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TATOO CHRONICLES | The Vanishing Tattoo 2010 | Vancouver, BC | Canada

46. Clayton Patterson is one of the organizers of the annual New York City Tattoo Convention (2010 marked its fourteenth year). A successful artist, Patterson arrived in New York in the late ’70s and became a well know part of the Soho art scene and was one of the first to open an art gallery on NYC’s Lower East Side.

“I came to New York from Western Canada,” says Clayton. “I was always interested in alternative art, ‘outsider art’ and art outside of the mainstream. One day, I saw an ad on the back page of the Village Voice about a meeting of the Tattoo and Body Arts Society in a gallery on East 6th Street, and I started going to their get-togethers. Remember, tattooing was illegal in New York City then, so this was more of a social club, a gathering of people who shared an interest in body arts.

Soon after that, the owner of that gallery decided he didn’t want to host the meetings anymore, and the whole thing was falling apart. I hooked up with a guy named Ari Roussmoff who wanted to keep it going and we sort of took it over, re-naming it ‘The Tattoo Society.’ This was around 1986. We would hold meetings at clubs around the Lower East Side and bring in artists like Shotsie Gorman, Mike Bakaty and Big Joe from Yonkers to give talks and show slide. What helped make it successful is that Ari and I were not in the tattoo business, so we weren’t part of the competition: we were interested in the art of tattooing, the culture and the people.”

Back around this time, a number of prominent tattoo artists working here, who also came from a traditional fine art background: Cliff Raven studied art in Chicago; Ed Hardy was trained as a print maker; Spider Webb and Mike Bakaty had Masters Degrees in Fine Arts. And the art scene was exploding at the same time. By the ’80s, that number had grown to tens of thousands of artists living and working here.

The Lower East Side suddenly had over one hundred galleries.” In an ironic twist, the stock market collapse of 1987, while devastating to this blooming art world, provided a new impetus to the tattoo world. “All of a sudden, we had all these well educated, talented artists with no place to go to make a living. A lot of them were attracted to tattooing, but, in NYC, tattooing was still an illegal, closed world. Illegal or not, the tattoo scene was growing in NYC. Many young artists were exposed to the art form for the first time at Tattoo Society events. Some went on to learn by apprenticing while others were self taught.

“In the late ’80s, there was suddenly this big wave of new, young artists who nobody had ever heard of before. Folks like Paul Booth, Sean Vasquez, Michelle, Andrea Elston, Kate Hellenbrand and Daren Rosa were now part of the scene. Wes Wood, who had been a printer, became the ‘technical person’ in the mix. He went on to create Unimax, marketing tattooing and piercing equipment and supplies. Many of Charles Gatewood’s photos were shown for the first time. By the early ’90s, while still illegal, tattoo artists were openly at work in New York City.

There were ads in local papers and some underground shops even had signs out front. Clayton and Wes Wood became involved in the move to get the law changed. “Guliani was just coming into office: he was a real law-and-order guy, who would shut down tattooing. Actually the City classified tattooing as a ‘medical misdemeanor,’ which meant it was legal for doctors to do it, but not artists!

So, we finally got all these tattoo artists together at a meeting. You have to realize this was a phenomenal event: all these people at the same table. And it was a big table!” Much organizing, meetings with Health Department folks, politicians and artists and lots of hard work later and the law was finally changed. Clayton, along with being a key player in making tattooing legal again in NYC, joined with Wes Wood, Steve Bonge and Butch Garcia to create the first New York City Tattoo Convention.

Note by Clayton Patterson: Bob Baxter was, for many years, the editor of Skin and Ink magazine- out of all of the thousands of influential people in the tattoo industry, #46 is not bad.  I was a president of the Tattoo Society of NY  since inception, and helped that whole early 1990's wave of NYC tattoo artists become famous.  In 1997,  3 of us, Wes Wood, Kathern Freed our city councilwoman, and I got the law changed so that it was legal for artists to tattoo legally again in NYC.  Tattooing had been banned in NYC since 1961.  This was under the want to be fascist Rudolf Giulliani.

The #1 Badass in art history-- not bad-- especially considering that there were names on the list like Vito Acconci ( Seed Bed)  Chris Burden (shot himself), Gorilla Girls (protests against the art establishment) and so on. I got the 1988 riot classified as the Tompkins Square Park Police Riot- One of the only Police Riots in NYC's 20th century history-- it took my 3"33" video, going to jail and going on a hunger strike - to accomplish this feat.  Over a few years I have had all the well known political lawyers- 2 eventually lost their license to practice- Alton Maddox and Lynn Stewart (who is now in jail), Ron Kuby, William Kunstler, Stanley Cohen (a real asshole who sold me out). And to be recognized a #1 Badass in the Art World is a little odd since I had dropped out of the "Art World" in the early 1980's.  Watch the movie Captured-- some of this is in the Captured movie!

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Top 101 Most Influential People in Tattooing | The closer we get to the top ten, the more memories are stirred up in my head. Each one of the tattoo personalities listed here has made a significant impression on both me and the world of tattoo. We have six artists, two promoters, two anthropologists, a motorcycle club executive, a couple of filmmakers and several authors. That adds up to more than ten, I know, but this is a multi-talented bunch, which is why they have earned a prominent place on the countdown. I must admit that, the closer we get to the top, the bigger the impact these people had on me, personally. Being the editor of a tattoo publication for nearly fifteen years, the individuals listed here made an important impact on the direction that the magazine took and how my readers perceived the complex world of body art. Maybe in personal ways, maybe in grander, more universal ways, everyone in this segment has inspired me, educated me and made it clear that I had stumbled upon a world so unique, so entertaining, so creative that I will never run out of subjects to write about and stories to tell.


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