Tattoo History 10: George Burchett

Referred to as the “king of tattooists” by himself and others, George Burchett- (Davis) was one of the most famous tattoo artists of his age, particularly in the UK. Notably tattooing in London, marking both the social elite and the hard working class, and even members of the Royal family.

George working on a forearm piece. (photo colourized)
Burchett Devil by Quinn Jordan Campbell.

In Burchett’s “Memoirs of a Tattooist” he states that “I have tattooed the subjects of six sovereigns, starting with portraits of Queen Victoria. The tradition has been maintained and still seemed to be strong when I prepared the designs for the coronation of 1953.” He also reminisces about tattooing The Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, one of Queen Victoria’s favorite nephews, Prince Christian Victor, a grandson of Queen Victoria, and King GeorgeV. Along with English royalty he also tattooed King Alfonso XIII of Spain, and King Frederick IX of Denmark.

Burchett was born in Brighton in 1872, and had a very early introduction to tattooing. He practiced tattooing on his five year old brother, Charles, who apparently traded candy for some scratched designs in his skin. George also tattooed his classmates until he was expelled for doing so at the age of twelve.

Burchett doing a full back. Found thanks to vintage tattoo archive, linked at the end of article.
Burchett tiger head done by Mike C Davies.

After being expelled, George joined the Royal Navy and sailed as a deckhand all over the British Empire, including stops in the West Indies, the Mediterranean, Africa, India, and East Asia. This was also where he fell farther in love with tattooing, as he was able to see marvellous styles and designs from all over the world. He was able to develop his own skill and style by tattooing other sailors.

Life at sea proved to not be for George, so he left the navy while on leave in Israel, and set up his first shop in Jerusalem. This only lasted a short time as he feared being caught by authorities for deserting the navy. This led to him boarding a Spanish merchant ship. He was able to avoid persecution for twelve years, but missed England. It was at this point that he dropped the “Davis” in his last name to make it harder to catch him, and set up shop in London, but this time as a cobbler. Though he did continue to tattoo on the side whenever the opportunity arose. During this time he was fortunate enough to meet two other legendary artists, Tom Riley and Sutherland MacDonald. MacDonald took George under his wing and taught him more about techniques and designs of tattooing.

Burchett black trad design by Coque Sin Amo.
George’s shop. Found on vintage tattoo archive.

During his time as a cobbler/tattooer he grew more and more popular with the working class as a top tattoo artist, working mainly on sailors, dock workers, and transients that happened through London from all around the world. In 1900 George was able to start tattooing full time and give up cobbling. He opened a proper shop on Mile End Road where he could easily catch soldiers on their way to the front lines in World War One.

As his shop grew in clientele, so did his reputation, leading him to tattoo more wealthy Londoners, and even royals. Though Riley and MacDonald tattooed more royals than he.

King Frederick IX of Denmark, dragon on the chest tattooed by Burchett in London.
George tattooing “The Great Omi.”

Another of his more famous clients was “The Great Omi,” (Horace Ridler) who was a well known circus performer. George was paid several thousand dollars to tattoo a full body suit that turned The Great Omi into a human zebra.

George is also one of (if not the) first artists to use tattooing as a cosmetic procedure, tattooing women lips and eyebrows (though he also tattooed many flowers and lovers initials on his female clientele).

George tattooing a woman’s eyebrows.
Colourized photo of Burchett tattooing a woman’s leg.

George Burchett was undeniable a classic American traditional artist, though like many historical and modern tattooers, drew influence from African and Asian art that he had the good fortune to see during his travels at sea.

He tried to retire at the age of 70 in 1942, but because of World War Two, tattoos were at an all time high demand, essentially forcing him and his two sons to tattoo the immense amount of soldiers and sailors walking through the door.

Another shot of “The Great Omi.”
Burchett battle piece done by Nick Roses.

Because he never retired, George worked until Good Friday of 1953 when he died suddenly at the age of 81. His work is still highly influential today with people still getting his designs, or variations of them, tattooed in large numbers.

To read more on Burchett’s life and legacy check out the links below: https://www.tattoolife.com/tattoo-portraits-george-burchett-king-tattooists/

https://www.tattooarchive.com/history/burchett_george_charles.php

As well as the books “King of Tattooists: The Life and Work of George Burchett” and “Memoirs of a Tattooist

Check out https://www.instagram.com/vintagetattoophotoarchive/ for more vintage tattoo photos

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Sun Dancer Tattoos:

The Sun Dancer tattoo is an easily recognizable American traditional design, first painted by Bert Grimm, a pioneer of American traditional tattooing who worked from around 1916-1970. An important part of Indigenous history and culture, the Sun Dance is a spiritual ceremony that was and is still very important to different groups, primarily to those of the plains cultures in America and Canada.

