The Tattoo Hall of Fame. It has a certain ring to it, doesn't it? The Who's Who of Tattooing. If such an august institution actually existed, it's illustrious -- and well-illustrated, I am sure -- walls would be lined with the likes of Samuel O'Reilly, Charles Wagner, Percy Waters, George Burchett, Paul Rogers and Huck Spaulding, Bert Grimm and Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins, Amund Dietzel, Milton Zeiss, Doc Forbes, Les Skuze, Cindy Ray, Col. William Todd, Peter Poulos and many other tattoo notables. We'd probably have to start with Captain James Cook, thanks to his voyages to Tahiti and Hawaii and his well-documented observations about tattooing in Polynesia. Other names, of those both living and departed, would be shoo-ins in any discussion of Hall of Fame status, Lyle Tuttle and Ed Hardy in the former, Paulo Sulu'ape, Cliff Raven and Greg Irons of the later, with no shortage of other deserving nominees, such as Jack Rudy and Leo Zuletta. Each and every one of the aforementioned had, or has influenced tattoo culture in a significant way, as either artists, innovators or inventors, manufacturers or by the sheer force of their personalities and public personas.
As someone who fields inquiries from the mainstream media on a regular basis, one of the questions I am often asked is, "Who are the most influential people in tattooing today?" Or, asked another way, who out there in tattoo land are the future Tattoo Hall of Famers? The cult of celebrity, the creation of the internet and the birth of reality television programming have changed the face of tattooing and tattoo culture forever. Tattoo artists are no longer the only influences on the direction and evolution of tattoo culture. Tattoo artists like Guy Aitchison, Paul Booth and Bob Tyrell may be artistic giants, but in the modern cyber age, they compete for tattoo influence with the likes of celebrities like Cher, Pamela Anderson, Britney Spears, and Angelina Jolie. Five years ago, would anyone have predicted a Kat Von D? In fact, it's worth asking the question, who has had a greater influence on tattoo culture, Kat Von D or the nameless, largely tattoo-less corporate-backed producers from TLC (once The Learning Channel) who have churned out shows like Miami Ink, L.A. Ink and London Ink?
And what do we mean by influence? Simply the power to influence, persuade and affect other people and events by their authority, position, reputation and profile. A rising tattoo artist may influence dozens of other artists, perhaps hundreds, but even a minor celebrity on a second-rate television program will likely be seen by hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps even millions. When a Rihanna or a Lindsay Lohan gets a new neck or ear or finger tattoo, how many millions of young women consider doing the same thing? David Beckham might be the most recognizable sports celebrity in the world. You don't think his well-known enthusiasm for body art hasn't influenced an entire generation of football fans? And that's global, baby!
So when Bob Baxter left Skin & Ink after fifteen years as its Editor-in-Chief, one of the first things we discussed was putting together a list of the most influential people in tattooing today. And yes, they had to be alive. The Tattoo Hall of Fame is another project, the 101 Most Influential People in Tattooing is an attempt to see if we can't discern the tattoo titans of the future. Bob and I had numerous -- often heated and vociferous -- discussions about this list, how it might be put together, what were the considerations for inclusion, and what were the guidelines. We talked about doing a list together, doing separate lists and when the dust finally settled, I realized that Bob was one of a handful of people in the entire world who was actually qualified to compile a list of the 101 Most Influential People in Tattooing. And yes, if I were making my own list of the 101 Most Influential People in Tattooing, Bob Baxter would have been near the top of the list for his seminal work at Skin & Ink, which under his stewardship became the most influential tattoo magazine in the world.
Over the next eleven months we are going to roll out the 101 Most Influential People in Tattooing, starting with 101-91 and working our way to the top. Bob hasn't told me who number one is, let alone anyone else on the list, so I like you, will have to stay glued to the pages of the Vanishing Tattoo website to see the real Who's Who of Tattoo!
-- Vince Hemingson
Tattoo Chronicles << 101 Most Influential People in Tattooing