Ed Hardy, the "Godfather of Modern Tattoo," painted "Ship Ape" (2002) with acrylic paint on Tyvek.

After the tattoo

A new show features art from
a trio of talented tattooists

From mutual backgrounds in fine art, the lives of Don Ed Hardy, Michael Malone and Kandi Everett came together when they decided to make their living as tattoo "artists."

The quotation marks aren't meant to be ironic. Before tattooing became postmodern hip in the 1990s, it was considered an outsider, even subterranean art form at best, leading the three to form their own little mutual admiration society of kindred spirits.


Works by Kandi Everett, Don Ed Hardy and Michael Malone

Where: The Contemporary Museum at First Hawaiian Center, Level Two, 999 Bishop St.

When: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and to 6 p.m. Fridays, through Sept. 7. Closed on bank holidays.

Call: 526-0232

Their lives have intertwined again, thanks to the art exhibition "Post Tattoo," on display at the Contemporary Museum's second-floor gallery at the First Hawaiian Center downtown.

Here's the abbreviated version of how the three met: The California-born Malone was an art photographer living in New York City's Lower East Side in the early 1960s when he was bitten by the tattoo bug after seeing Thom Devida, who had "the first really beautiful tattoos I've ever seen."

Malone was so inspired that he took up tattooing, running his underground business out of his apartment, before kindred spirit Hardy coaxed Malone to join his Ichiban shop staff in San Diego in early 1972.

Later that year, Malone moved to Honolulu to spend time with the legendary "Sailor Jerry" Collins at his Chinatown shop. He also opened a hole-in-the-wall shop in Waikiki, where Everett got her start as one of the very few female tattoo artists.

When Collins died in mid-'73, Malone bought the downtown shop from his widow, renamed it China Seas Tattoo and also inherited Collins' extensive "flash" sheets of designs.

Malone's reputation grew, and the shop stayed in operation until he closed it in January 2001.

Afterward, Everett continued to advance the art.

Allison Wong, curator of the trio's "Post-Tattoo" exhibition, said: "Kandi didn't want to do sketches of tattoos, nothing old or stylized. Kandi uses watercolor and free-base, and her work is very painterly."

Wong has known Everett since 2002, and said the artist introduced her to Malone.

"And Don, widely known for his retro Americana tattoo designs, really made a name for himself as an artist with his 500-foot scroll painting of 2,000 dragons, in honor of the turn of the century, that was displayed the Academy Art Center at Linekona."

His work has since been shown in Santa Monica, Calif., Denver and San Francisco, plus Ecuador, and, according to Hardy, is currently on display at Urban Outfitters' London store.

Kandi Everett poses with her work, "The Fence" (2003-04).

EVERETT RECEIVED her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1969 from the University of Hawaii.

"Because of my facility to draw, I could do decent tattoos and, at age 27, honed my craft," she said during a morning spent at the downtown gallery with Hardy.

(Malone lives in Chicago and has retired from tattooing.)

"Michael was my mentor and taught me how to tattoo. It's the most difficult medium to work in. ... You're dealing with the emotions of the customers, working blind in a puddle of ink. I had to learn a new dialogue, like in art, in what's good for both myself and the person I'm tattooing.

"I still tattoo," Everett said. "I set up appointments with people, strictly through word of mouth. ... I've done tattoos for people from all over the world. The coolest customer I had recently was a mortician! I've worked on a variety of people -- lawyers, doctors. There's no emotional baggage on my part. I just draw pictures on people.

"I cherish my experience at China Seas. It may have been difficult at times, but it wasn't bad."

Everett saves her enthusiasm for her own art. A favorite piece is on display at the "Post-Tattoo" gallery show. Whimsically entitled "Tapping Toe Gently, Koi Will Sucking Come, Feels Good for You," the 72-by-22-inch piece was done with watercolor and India ink on paper. Inspired by a visit to the East-West Center's pond, a koi quietly "swims" through layers of white and blue transparent paper.

Although Everett's tattooing background is sparingly evident in her artwork (it can be seen most in her "White Chicks on Speed" series), Hardy and Malone's work draw liberally from their rich histories in the skin design trade.

Everett also created "White Chicks on Speed -- The Skull" (2004).

