Calling Duncan X iconic within the tattoo world could seem like an understatement to some, as an integral part of Alex Binnie’s Into You shop in Clerkenwell Mr X has been turning out some of the most abrasive black work tattoos since before the shops inception.His severe appearance is completely authentic to his own art work and lifestyle. The completely original trademark style of tattooing that Duncan has so perfectly translated is solidly black and overwhelmingly brutal in its imagery. Reading almost like a cliche, stories of his progressive and intense life have quite literally been imbedded into his skin.To explore more about this fascinating man director Alex Nicholson has created an absorbing short film with Duncan revealing accounts of his life. The sophisticated nature of the film has meant that through special effects the director has let Duncan’s tattoos slowly appear and crawl over his skin as the film progresses.The film was revealed on Tuesday so to celebrate this we’ve created a short interview with the director to find out more..How did you come about making this film?Well I just wanted to make a beautiful looking short for my reel initially. Shooting an interesting a subject as possible.
Who has this film been made for? Who do you want to be watching it?It wasn’t made for anyone really. Me I’d say at a push. I want everyone to watch it. I didn’t want it to be just for people who like/have/want tattoos or people who know Duncan, I wanted it to be as accessible as possible for all viewers..How involved are you as an individual in tattooing?Not at all really. I do have quite a few and will continue to get more, as long as Duncan promises to be gentler next time.
What is it about Mr X that you find so fascinating?Everything! Ha! – Its more to do with the fact that as you get to know him over time, these stories leak out. The fascinating tales of a thousand lives lived within one mans life. Its the fact that he’s highly intelligent, very eloquent, a delightful personality and looks like a Barber-surgeon from the 1900′sA great mix.Was there a particular stance that you wanted to take with the film?If I was pushed, I’d say that you should never judge a book by its cover.
How did the decision to have all of Mr X’s tattoo re-appear through editing occur?I wanted his tattoos to slowly emerge during the film. For him to start naked of tattoos and end as he is, covered. When we got into edit, myself and my editor (David Stevens @ the Assembly rooms) simply pieced together the best story that we saw in there. The animations and tattoos suddenly became secondary to the fascinating Duncan X.
Philip Yarnell is the 24 year old tattooer working from the seaside town Southend in Essex at Skynard. His impressive work with its strong and consistent use of imagery, muted colour pallet and his strong following is all the more special considering the fact that he has only been tattooing for two years. There is a depth and quality to his work which is far beyond his length of practice and can be seen clearly in how much interest his work amasses. Here at Sang Bleu we’ve tried to get to know Philip at little bit better by finding out more about him.
How long have you been tattooing for and how did you get into it? Your are still pretty young considering how developed your work is.
I’ve been tattooing for about 2 years now but I have been at the shop I work at for almost 3 years. I got into tattooing whilst I was still at University, I was getting tattooed at Skynyard which is now where I work. Luckily Albert Thomas the owner saw potential in my drawings (which at the time I was taking in to get tattooed). He then waited for me to finish university, and thats when I started. I think my work is still developing a lot although I’m still unsure of the direction its taking.
Where did you study fine art? Did your tutors or other students have a problems with you wanting to go into tattooing?
I studied fine art at Hertfordshire University. They didn’t have a problem with it at all, it only really came to be a possibility when I was in the last year. It also never really effected my work there as I was working on various personal art projects that have nothing to do with tattooing.
How is it tattooing in Southend, would you ever consider leaving? Or do you feel that being in Essex is an important part of your work?
Tattooing is dominated by lackluster shops in Southend. There are a few good ones though, and I’m proud to say that I am part of one of them. I’m actually going to be splitting my time between Southend and London soon. But going somewhere else in the future who knows. I don’t feel being in Essex influences my work in any way though.
Who have you been tattooed by?
I’ve been tattooed by alot of different people. Some of them are Guy Le Tattooer, Liam Sparkes, Dane Mancini Soos, Simon Erl, Shen Schubert and of course the great people I work with Albert Thomas, Charlie Coppolo and Thomas Pollard.
Who do you respect in the tattoo world?
The person I most respect would be Guy (le Tattooer). His work is constantly inspiring.
Besides from tattooers work, who else or what inspires your work?
I get inspired from alot of things. Old engravings and paintings etc, particularly from the Renaissance era have a great impact. But anything from modern art to architecture inspires me. Even movies find there way in there.
Could you give an example of one image, one film, one song, one tattoo and one building that inspire you?
