deVita: where contemporary tattooing begins.
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.
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.
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
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
portfolio box produced by Nick Bubash
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
of Thom deVita, by John Wyatt