WIDELY CONSIDERED "The Godfather of Modern Tattoo," the nearly 60-year-old Hardy is a living example of the art form. His body is a canvas, the oldest tattoo being, by his recollection, 37 years old. It's on one of his forearms.

Hardy said he was "obsessed with tattoos since I was 10 years old in the mid-'50s. While I was an art school undergraduate in San Francisco, I got into this funky American art form."

He realized its artistic potential through studying traditional Japanese tattoo art.

"I see the tattoo as community art. I like to do things on my own, be spontaneous, get away from the recipe."

Hardy hasn't completely divorced himself from tattooing. He regularly visits his North Beach shop in San Francisco, Ed Hardy's Tattoo City, to occasionally oversee its operation, and he's helping to design T-shirts and runway garments for Ku USA for his Japanese business partner.

He and his wife, Francesca Passalacqua, have published several tattoo and alternative art books, including Malone's "Bull's-Eyes & Black Eyes," through their desktop publishing company, Hardy Marks Publications.

"The art of the tattoo is important, first and foremost, from a cultural standpoint, and I'm glad I've had a hand in documenting it. What's been noteworthy is that the artistry and standards of sanitation have changed so much that it's now considered a social option. I regret, in some ways, that it's become so popular."

But the former underground art's acceptance hasn't stopped him from concentrating on his own artwork.

"I'm always tapping into the source inside myself," he said. "I've made it my conceit to avoid direct references to tattooing, although it's still part of my visual vocabulary."

Tattoo buddies Michael Malone, left, and Don Ed Hardy were on Easy Street in Nuuanu in May 1976.

HARDY built his reputation on doing Japanese-style tattooing, dating to his first visit to the land of the rising sun in 1973.

"But for the three, four years, I've been obsessed with classic Chinese paintings," he said, which is evident in his portion of the exhibition, comprising paintings dating from 2002 and this year. ("I did nothing in 2003 because I was recuperating from a hip operation.")

"I like to think my approach to painting is classical American, like abstract expressionism," he said.

Images are overlaid, using acrylic paint on Tyvek -- a patented DuPont creation described as smooth and opaque, made from fine, high-density polyethylene fibers -- which offers the best characteristics of paper, film and fabric.

His favorite painting in the show was done before his hip operation. "The Great Pretender" combines imagery of having been "raised in a Southern California beach town," he said. "There's a weird chameleon there, some fake, prosperous hippies and a little teepee in the corner.

"I just pour the pigment on the Tyvek. I love accidents in painting, especially when I did that giant scroll of dragons. It was so liberating."

Malone's "Moon Shot" (2004), a watercolor kite.

BOTH HARDY and Everett have kind words for the absent Michael Malone.

"Michael's important in the tattoo world for the depth of his work, his perception and humor. He sees to the heart of things. I've never met a guy who puts more energy in his painting, how he melds expressions," Hardy said.

"He's a great storyteller," Everett added, "and he has a smart overview of society. What he does cuts to the meat of things."

She and Malone met after he saw her picture in a newspaper and went to see her art show.

"When I saw it, I thought, 'This chick is great!' I was so impressed with her that I got a hold of her," he said. "We dated a bit, and I was also taking a drawing course from her -- myself and two other employees from the shop.

"We really learned a lot, and in return she wanted to learn tattooing. The big trouble back then was girls weren't allowed in the business.

"But she finally came aboard, and we worked together for at least 15 years. We also lived together for a while, but the strongest part of the relationship was the tattooing. We worked real hard and traveled the world together. It was perfect. We had a hell of a time, probably the best years of my life.

"When we didn't stay together as a couple, we stayed together as working partners. I consider her one of my best friends in the world. I have great love and respect for her."

Whether Malone's watercolor work veers between whimsical Asian-influenced works or kites colorfully designed with tattoo emblematic art, Malone has always found an eager market for his art.

"I also show my stuff here in Chicago," he said. "I can practically sell anything I paint. ... I feel very blessed that way; people have been very kind and supportive. I don't have any of my art here in my home, and I've made tons of stuff, some of which can be seen in my book."

Of the show of their work, he said: "It's almost like a family show. Hardy and I have known each other for many, many years. We've bickered and fought at times over the years, but Don Ed is my brother, you know? Hardy will always be aces with me, and Kandi is a killer artist. She's come into own, and she's hitting her stride right now.

"It's like showing with your brother and your sister."

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