Hardy Marks Home Don Ed Hardy Archive


A Southern California native born in 1945, Hardy revived a childhood determination to become a tattoo artist and underwent a tattoo apprenticeship while simultaneously receiving a B.F.A. degree in printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1967. Tattooing professionally since then, he developed the fine art potential of the medium with emphasis on its Asian heritage. In 1973 he lived in Japan, studying with a traditional tattoo master – the first non-Asian to gain access to that world. He resumed these studies in Japan throughout the 1980s. Since 1974 he pioneered the emphasis on unique tattoo commissions at his San Francisco studio.

In 1982 he and his wife, Francesca Passalacqua, formed Hardy Marks Publications and have written, edited and published over twenty-five books on alternative art. They moved their primary household to Honolulu in 1986, where Hardy resumed painting, drawing, and printmaking. He maintains the studio Tattoo City in San Francisco, with younger artists continuing to evolve and carry on his unique work format. Hardy’s primarily focus is on creating and exhibiting works in more traditional mediums, including porcelain painting. He began developing this body of work in 2006 in a traditional Japanese setting.

In addition to showing his own works, Hardy has curated a number of exhibitions for both galleries and nonprofit spaces and frequently lectures at museums and universities. His work has appeared in numerous periodicals, books, and films internationally. In 2000, he was appointed by Oakland mayor Jerry Brown to that city’s Cultural Arts Commission, and awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the San Francisco Art Institute. In 2004 “Ed Hardy”, a major fashion line featuring his artwork, was launched internationally. Hardy and his wife now divide their time between Honolulu and the San Francisco Bay area.

Little Ed

Life, Art and Philosophy–Artist’s Statement

My life has always been in pictures. I’ve been drawing obsessively since the age of three and have always been interested in people’s stories and the stores that pictures tell. Initially the ones that were the most exotic, mysterious or fantastic were what held my interest. Eventually, I came to value subtler kinds of narrative, and I realize that a lot of the important stuff wasn’t necessarily logical or linear or (perhaps) could even properly be called a “story”, but is the communication of something unique, even in its abstract or formal elements. This transmission of specific experience and sensation gives it power. Sometimes the content of the picture is a mystery even to the person who made it, and that’s where it gets good and makes creating things worthwhile. It takes us beyond ourselves and our conscious intentions and moves into the realm of what you could call art. It’s fortunate to be able to maneuver in that realm, and I’ve kept aiming at that, trying to activate things. Tattooing is the medium that allowed me to do that.

I took up the practice out of a combination of economic necessity and artistic curiosity. It was an option that would give me both a challenge and an opportunity to be an independent agent and develop its potential as an expressive medium. At the same time, it’s “outsider” status was hugely compelling. Tattooing in the 1960’s was the most formally undeveloped and socially provocative medium I could think of, relegated in the public perception to the underworld of sailors, bikers and criminals. It seemed absurd to me that the tools of tattooing, the pigments, machines and the designs made with them were being used in such a limited fashion. Far-flung sociological and philosophical speculation aside, tattooing is a commercial art in contemporary Western society. I wanted to become successful at the business itself and simultaneously grow as an artist. Happily, these two forced went hand in hand. With the trust and encouragement of many others in the field, as well as legions of clients bringing me their concepts and skins, it has been an amazing and fulfilling journey. This book is an attempt to clarify for myself how it all fits together. Art that somehow feeds back to recognition or resonance in the viewer has gradually become devalued, and this medium has been a way for me to keep that function alive.

In some ways, the popularity of tattooing has backfired for me. My goal was to achieve some public recognition of its potential to be more that some stewbum’s antisocial flailings; now it’s become stereotyped in different ways. The tattoo world has expanded to include nearly every visual form imaginable, and is pervasive worldwide. Its fad status overwhelms or negates most of the assumptions on which I based my career; maybe it’s a search for authentic experience in an increasingly “visual” world. Nevertheless, the whole thing for me was about erasing outmoded boundaries and celebrating or emphasizing what we have in common as a species. To a degree, that’s worked.

There is no pat answer to the questions “What do people get tattooed?” any more than asking “Why do people make art?”. It’s primal and offers unlimited potential discourse. At its base, as with all other arts are play, irrationality and mystery. In a well-known statement, Picasso said that “the goal is not to find, but to seek”. By developing hand/eye coordination and learning to trust our intuition, we can aim at a state of transmission and transcendence which gives physical form to subtle forces and have some fun along the way. Regardless of the medium, the works left behind are clues to the invisible man or woman.

From Tattooing the Invisible Man, Hardy Marks Publications, 1999