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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Golden Age of Disney Tattoos

In this blog post, the Golden Age of Disney refers specifically to Disney’s animated films and does not include live action.

Snow White by Jordan Baker.
Thumper by Camille Gualtieri.

The Golden Age of Disney spans from 1937-1942 and includes Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi.

Jiminy Cricket by Nicole Zulianello.
Black and grey Snow White by Piotrek Taton on Grace Neutral.

Despite the name “Golden Age” this was actually a quite unsuccessful chapter in terms of financial gain, other than Snow White and Dumbo. In fact, Dumbo was originally supposed to be a short film but was made longer to make up for the financial losses suffered by Fantasia.

Dumbo by Silvia Damiano.
Figaro the cat done by Emilia Rose.

The films created in this time were all overseen by Walt himself, and helped cement Disney as a leader in animation.

Bambi and Thumper by Jordan Baker.
Dumb and his mother by Mason Stoner.

While Disney films are generally regarded as mainly happy and upbeat, these films all tell quite dark stories and actually contain some quite frightening scenes, especially for the young audiences they were aimed at. I know scenes in Snow White and Pinocchio certainly scared me as a child.

Poison apple from Snow White done by Eugenios Simopoulos.
A creative Thumper portrait by Nicole Robinson.

As tattoos, Disney animation are almost entirely done in new school style, with some realism and more experimental styles also making the cut.

Pinocchio transforming into a donkey done by Gold Marie.

I found no shortage of tattoos from this era of Disney, other than Fantasia, of which I only found tattoos from the newer 2000’s version which will be seen in a later post.

Dumbo and his mother by Mae La Roux.

Which Golden Age film is your favourite?

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Star Wars Tattoos:

May the fourth be with you!

Yoda and baby Yoda done by Ash Lewis in a realistic black and grey style.

There’s no denying that Star Wars is one of the most popular film and television franchises ever made. Here are some Star Wars facts and cool tattoos to help you celebrate today.

Darth Vader done by Ufoo Tattoo.

Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 film “The Hidden Fortress” was one of many influences on George Lucas when he was first creating the story for Star Wars. Particularly the fact that both stories are told first from the point of view of lowly characters. The word Jedi is also derived from the Japanese word “Jidaigeki” which refers to the types of films directors like Kurasawa would make.

Cartoon Leia done by Allison Riot.

Harrison Ford wasn’t actually auditioning for the movies at all. George Lucas had him brought in to feed lines to other actors that were auditioning, but liked how he did it so much that he was offered the part of Han Solo.

Black and grey Darth Vader half sleeve done by Jeebby Aponte Quinones.

Orson Welles was almost the voice of Darth Vader, but that was changed when Lucas thought his voice would be too recognizable.

Gangster Chewbacca done by French Xav at Exile Tattoo Parlour.

Robert Englund (most fameus for playing the infamous Freddy Krueger) convinced a young Mark Hamill to audition for the movies after he was rejected for the role of Han Solo.

Luke’s severed hand and his lightsaber done by Chris Hatch.

Early shots of the millennium falcon escaping through an asteroid belt features potatoes spray painted to look like asteroids.

Darth Maul done by Bobby Tripp.

Star Wars features one of the misquoted lines in cinematic history. “Luke, I am your father.” Sound familiar? Well, it’s incorrect. Darth Vader actually says “No, I am your father.”

Kylo Ren and Rey done by Yesenia Concepcion.

Jabba Hutt was so large that he had to be puppeteered by seven people.

Realistic Jar Jar Binks done by Khail Aitken.

The Saga almost ended with Luke donning the Vader mask, but the idea was scrapped as Lucas wanted a happier ending.

Darth Vader and Kylo Ren portrait done by Jordan Baker.

Harrison Ford had been advocating for Han Solo’s death for about 30 years, and he finally got it in “The Force Awakens.”

Which Star Wars movie is your favourite?

