Jerry Collins and in 1973 he lived in Japan, studying with the traditional tattoo master Horihide (Ed was the first non-Asian to gain access to that world). When he returned, in 1974, he created his “Realistic Tattoo Studio” at 2535 Van Ness in San Francisco, the pacesetter that was first to oper- ate as a private, appointment only studio in the US. His emphasis here on large, ornate, custom tattoos tailored to the specific wishes of the customer truly changed the face of world tattooing. His artistic style changed the face of modern tattooing, and he became recognized for incorporating Japanese tattoo aesthetics and technique into his American style work.

Don Ed Hardy, Watercolour by Pepe
Don Ed Hardy, Watercolour by Pepe

In 1977 Hardy met Charlie Cartwright and Jack Rudy, the tattoo artists from Los Angeles who were offering the first professional prison style “Black & Grey” tattoos. Hardy recognized how special this new style was to the art of tattoo and got involved with the guys in Los Angeles. When Cartwright left the business, Hardy established “Tattooland” with Jack Rudy to preserve the “Black & Gray” shop. In 1977 Ed also opened his famous studio “Tattoo City“, the first was at 2906 Mission Street in San Francisco. It was the first shop to open in the Mission district and featured the fine-line “Black & Grey” work that was new to the tattoo world at that time. This shop was destroyed in a fire in 1978, open less than a year but making an indelible mark on the Bay area walk-in tattoo shop scene. The second Tattoo City, at 722 Columbus avenue, was opened in 1991 in response to the growing popularity of the art.

In 1982, Hardy and his wife formed “Hardy Marks Publications“, and they began publishing the five-book series Tattootime and more than 25 books about alternative art. Hardy’s primarily focus is on creating and exhibiting works also in non-tattoo based art forms, especially printmaking, drawing, and painting. In the 2000s, Hardy stepped into the fashion industry and he licensed his art designs to be made into a clothing line. In 1999 Tattoo City opened in a new, larger and improved location. Tattoo City continues to uphold the same standard of excellence and trend-set- ting qualities that have characterized Ed Hardy‘s career. Today, Hardy is retired from tattooing, but he oversees and mentors the artists at his Tattoo City.

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