The decade was a time of massive social and political change - and a formative period for what’s called 'the tattoo renaissance.'
Possibly the most significant decade of the century - the 1960s - was a time of massive social and political change, genre-defining music (enter: rock 'n’ roll) and the beginning of the hippy counterculture. There was a lot going on in the world: the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement - it all happened in the 60s. That’s a lot of inspiration for body art, but unfortunately, hepatitis also happened.
The hepatitis scare was attributed partially to unregulated tattoo parlours with poor hygiene standards. But instead of introducing better regulation, some cities and states banned tattooing completely.
“New York prohibited all tattooing in 1961 and the entire state of Massachusetts followed suit in 1962,” writes Anna Felicity Friedman, author of The World Atlas of Tattoos. Of course tattooing still happened — it just moved into people’s private living spaces or “parlours,” which is where the term tattoo “parlour” comes from.
In significant numbers, people were starting think differently, to challenge the system and dominant ideology. Tattoos were a natural way to express these beliefs, and demonstrate group and political identity. “The 1960s counter-culture movement created activist-minded young adults who wanted to permanently memorialise their radical and transgressive nature via tattoos,” writes Friedman. “Women, in particular, began to get tattooed in greater numbers, spurred on by artists such as Lyle Tuttle, who tattooed female celebrities and actively promoted the art form to new audiences via media appearances.”
But it wasn’t just the subject matter and clientele that was changing – during the tattoo renaissance, the art of body art itself was changing. It became a glorious melting pot of different influences. “A reignited interest in Japanese tattooing united many of the artists in the tattoo renaissance,” Friedman adds. Sailor Jerry was a seminal force – he introduced up-and-coming artists like Don Ed Hardy to his unique fusion of Japanese designs and traditional Americana – and this was the jumping off point for the decade’s pioneering new designs.
During the 60s, San Francisco-based Lyle Tuttle was one of the most prominent and celebrated tattoo artists — he was none other than Janis Joplin’s tattoo artist in 1970 — but it wasn’t just who he tattooed that was influential. Tuttle himself became famous “by catering to celebrities while helping to move tattooing… from the 'back alley' into mainstream acceptability,” according to the NY Times. He was seen as a “spokesman for tattooing” at a time when the industry needed strong voices.
“The breakthrough that (Lyle Tuttle) made was in people’s minds, tearing down prejudice, and that’s kind of a beautiful thing to do with your life.” - NY Times.
“Between the hippie movement of the late ’60s and the feminist campaigns and rights movements, the tattoo industry saw itself in the midst of a rebirth of sorts. The industry, which had once been mostly reserved for men, now saw an expansion of its client base, opening the potential for new customers by 50 per cent. In addition to the female population being socially able to wear body ink, the hippies of the world began following their free-will concepts right into tattoo parlours, getting peace signs, flowers, and other such symbols marked onto their bodies in celebration of their ideals,” according to Tattoo.
While the popularity of tattooing was taking off, 1967 also brought another milestone in tattoo history: the first laser removal treatment. Dr. Leon Goldman successfully removed a tattoo for the first time in history, using 694 Ruby laser and YAG laser.
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