Thom deVita: where contemporary tattooing begins.

A portfolio of work from contemporary tattooists, celebrating the influences of Thom deVita. Prints from Nick Bubash, Don Ed Hardy, Scott Harrison, John Wyatt, and Mike Malone along with an afterword by Teddy Varndell.

I was knocking around N.Y.C. late summer of 1972 with the idea of getting a new tattoo. There was new work showing up on the street and it was sparking my interest. I called a New Jersey number in the Village Voice tattoo ad and talked to a tattooer named Tony the Pirate. Business was so slow that Tony offered to pick me up and drive back to his shop. I can't remember why but ultimately the Pirate sent me to deVita. He said deVita was in the Lower East Side.

So there I found myself standing on a corner in the West Village thinking, "the Lower East Side, I wonder where?" At that moment a truck trundled down the street, stopping at my corner. It was heading east and had a big black arrow painted on its side with an ad slogan written beneath it reading "Let's Go". How could this sign be denied? I followed the truck a few blocks when it turned north, no longer of any help. Just then there was a noise above causing me to look skyward. A flock of geese in early migration, their V formation headed southeast. They were clearly pointing the way! So it went. One clue after the next; a one way sign, a tipped over trash can, a child pointing…etc. The clues took me further into the Lower East Side. Finally, I noticed two people approaching engaged in a lively conversation. As we passed, I distinctly heard one of them say, "he's on Fourth Street…."

Thom deVita was sitting on the stoop waiting for customers, as he often did. We had a brief conversation about tattoos and he invited me up to the studio. Now, I consider my finding deVita to be an act of divine intervention in the first place. Even so, God (the God of art) had not prepared me for what I was about to see. The 4th Street studio was a visual wonderland; a bloom of dark flowers, a think of beauty! I was standing in the middle of an odd work of art and it's major component was deVita himself, who, as far as I could see, was covered in tattoos.

Handmade portfolio box produced by Nick Bubash

 

 

Ed Hardy described deVita's 4th Street studio in one of his Tattoo Times publications as a "power vision". I could see why. The power came from the mix of natural street energy represented by a myriad of curbside found objects, mostly parts of things broken or discarded, combined with the considerable energy of reinterpreted tattoo art and related imagery and process such as ink drawing and water color. These along with collage, photography, constructionism and deVita's personal vision with referrals to any number of various ethnic design elements, made what was an extremely unique artistic phenomenon.

Each piece of flash was treated as an individual work of art, hand rendered and framed and finished off in mixed media or perhaps with slashes of black Pelican ink. A kind of fast, slick, dark beauty. Hair combed back into a ducktail with pointed Italian shoes beauty, often salted with references to China or Serbo-Croatia or maybe Hasidic Jedaica!

The Experience was enlightening to say the least, it detonated an art bomb in my skull. Energy shot out of my kundalini and up my spine, ringing a bell in my brain like a two-bit carnival causeway strength test! I knew I was home.

A short time later I came back to 4th Street to show Thom some of my drawings. He looked them over and told me that I could come by any time. That began my 30-year plus relationship with Thom deVita. In years to come I would spend much of my free time at the 4th Street studio and although it was largely unspoken, I became a student, learning about the physical world deVita had created complete with its own beliefs, myths, parables, stories of high coincidence and the fantastic (the story above of how I first met Thom is actually one of his old stories). He showed me how to make art and how to integrate it into my life.

Early in the making of this portfolio, Thom decided that he wanted to include in it some original works of art. Three was the number. There was enough time to execute 120 pieces before the deadline of November, 2002. Time passed and there were delays. Thom pressed on. Finally I was able to get up to Newburgh N.Y. where he lives. It was now several days before Christmas and we needed to put some last details on the boxes before they came back to Pittsburgh, PA for the final construction. I also needed to get the 120 originals from Thom. While selecting the art, I was amazed to se that he had made hundreds and hundreds of finished pieces. He is on automatic. Making art for deVita is an involuntary reflex.

We six artists: Malone, Hardy, Harrison, Varndell, Wyatt, and Myself, came together without hesitation, to make the portfolio on deVita's behalf. We did so to celebrate his selfless contributions. Our written and visual essays observe Thom for what he is: A true original who was an important early force in the tattoo renaissance. An artist who pushes the envelope acting as a catalyst for the others. An artist whose guts are always close to what he does. A magician who has changed the way we see.

Nick Bubash
Pittsburgh, PA

Portrait of Thom deVita, by John Wyatt

 

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