Ed Hardy is the owner of a complex legacy, a bit like Von Dutch, the custom motorcycle graphic designer who became reduced to his gaudy caps. Hardy isn't too different. Many people know the name as a rum collaboration or garish hoody - less know that he was a tattooing pioneer and even less still about how deep his artistic influence runs.
Thankfully, this lack of knowledge is about to be remedied as Hardy now has his first retrospective at de Young Museum in San Francisco. The museum has chosen their subject for his ultimate dedication to his practice and his wide-ranging, multi-cultured and multi-generational reputation and style.
Through a lifetime of honing his craft, Hardy defined American 'old school' tattooing before going on to re-define it. His style, and tattoos, are still common today. It's very rare that you'll see anyone with a traditional sleeve that wasn't directly influenced by the work of 'Don' Ed Hardy.
Tattooing lies in the undisclosed area between art and craft, between your own self-expression and being able to accurately channel others'. Hardy came from tattooing at a time when it was still very much a spit 'n' sawdust ordeal. Sailors would line up to get their loved ones name or another of the iconic flash that was for sale and tacked up on the walls. They'd line up one after the other, choosing Hardy's famous hand to leave them a permanent reminder of their life-to-date.
Deeper Than Skin goes beyond simply collecting images by and about him, instead, it chooses artefacts that best depict his life, showing an intricate and in-depth appraisal of what he does, but most importantly - it doesn't leave out the wheres, whys and hows.
Some of the drawings go back as far as his 10 year-old self's obsession with tattoo culture. As his mind developed and refined, the exhibition begins to take an almost ethnographic approach to analysing his life, with photographs documenting his life in California, particularly the tattoo parlours of Long Beach Pike.
Maturing into teenage and early-20s life, Hardy's interest then began to overlap with the aforementioned Von Dutch, as he became enthused with custom car culture and hot rod customisation - his sense of true Americana developing here, besides his eye for the bold and iconoclastic logo, images and symbols.
University followed and his abilities quickly attracted the attention of his peers and teachers who urged him to further his education at Yale. Hardy saw no use in this, and thought that tattooing would be the nobler path. Follow it he did, bringing back to the fore America's attention to the medium of ink-on-skin. In his mind, it was a long forgotten folk art and he was helping to revive it.
Mid-60s America was a great time and place to be alive, with contemporary ideas of society, art and culture constantly being challenged with new cultures and sub-cultures constantly emerging. Hardy, for the entire time, managed never to get swallowed up, instead riding the wave of America's new open-mind.
Beyond tattooing, Hardy took a break at the pinnacle of his career to return to painting, all of which is documented in this exhibition, running from the 13th of July to the 6th of August. In it, we are able to see into the mind of such a notable American, a figure who will be remembered for many things, but probably not what he essentially was - a maverick who helped shape a nation's artistic reputation at a time when some of the best that ever did it were in their prime.
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