Monday, August 26, 2013


The Real Ed Hardy Is an Erudite Printmaker, Now "Famous for All the Wrong Reasons"

At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Margot Mifflin writes about the little-known life story of Don Ed Hardy:

[G]rowing up in Southern California in the 1950s, he mock-tattooed his friends from the age of 10; visited tattoo shops in arcades on the Long Beach Pike as a teen; and  frequented the nascent Los Angeles gallery scene in the early 1960s. Hardy studied at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) during the last splash of the Bay Area figurative art movement, and pursued a passion for printmaking that presaged his formal interest in tattooing.

“I loved artwork that had a specific craft, stringent demands involving tools and techniques that had to be done a certain way,” he writes. "I liked monochromatic art, stuff in black and white and gray tones. I loved the dark shades you could get with the lithos, and I liked the idea that it was a multiple original. I liked the democratic, anti-elitist nature of that. It was a people’s art.

In his last year at SFAI, Hardy gave a lecture on the forgotten folk art of tattooing — also a “people’s art,” which revived his interest in the practice. [...] After he graduated in 1967, Hardy declined a full graduate teaching scholarship at Yale in order to pursue tattooing. He met and worked with the Honolulu-based tattooist Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, who had developed a love of Asian culture during his travels in the navy. Collins was known for synthesizing classic American imagery with the larger scale, finer detail, and greater complexity of Japanese tattooing — and for his innovations with color. He corresponded with Japanese tattooists, and arranged for Hardy to study with Kazuo Oguri in Japan in 1973, making him the first Westerner to work with a traditional Japanese master.

In 2004, he licensed his designs to Christian Audigier, the French designer also responsible for Von Dutch and Fiorucci (“This guy is at ground zero of everything that’s wrong with contemporary civilization," concluded Hardy initially) in an attempt to make some cash; we all know the results of this endeavor.

Emblems designed to hug bodies look terrible on hoodies — and worse on trucker hats. Stripped of context, the tattoos read like signboards. The franchise exploited a medium rooted in individual expression, slicked it up with glitter and studs, and replicated it endlessly, making it everything a tattoo is not.

For the last five years, Hardy has stepped away from tattooing, focusing on his printmaking instead.


12 Comments / Post A Comment


Thats really interesting to know that he was actually a guy who just made a terrible business deal, and not the broiest of all bros that just wanted to sell shirts to his bros.

Sophia Jacob

Just because there is humor that's easily accessible doesn't mean it's not intelligent. Also, you seem to give two examples that are easier to digest than Louie (Chappelle's Show definitely had more "low" humor.) Mad Men is not that complex of a show either, it is "the veils of 60's lifestyle" that make it seem like it is (and I kinda feel like it's up its own ass with it, but that's just me).

Jolly Darling

Old lady gets kicked out of the store. She would come in once every couple of months, give me the stink eye, and then rebelliously write down recipes from the home and food magazines so she wouldn't have to buy them. Then she'd scurry out and come back in a few months. @cook


It's kind of a relief to learn this. I wondered what kind of a mind would put that design and name on every damn product in existence. Now we know: a diabolical marketing mind, not the designer himself.

p.s. thanks for the hovertext. Age discrepancy notwithstanding, the picture made me think, "He may not have meant to do all that with his designs, but he still looks like a douche." Ha.


After the me & my sibling finished school and my parents went their separate ways, my old man embraced a lot of 'country boy' urges he'd (barely, mostly, but not entirely, and less and less so over time) kept buried for life in the Northeastern 'burbs. He moved south and began growing a long billy goat soul patchy chin thing. Riding his motorcycle all the time. Stuff like that.

We spoke, I didn't see him for a couple years. Last year, he came up to visit the area for a week. He was going to meet me in the NY, he (and his newish ladyfriend) would come back to my apartment in BK, I would make dinner for them.

We met at the Union Square Farmers Market. I was so happy to see him in general, and also delighted that he appeared to be wearing an actual shirt-shirt, with buttons on it (which we buttoned!) and not just a harley t-shirt of some sort.

We walked around a farmers market, and I tried to blend my NPR/Feminist-Blog-Commenter/Bach & Dipset mindset with the kind of 'these are the people who grow the food, also selling it to us now' sort of ethos that I've always used to mute the edges of city-life to my rednecky family - essentially, appealing to the 'old-school' parts of city life and joining the hillbillies in hatred of the suburbs, positing my urban lifestyle as a move away from the bullshit of 'Developments' the same as their continual retreat further from the cities into pure rural areas.

It was great. The new woman was really sweet, and nice and friendly but didn't overstep at all either. We caught up, no friction, everything was terrific. I actually sneaked a text to my sister at one point to brag that he actually put on a button-front shirt to come see me.

As I texted my sister, kind of secretly hoping he'd been less impressive on his visit to her (I love her dearly, but she's always been closer to my parents than me so a little one-upsmanship can be there) my "leading the way" through the market evaporated, and in texting I fell a few steps behind my father and his new girlfriend.

And then, I looked up from my phone to see a giant fucking dragon embroidered across the back of shirt.


@leonstj i love this, and how much that shirt says about your dad, and that he put on a "nice" ed hardy shirt to come see you.


The worst part of all of this is not that Mr. Hardy is actually a pretty great guy who is a pretty great printmaker, it's that Audigier somehow managed to completely avoid the bad rep created by Ed Hardy. Nobody makes jokes about their brand being the broiest broshirts, even though Audigier IS the broiest broshirts.


@deepomega Also kinda sad that because of Audigier, Hardy's lumped in with Kenny "Von Dutch" Howard who was, by most accounts, kind of a racist


i was at honest ed's (discount store of doom) in toronto a bit ago, and they had so much ed hardy there. (also some weird jeans that had "compare at $1700" price tags on them, which was insane)


Andy Warhol was a printmaker before he started that douchey nightclub.


I learned Ed Hardy wasn't a terrible person when I watched the documentary about him, which is available on Netflix if you want to check it out.

Jonas Ruess

naturally like your web site but you have to check the spelling on quite a few of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling issues and I find it very troublesome to tell the truth nevertheless I will surely come back again. Fifa 14 Hack

Post a Comment

You must be logged-in to post a comment.

Login To Your Account