“They all look so fierce!” And looking a little bedazzled, that was the pervading commentary from patrons at the de Young museum‘s opening of the landmark San Francisco exhibition, Ed Hardy: Deeper than Skin, this week. Through over 50 years, from childhood drawings to his most recent paintings, Ed Hardy has transformed the art of tattoo into a creative force in confident and mesmerizing work that still hold such power. Entering the exhibition envelops you into Hardy’s world where early to mid-century outlaw tattoo culture is leashed by application and craft, but unbridled in power and motion.
“Hardy was true game changer and risk taker,” Paul Mullowney of Mullowney Printing told us last week, and throughout Deeper than Skin, it is clear that the exhibition will attract both the hardliner tattoo culturists, as well as curious art observers on the periphery of what was once underground culture. Because tattoo art has become synonymous with youth of the last 25 years, Deeper than Skin contextuallizes that but affirms the artist’s fine art aesthetic and approach to the craft. That Hardy was an SFAI grad who turned down a ticket Yale when he chose a career of tattooing speaks to the passion of the master, proving that he path to influence and legendary status can come from outsider art just as much as a path paved in blue chips.
Deeper than Skin’s interactive elements, from video projections giving visitors their own momentary “tattoos,” to Hardy’s incredible paintings juxtaposed with their application to the body (a highlight of the show for us) all create a place where tattoo art is accessible and understood. The impressive and massive 500-foot long scroll work with 2,000 colorful dragons placed along its flowing path leads to where Hardy’s newest paintings and famed-self-portraits are placed. A great place to linger will indeed be the “wall of flash,” a historical look at all the flash tattoo designs Hardy has made over the years. In terms of volume and scale, it’s overwhelming, but look around in awe at the aesthetic that has inspired countless tattoo artists over the years, and reimagined what flash art could be.
“I remember getting my first Picasso book at 16 or 17, and thinking, ‘No wonder this guy is famous. This is how you should make art. It can be anything.’ I didn’t feel like there was one thing I wanted to do, I wanted to explore it all, you know?” Hardy told this to Juxtapoz in our Summer 2019 issue, and Deeper than Skin reinforces this sentiment. The exhibition is a highlight of the San Francisco summer season, but also a reminder that art that comes from the outside is gaining ground on the insiders. A beautiful, and fierce, way to get there. —Evan Pricco
Experience Ed Hardy: Deeper than Skin at the de Young museum, July 13–October 6, 2019