Saturday, May 22, 2010

Jonathan Shaw: Artie's Son On The Lower East Side

Born in New York City on Independence Day 1953, Jonathan moved to Hollywood, CA with his mother Doris Dowling at an early age. There he was introduced to comic books, from where his love of drawing spawned. He immersed himself there until the age of fourteen, when he discovered drugs and alcohol as a form of escapism from a troubled family life with his mother Doris and stepfather, writer and producer Leonard B. Kaufman. During this time Jonathan was estranged from his biological father. In his late teen years, Jonathan began writing for the Los Angeles Free Press, one of the most widely distributed underground newspapers of the 1960s. At the LA Free Press he met Charles Bukowski, who became an influence on his writing. Around the age of 21, after much struggle and the deaths of close friends due to heavy use of heroin, Jonathan decided to leave Los Angeles and began hitch-hiking through South America. He spent time in various port towns, eventually becoming a merchant marine. In his travels he learned how to tattoo, and it became a quick way to make art and pocket change for the road. He eventually found himself in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil where he stayed until returning to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s.
Upon arrival there, Jonathan was taken under the wing of Bob Shaw, a widely respected first generation American tattoo artist. Bob Shaw trained Jonathan on the art of tattooing and they worked together on the legendary Long Beach Pike (aka “The Pike”) until Jonathan’s itch to be on the road again came back full force, along with his increasing alcoholic behavior.
Jonathan worked out of his own studio by appointment only on 1st Avenue and 1st Street for a few years until 1991, when--even though tattooing had been illegal in New York City since 1961--he took the leap and opened the first store-front, public tattoo parlor in New York City, Fun City Tattoo. Located at 94 St. Mark's Place in the East Village, Fun City became a neighborhood hangout and New York pit stop for such notables as Johnny Depp, Dee Dee Ramone, Howie Pyro, Johnny Winter, Jim Jarmusch, and the Maysles Brothers of Gimme Shelter Fame. In the early 2000’s, after much pain and loss of love for tattooing, Jonathan sold Fun City to a local operator, and moved to Rio de Janeiro, where he has spent the last several years writing novels, short stories, poetry and an extensive autobiographical memoir of his life, travels, adventures and career.
During the time Jonathan was the owner of Fun City, he founded International Tattoo Art Magazine. ITA took the common grassroots tattoo mag and pushed it up to the level of a legitimate fine art magazine, changing the way tattoos would be perceived by the public. It focused greatly on tattoo history, making sure that priceless archives, information and legend was not kept hidden away. It maintained a high standard of the industry by showcasing world class works of art.
Jonathan’s tattoo style was considered trend-setting and innovative in the field, and he tattooed (including but not limited to) The Cure, David Lee Roth, Vanilla Ice, Marilyn Manson, Johnny Depp and supermodels Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss. His neo-tribal work and original full back-pieces made a lasting stain on the tattoo world, especially of a large abstract/cubist painting that he tattooed on the back of Luke Miller, one of his employees at Fun City. Featured in tattoo magazines world wide Jonathan’s first-of-a-kind tattoos of Robert Williams and Joe Coleman paintings, were copied in loving tribute to his old friends and mentors, each tattoo looking like the painting from which it came. Jonathan’s style was mainly described as an old school approach to new school ideas. Keeping the bold, thick, heavy handed style taught to him by Bob Shaw but using an innovative roster of new art and breaking away from traditional sailor flash, including his own work, which was much of the time tattooed on large blocks of skin freehand, in the end looking like the pipes in a wall, or the inside of a clock, interwoven and detailed.
Jonathan retired definitively from the tattoo world in 2002 and moved to South America in order to pursue his career as a journalist and writer of novels and fictional as well as autobiographical prose on a full-time basis.
After leaving ITA and Fun City, Jonathan continued to devote himself to the edification of tattoo buffs and the art world by curating a number of tattoo flash exhibits, including the historical Psychedelic Solution show in New York and another well-documented event at La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles. He has a large collection of rare antique and modern tattoo flash art by many important artists, and his own paintings can be seen in collections and shows with artists like Robert Williams and Joe Coleman. He is currently compiling works from his extensive collection of turn-of-the-century tattoo designs for a coffee table art book, soon to be released by a major US publishing house.
Jonathan began working on his first novel, Narcisa Our Lady of Ashes, in July 2007. After several edits and re-writes, a first-edition limited edition of the novel was released by Heartworm Press on July 1, 2008 . The story is a wild fictional account of a middle aged Brazilian Gypsy and his violent and tragic love-hate relationship with a teenaged prostitute and crack cocaine addict. The evolving work and characters are continued through short stories on Jonathan's blog, Scabvendor . Another heavily edited rewritten final draft of the original version of NARCISA is scheduled for publication by a major US-based publishing house, along with a sequel-in-progress.
His second published book, LOVE SONGS TO THE DEAD, was released by Heartworm Press in October, 2009. Jonathan is currently working on several other books, including an epic memoir: SCABVENDER - CONFESSIONS OF A TATTOO ARTIST. Since the release of his first published novel, Jonathan has traveled the world extensively, promoting his work as an author with several well-publicized readings and book signing events in different US cities. His books are currently undergoing translation into several languages, including Russian, Portuguese, French, Japanese and German.

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