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Sailor Jerry - Essay Example

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Sailor Jerry Norman Keith Collins, also known as Sailor Jerry, was recognized for being ‘the greatest American tattooist of all time’. He was one of the most prominent figures in tattooing, so much so that the entire history of tattooing has been divided into two parts-before Sailor Jerry (BSJ) and after Sailor Jerry (ASJ)…
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Download file to see previous pages Other than modernizing the tattooing industry, Sailor Jerry had a colorful and diverse life and career, which he balanced along with his love for tattooing (Levy 46,47,48). Sailor Jerry had developed an interest in tattooing and started practicing it ever since he was a teenager. The technique of tattooing used by him at that time was the hand-pricking method. Later on, he was taught how to use a tattoo machine by a Chicago tattooist named Tatts Thomas. Under Thomas’s training, Sailor Jerry would usually rehearse tattooing with a machine on drunken people who were brought to him. He kicked off his official career years later in Hawaii, where he opened his first tattoo parlor. Other than tattooing, Sailor Jerry also pursued the occupation of a dockworker in Hawaii, therefore adding some diversity to his life (Demelo 74). Having enlisted in the navy during World War II, Sailor Jerry also served as a merchant marine and so traveled to many places. He often tattooed people, especially sailors, at his ports of call. Having been to the Far East, and being exposed to tattoos on other sailors, he developed an interest in Asian imagery. This interest made him incorporate many Asian designs, such as dragons, into his art of tattooing. Besides this, Sailor Jerry was very protective of tattooing, and had a strong concern in developing it as an art form. Moreover, he believed that majority of the American tattooists were ‘greedy, talentless copycats’. As a result, he looked up and kept in touch with tattooists like Paul Rogers and Brooklyn Joe Lieber, who shared his opinion in improving the art of tattooing. Simultaneously, he spoke out against those who he saw as tainting the field through their sly business practices and lack of talent (Demelo 74). Sailor Jerry, on the other hand, seemed to have an excess of talent. A typical Sailor Jerry tattoo was distinguished from other tattoos by its bold and steadfast lines, along with an amazing attention to detail. For instance, the riggings contained by his clipper ship tattoos were nautically accurate. However, it was only after he opened his last tattoo shop Chinatown, Honolulu that his fascination with the “Oriental style” of tattooing really flourished. During this time, he started a trade relationship with two tattooists (one was from Japan, while the other from Hong Kong), wherein he would trade American tattoo machines and needles for their advice and designs. From them, he learnt a lot about the ways Japanese used colors, shaded, and made use of the entire body as a canvas (Demelo 74; Sailorjerry.com). However, even though he incorporated some of the Japanese style of tattooing, the style Sailor Jerry used was completely unique. His art of tattooing consisted of the Japanese finger waves, wind bars, and full body tattoos which reflected the history and pop culture of America; the Spirit of ’76, the Alamo, General Custer at Little Big Horn, Rock of Ages, big busted mermaids, and many similar designs motivated by North American thinking. These designs were also different from the traditional American style (of unrelated and separate tattoos spread out on the body) because they were larger, fused, and custom made. The incorporation of Japanese styles in Sailor Jerry’s tattoos was sometimes criticized by patriotic Americans. However, Sailor Jerry’s success at improving the tattooing industry made up for ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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