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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, Kintarō 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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Black Metal Tattoos:

The very name “black metal” conjures up images of corpse paint, dark forests, and burning churches.

Behemoth “Evangelion” album cover by Damien Counihan.
A neo traditional burning church done by Alex Dörfler in Germany.

Black metal is a genre of heavy metal that started in the 1980’s with bands like Venom, Bathory, Celtic Frost, and Hellhammer. Coming out of England, Venom’s first two albums “Welcome to Hell” and “Black Metal” are often called the first black metal albums made, especially as Venom coined the term. Bands like the above mentioned formed the first wave of black metal, with the second wave coming out of the 90’s.

Celtic Frost album cover “Morbid Tales” by Mike Roberts at Port’s End, OR.
Gaahl portrait done by Uncle Allan in Berlin

The first wave of black metal was full of satanic words and imagery in their album art, music videos, and merchandise. Basically anti Christianity at its core. The second wave of black metal that came around in the 90’s was much more influenced by Norwegian black metal artist “Euronymous.”

Bathory Goat done by Georgia O at Southern Scars Outlaw Tattoo.
King Diamond portrait done by Ick Abrams.

Darkthrone became one of the most influential death metal bands coming out of the 90’s, despite their first album arguably being death metal. Their sound quickly developed and changed, and they were able to help put Norwegian black metal on the map.

Realistic burning church and skull done by Benjamin Trübner.
Black metal lady head done by Ice Abrams.

Norway is famous for black metal not only because of the music, but also because of what happened in Norway supposedly because of the music. In the 1990’s Norway became famous for the extreme music coming out of the country, and the mayhem its listeners carried out. This included the burning of traditional wooden Norwegian churches called staves. In June 1992 the first church was burned in the name of black metal, followed by three more churches being set ablaze that summer, and over 20 burnings over the course of 4 years by either black metal band members, or fans. Then in 1994, Varg Vikernes of the influential one man black metal band “Burzum” was found guilty of burning down Åsane Church and Stortveit Church in Bergen, Skold church in Vindafjord, and Holmenkollen chapel in Oslo. He was also found guilty of killing Aarseth, but claimed it was self defence.

Burning church by Renko Edge at Clan of Tusk Tattoo in Bruge.
Black metal shadow puppet done by Stephanie Cuevas Lost Harbor Tattoo Shop.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, atmospheric and ambient black metal started becoming more popular thanks to bands like Wolves in the Throne Room, Agalloch, Drudkh, Panopticom, and Alcest.

Darkthrone logo by Benjamin Toner at Hand of Hope Tattoo in Stockport.
Black metal lady and burning church done by Uncle Allan in Berlin.

Black metal has a very particular sound, and the different sub genres and waves of black metal have at least some of them in common. Much of black metal is known for its lower quality production, giving it a very DIY sound. Particularly the early stuff coming out of Norway. They tend to have heavily distorted guitars, lots of reverb, and low end bass (the sound not the instrument). Most black metal also has harsh guttural vocals, and fast pounding drums that are heavy on the double bass and snare.

American traditional burning church by Sebastian Berthe in Regensburg, Germany.
Arch Goat art done by Robert Z from Slovakia.

Some of the most popular black metal bands today (not necessarily still vatic bands) include Behemoth, Darkthrone, Burzum, Bathory, Immortal, Enslaved, and Cradle of Filth.

Portrait of Nergal from Behemoth done by Raul Khasanjanov.
Cute black metal portrait done at Tattoo Eternal Ink in Sweden.

Because black metal in general is either pagan or satanic in its themes, the imagery that comes with it often is too, including tattoos. Popular black metal tattoos include black metal band members, burning churches, skulls, goats, devils, and other pagan or satanic symbols.

Black metal corpse paint by Jose Daniel Valencia Giraldo at Black Lines Matter Columbia.
Burning church by Drew Gäben Hibler tattoo artist at Old Soul Tattoo. Gallatin, TN.

What’s your favourite black metal band?

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