The other day as I was scrolling through my social media feed and I noticed an interesting pattern of postings from around the world. They originated from Japan, the Netherlands, UK, Spain, North America, Canada, etc… and the one thing they share in common is the reverence for traditional Americana tattoo style.
As I sat there reflecting on this observation a conversation I had with Mr. Ed Hardy a few years ago came to mind in which he stated that Sailor Jerry envisioned that traditional American tattoo style would one day develop and “match the Japanese style”. According to Mr. Hardy, “Jerry made that comment because Japanese tattooing was the most sophisticated visually and thematically in the world at that time and he and I and a (very) few others were on a crusade to realize the potential of the art in the West.” So that got me thinking and I began to wonder, had Sailor Jerry’s goal/dream come true? Has traditional Americana tattoo style risen to the level of intricacy and reverence of the Japanese?
Tattooing has been around for thousands of years and the oldest can be found on Ötzi, the European Tyrolean Iceman that dates to 3250 BC. In Japan the ancient art of tattooing can be traced to as early as 5,000 BC on clay figures that had their faces painted and carvings on their bodies. The Japanese tattoo style contained epic depictions of their history, mythology and folklore with coloring and designs that would adorn the human canvas. Their imagery was iconic an indelible throughout the world.
Sailor Jerry had an appreciation and fondness for the detailed work, coloring, designs and size of these epic suits that were tattooed upon the human body. But how would traditional Americana style ever elevate to the prominence of the Japanese style tattoo. Don’t forget Sailor Jerry died in 1973 and at that time it was unfathomable to think that traditional Americana tattoo style would ever rise to what it has become.
Today traditional Americana tattoo art is not exclusive to North America or the human canvas because it can be purchased on flash sheets, prints, T-shirt designs, skate decks, pillowcases and is also displayed in galleries and independent museums. The nostalgic style is virtually around the world and revered. The roots of the style can be credited to artist such as Bob Shaw, Bert Grimm, Paul Rogers, Cap Coleman, Owen Jensen, Ed Hardy and many more. A great example of modern Americana style is Howlin’ Wolf, a tattooer for 20 years, “my earliest recollection of Americana or traditional art was the tattoos of old rockabilly or punk rockers I’d see either at shows, gigs or car shows.” His style hearkens back to Sailor Jerry but remains unique and that is rarity in the tattoo world, “Americana to me in an artistic sense means lots of things, but mainly it’s pure and true nature, whether its patriotic, western or taboo” says Howlin’ Wolf. Following in the footsteps of traditional Americana tattoo masters has become a road that many are traveling and is a testament of the grandeur and legacy of the forefathers.
Tattoo culture was once marginalized but has spread around the world and the bold lines and timeless designs of traditional Americana have stood the test of time. Traditional Americana tattoo style is not only for military, ex-cons, or bikers and society has affirmed this style of art to its rightful place among other ancient revered styles of Polynesians and Japanese. Mr. Hardy says, “I never dreamed it would happen in my lifetime, Sailor Jerry would be stoked.”
You can find the definitive collection of Sailor Jerry books at Hardy Marks