Giving one example is very difficult, but if I had to choose one artist that has most effected my work over my life it would be Egon Schiele. His work literally changed the way I drew and made me rethink how I did things.
If I had to choose a movie, it would be Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Terry Gilliam captured the book perfectly. Also the artwork of Ralph Steadman, which is more to do with the book has definitely inspired me. A song is a hard one, but it would most likely be ‘Heroin‘ by the Velvet Underground. I’ve listened to that song more then most whilst drawing. I can’t think of one particular tattoo, but when I first came across Guy’s work, it certainly had an effect on me. It is always very inspiring. Architecture is tricky also to pin one particular building down. But anything with a lot of concrete and wood constructed into horribly sharp angles always stop me in my tracks.
How often do you draw or paint, do you feel that drawing is imperative to the role of a tattooer?
I think drawing and/or painting is absolutely imperative for tattooer. I don’t do nearly enough of either just for myself, but it is very important. Its a great way to not worry about what people want but to experiment and develop your own work.
Have you been interested in creating your own particular aesthetic within tattooing?
I don’t consciously try and create my own aesthetic, I just try and do things the most natural way to me. I think my work has a fairly distinct style but it is still developing, so who knows what it might look like in a month or a years time.
How do you feel about the current fashionability of tattooing in our contemporary culture?
I find it a shame, it just encourages the wrong type of people, but I can’t complain because I’m very new to the tattoo scene myself, so If anything I’m a complete part of that and have most likely benefited from it and its rise in popularity thanks to these tv shows and whatever. Its just a phase for these people, so when they look at their crappy tattoo they got in a few years its going to create a negative vibe towards the industry.
Where would you like to see your work develop in the future?
I just just hope that I can continue to develop my style and that my work doesn’t hit a brick wall and become stale. I don’t want to stop learning, I’m constantly researching, which I hope will only make my work stronger.
Leicester Square, May 1982
Tuinol Barry, Chelsea 1982
Skinhead, Leicester Square 1980
To see more of the exceptional photographs of Derek Ridger’s documentation of British youth culture have a look here.
John Samson’s of Dressing for Pleasure’s fame also made this incredible documentary called ‘Tattoo’ in 1975. The documentary examines why people choose to get tattooed before a final climatic scene in a dark room where the naked tattooed body is offered to the viewer as pieces of art as the camera spans across the bodies in various ways making them resemble some kind of precious statues. Reality versus Fantasy all within the subject of flesh encapsulate this film in a truly iconic way.
Watch out for Rusty Skuse in part 4 before the films exhibits some piercing shock tactics at the end of the film.
I saw Bill on Columbia Road on Thursday, he was having a cigarette outside a betting shop and I noticed how great his arms looked. I followed him into the shop and he showed me his tattoos which he got in between 1975 and 1980 in Chingford, North East London. Sadly the microphone on my camera wasn’t working but I think the tattoos speak for themselves.
Yesterday while walking to work I saw Barry painting a door on Kingsland Road. I noticed that he had some great tattoos so I decided to stop to speak to him and ask if I could take some photos. Incredibly all of his tattoos were done by Les Skuse in Bristol in 1968! Barry was keen to confirm with me that it was Les who tattooed him and not his son.
Born in South Africa in 1896 little is known about Van Dyn’s life, but what is known is suitably sensational and shocking. Other than being well know for having a highly decorated face in more conservative times Van Dyn was also known for being a regular at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park telling whoever would listen about his scandalous life. Tattooed by the great George Burchett in the 1930′s and rumoured to have worked for Al Capone as a gun runner, he worked on the Southampton Docks most of his life until his death in the 1980′s.
He made the newspapers in England on many occasions – most famously with the story of him selling his heavily tattooed head to anyone who cared to have it after his death. Tattoo artist’s Ben Gunn, Tattoo Jock, Cash Cooper and Jack Ringo all appeared in newspaper stories – telling of them buying Jacobus head – which they would receive after his passing (which of course they didn’t but worked as a great publicity trick for them).
This is what George Burchett had to say about him:
“The World’s Worst Man, my most plucky client, J. P. Van Dyn, who now works as a stevedore in the Southampton Docks is sixty three years of age. He claims to have been in every famous prison in the world, including Sing Sing, Devil’s Island. Very few of my clients, except professional fair-ground artist, would decide to ornament their faces in such an elaborate and distinct manner as Mr. Van Dyn. He sketched some of the designs himself.” (source)
Photographs by Howard Grey taken in 1959. More images can be seen here