Sun Dancer with eagle and heads by Fabio Onorini.
Blackwork back done by Clemens Hahn.

The ceremony is a gruelling but important one, primarily (though not entirely) performed by males. The dancer fasts, going without both food and drink for days at a time, while dancing around a sacred fire and traditional pole meant to represent the sun. Others drum and sing prayers while the dancer dances until exhausted.

Sun Dancer true to Bert Grimm by Kim-Anh.
Backpiece true to Bert Grimm by Gustavo Silvano.

As part of the ceremony, piercing and suspension is also common. This involves a leader piercing rods into the chest or back of the dancer, while they drag a bison head until the skin rips. Other variations involve horses pulling at the rods, or the dancer being suspended from the pole by the rods in their skin. This inspired modern suspension.

Blackwork interpretation by Flurick Ruslan.
Cute foot Sun Dancer by Heath Arnolde.

Often times the dancer would become delirious and hallucinate both from the physical and mental exertion, topped with dehydration and extreme hunger. Unfortunately the ceremony was banned in Canada in 1885 under the Indian Act, but the ban was dropped in 1951, though Indigenous people continue(d) to be treated unfairly. Today the Sun Dance is still performed by some communities.

Sun Dancer with dragon in this piece by Florian Santus.
Big thigh Sun Dancer done by Nick Griffiths.

One of the first examples of this ceremony being painted is Bert Grimm’s Sun Dancer flash and tattoo. The original painting depicts a girl dancing with her left knee raised, right hand holding a spear, with a shield depicting a bald eagle in her left hand. A red sun and traditional roses make up the background.

Sun Dancer and dragon by Rich Hadley.
Skeletal Sun Dancer by Roger Oliveira.

As the design was first made by a pioneer of American traditional tattooing, it is mainly tattooed today in the same style. Though people do take artistic liberties, sometimes including animals or other flowers, and even changing the subject of the tattoo. It is often done as a back tattoo, but can also be seen on arms and legs, usually as still large pieces, though through adaptation artists have created smaller pieces as well.

Punk interpretation in a painting by Miguel Neils.
A more neo traditional animal version of the Sun Dance by Robson Nagata.

To read more about the Sun Dance please check out https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/sun-dance

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Artist of the Month: Bert Krak

Bert Krak is a tattoo artist working out of Smith Street Tattoo in New York City.

Full back done on model Cat Mcneil.
An Ed Hardy inspired full front piece.

Bert is a highly sought after tattooer for collectors of classic American traditional tattoos.

Panther and stars by Bert. Butterfly and dice by Chad Koeplinger.
Full dragon back piece.

In addition to tattooing, Bert also makes finely crafted tattoo machines.

Back of the head banger.

He has been collecting antique tattoo flash since he started tattooing, and uses these pieces of history to influence his own designs.

Healed chest and fresh butterfly.
Classic battle Royale back piece.

While sticking close to traditional iconography, Bert still has a distinct style in terms of colour palette and heavy lines.

Tiger head on the hand.
Matching peacock calf pieces.

If you’re passing through New York, or live nearby, be sure to set up an appointment with him. You can check out his work at his Instagram here.

Healed eagle, wolf, and panther. With a fresh Polito cowboy.

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Artist of the month: Josh Sutterby

Banjo frog playing a tune.
Geisha and umbrella.

Josh is an artist specializing in American traditional style tattoos, working out of Love Tattoo Parlour in Melbourne Australia.

Classic dragon
Spiderweb belly button filler.

Josh bases his designs on classic old school art, with a focus on American traditional work. He also creates tattoos with a Japanese influence, done in American traditional style.

Battle Royale back piece.
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Based on Japanese classic, KintarĊ wrestling the carp.

Currently (April 2020) Josh (and the rest of the world) is not tattooing, but you can commission paintings by him by sending a DM on Instagram

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American traditional flowers done up in a vase.
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A classic chest ship.

If you’re a fan of old school classics and want your own piece from Josh, whether you live in the Melbourne area or are stopping in on a trip, make sure to set up an appointment with Josh.

A sad hobo clown.
Sweet heart love tattoo.

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Boost Your Immune System With Tattoos

Full back done by Joel Soon at Sanctum Tattoo.

Over the last few years there have been numerous studies looking at tattoos and their effect on the immune system.

And for all you fellow tattoo collectors I have good news. Tattoos do in fact have a positive impact on your immune system!

Are they going to keep COVID-19 away from you? Unfortunately, no, but people who have more than one tattoo generally have a stronger and healthier immune system than those who do not.

Full back done by Don Ritson at Rebel Waltz Tattoo.

