If you’re like us you used to spend history class doodling tattoo ideas on the fringes of your notebook while barely paying attention to the lecture. There is a rich and interesting history behind the tattoo industry in the United States that is often ignored. With the proliferation of tattoos in today’s society, especially among young people, it’s easy to forget that as recently as a generation ago a person with tattoos would be ostracized. Tattoo Nation, a documentary by director Eric Schwartz, examines how in a very short time tattooing has moved from the periphery of society to become a respected art form. In other words, it’s a history lesson that you’ll actually want to pay attention to.
Thanks to the insular nature of the tattoo industry—basically everyone knows everyone else involved—Tattoo Nation is able to trace the origins of today’s ink explosion back to one shop operating out of East Los Angeles and three men working out of it. Charlie Cartwright, Jack Rudy and Freddy Negrete tell the story of their pioneering shop, Good Time Charlie’s, and how they ended up popularizing the Black & Grey style of tattooing that had previously been widespread only behind bars.
Through extensive interviews with many of the heavy hitters in tattooing—Ed Hardy, Mark Mahoney, Mister Cartoon, Kate Hellenbrand, Tim Hendricks, Filip Leu and many others—the film illustrates how the innovations coming out of Good Time Charlie’s rocked the entire industry and influenced everything we know about modern tattooing. Tattoo artists wouldn’t have jobs if it weren’t for the people that are demanding their art so the film also interviews some of the collectors and celebrities whose desires helped fuel the stylistic revolution.
By delving into the details of how Black & Grey became one of the iconic styles of tattooing Tattoo Nation educates viewers about the roots of the industry and likely sheds some light onto where their own ink may have come from. Much like how knowing the history that went into creating a fine bourbon can enhance a person’s enjoyment of the beverage knowing the lineage of artists who influenced the style of the artist who inked them can allow a person to gain new insight into their tattoos.
Be sure to check out Tattoo Nation when it makes its world network television premiere on March 11 at 8 pm (7 C) on Spike TV.