When the Great Ones of the industry speak out, I can only rejoice! And an autobiography of Don Ed Hardy is simply great!
The book does not disappoint at all! Hardy turns out to be as very down-to-earth and focused on art as you’d expect him to be (after all, he isn’t, and has never been, one of the ink celebrities plastered all over the Net, his own name aside that is). The language he uses in the book is straightforward, down-to-earth (again) and sounds more like his own voice than him shaped by his co-author, Joel Selvin.
The book is chronologically oriented and Hardy shows us around his life/ world right from the beginning which was Corona Del Mar, CA in the 50’s to his crazy years in San Francisco to his experiences and encounters in Japan to his (mis)adventure with Don Ed Hardy merchandise to his current life between San Fran and Hawaii.
It all started for him with a few tiny tattoos on his childhood friend’s father and the rest is history. He really did start as early as 10 years old even if his first tattoos were just temporary stuff painted on his friends’ skin. As he proudly admits, though, he and his friend Len always made sure that their ‘clients’ had their parents’ permission to get a ‘tattoo’ from them.
The street credit is never enough, so Hardy went to an art school to develop his skills and hone his talent. He’s honest enough to admit that he ‘didn’t have an original thought in his head about [painting]. I tended to imitate somebody that I admired. I’d done that all the way through. When I got into Goya, I did a self-portrait a la Goya. I wanted to be like these people. I wanted to mind-meld with them by looking at their work and imitating it.’ When he went to Japan (and his Japanese adventures are fascinating to read and again, he’s very honest as he discusses not only the good but also the bad about Japan for him), he discovered how codified and stiff rules of traditional Japanese tattooing actually were despite its wonderful colors and themes. But it took a creative genius of his to combine both so successfully and give us all a new quality to derive from.
Hardy is well aware of his tremendous influence on the tattoo world and mentions it a few times. He never really boasts, though; it’s more of stating the facts and he never forgets to acknowledge the people who came before him or lived along him and also managed to shape the tattoo scene. He’s proud but also humble and that’s a great combination.
It’s his book, of course, so he takes a central place here but he never misses an opportunity to mention and praise Sailor Jerry, Bert Grimm, other important Western tattooers or Japanese tattoo masters. Hardy knows the history, he knows that we wouldn’t be the subculture we are without our past and he appreciates it a lot. His short portraits of people are very to the point and show us the big industry names from a new perspective. It’s certainly a big history lesson when he discusses the old tattooists, the old school tattoos, the sailors and soldiers who were the primary recipients of tattoos back in the day and how they used to ‘sterilize’ the tattoo equipment decades ago. It makes you smile, ponder and cringe as you go on with reading and there’s not even one single boring page in this book!
When a few weeks ago I reviewed Kat Von D’s new book, I pointed out how obvious, repetitive and too personal at times it was for me. Hardy managed to do something entirely opposite even though he also wrote about his life, achievements and dreams. And even though he broaches the subject of his private life now and then, he never crosses the line of TMI and remains discreet – we know he was married twice, he got divorced, his has a son who’s also a tattoo artist but there’s no unnecessary drama and too personal details uncovered for all.
He ends his book on a positive note. He knows tattoos are important to him but he also senses that tattoos are important to all of us, otherwise why we would either love or hate them but never be indifferent toward them? As classic as he is, he also remains an ordinary human who knows that tattoos don’t really have to be very meaningful (he’s not a Miami Ink kind of guy, eh? ;)). And, more importantly, the book of his life is not really finished yet and, deep within, he still is a kid eager to do art and live his life to the fullest.
Don Ed Hardy, Wear Your Dreams. My Life in Tattoos, Thomas Dunne Books 2013