In one test, a group of 29 people were tested before and after visiting a tattoo shop in Alabama. The researchers tested levels of cortisol, which is one of the body’s indicators of stress levels, as well as Immunoglobin A, which is in simple terms is an antibody that helps our bodies fight infections . This study showed that those going in with no tattoos yet showed a greater strain on their immune system with a dip in their Immunoglobin A levels, while those going in for their second, third, or even tenth or more tattoo, actually experienced a large boost in their Immunoglobin A levels immediately following the tattoo. The full test can be read here “Tattoos to Toughen Up.”

Big Hannya mask done by Hide Ichibay at Three Tides Tattoo.

Another test done in American Samoa by the same researcher took 25 saliva samples at the start and end of tattoo sessions on both tourists and locals getting tattooed. They also measured the tattoo recipients height, weight, and fat density to account for general health. Again, both cortisol and Immonoglobin A were extracted and tested, as well as an inflammatory marker C-reactive protein. A similar finding was concluded here, with Immonoglobin A staying remaining higher in the bloodstream even after tattoos had healed. As well, people with more and larger tattoos tested higher Immonoglobin A levels than those with less or no tattoos prior to the start of getting tattooed. This effect also appears to be dependent on getting multiple tattoos and not just having some time pass after getting tattooed once.

Full front torso done by Rich Hardy.

Of course having lots of tattoos won’t guarantee your health, but based on testing it can be beneficial for general immune health, and in particular skin injuries and health.

Both studies were done by Dr. Christopher Lynn.

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Peaky Blinders Tattoos:

Peaky Blinders is the incredibly popular British tv show following a gang called “The Peaky Blinders” in mainly Birmingham, immediately following the First World War.

Neo traditional Tommy portrait by Paula Canelejo
Tiny realistic portrait of Tommy by Dani Ginzburg

Every episode is written by Steven Knight, and is loosely based on both historical gangs in England, and a story the writers father used to tell him about his grandfather having him deliver notes to his uncles, the Sheldons, who became the shows “Shelbys.”

American traditional Tommy portrait and rose by Matthew Limbers
Shelby skull by Marcello Barros

The history of the “real” peaky blinders differs from place to place, with some sources saying they died out by the 1890s. While they weren’t the ruling gang in Birmingham by the end of World War I, it looks like they probably still existed, even though the bigger “Birmingham Boys” became the top dogs by 1910. Peaky Blinders also eventually became a term to describe all gangs coming out of the Birmingham area. In both the show and real life, the gang is made up of mainly young unemployed men, looking to gain power and money through robbery, violence, and controlling both legal and illegal gambling. In the show many of the men also fought in World War I.

Blackwork Tommy by Valentina
American traditional Arthur done by Edo Sent

The name Peaky Blinders comes from the clothes worn by both the real and fictional gangsters. Their signature style includes tailored jackets, overcoats, waistcoats, silk scarves, bell-bottom trousers, and “peaked” caps. In the show, the gang is famous for sewing razorblades into their caps as their signature weapon, but realistically these blades wouldn’t have been affordable at the time and weren’t used until around 1890, when the Peaky Blinders started to lose power.

American traditional Tommy and flower by Ju Lindien
Large realistic portrait of Tommy by Alexandr Ramm

Many people are drawn to the show for its style, and that translates into the tattoos we see being made. Most Peaky Blinders tattoos are done in a classic traditional style, keeping it bold and classy, just like the show. Other styles include neo traditional, black work, and realism. Most of the tattoos I found are of Tommy, but the other Shelby brothers also make fine pieces.

Neo traditional black and red Tommy and flowers done by Szofi
Black and grey John portrait done by Choc Inked

Who is your favourite character?

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Winnipeg Artist 13: Mathew Machado

Classic panther and snake going at it.
What’s a more classic elbow tattoo?

Mathew is a tattooer at Rebel Waltz Tattoos in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Mathew does crisp American traditional tattoos the way they were meant to be made. Bold as hell!

A small, classic eagle.
“Working class” skull piece.

If you take a look through Mathew’s work, either online or in person, you’ll see he really does the classics. His Instagram is full of eagles, pinups, sailors and pirates, skulls, snakes, and more.

An all black, classic Japanese/American dragon head.
Another classic old school piece. The Rock of Ages.

If you’re looking for a bit of a Japanese twist to an American style, Mathew is also your guy. He’s done both dragon heads and full bodied dragons, and Japanese flowers.

A more Japanese styled chrysanthemum flower.
Crisp lines on this rose and cross.

Mathew mentored under Don Ritson, the owner of Rebel Waltz, and you can certainly see Don’s influence in Mathews work. Both artists stick to a very traditional colour palette of mainly black, red, some green, and small amounts of yellow to make pieces pop.

Skull butterfly for a small filler piece.

Check out his work on Instagram @mathew.machado where you’ll find his email for making appointments. You can also watch Rebel Waltz’ Instagram to see when Mathew and the other artists there are doing walk-ins.

Beautiful pirate lady portrait, done as quite a large thigh piece.