Tattoos used to be a sign of rebellion. A middle finger salute to the rest of the world. Outlaw bikers got tattoos. Sailors on leave in Singapore got tattoos. Lifers in the joint got tattoos. Now, your mother’s got a butterfly on her ankle and your kid’s sporting a tramp stamp. What happened? How did tattoos go from the renegade, readymade, carney cartoons inked as fast as possible to the art form they’ve become today?
That transformation is the subject of the new documentary film, Tattoo Nation.
Tattoo Nation tells how a few incarcerated but very talented Chicano artists changed the world of ink forever. It follows three tattoo pioneers, Charlie Cartwright, Jack Rudy and Freddy Negrete, and shows how a new, fine line style using detail and shading to achieve a remarkable realism revolutionized the world of ink.
In 1975, Cartwright and Rudy boldly opened the first tattoo parlor in the heart of East LA’s Chicano community. They hired a recently paroled teenager who, while in jail, unknowingly established iconic images that spoke to an entire generation of Chicanos.
Freddy Negrete became the first professional Chicano artist employed by a mainstream tattoo parlor – a tattoo parlor that was embraced as a new vehicle for self-expression by the Chicano community in East Los Angeles.
For the first time, these legendary figures tell their stories in a feature-length documentary film. Included are other important figures such as David Oropeza and “Chuco” Caballero, winners of many prestigious tattoo competitions.
Their victories brought international recognition to the uniquely American approach known as “Black & Grey”. The world of tattoo, and the way we regard tattoo, was forever changed.