You know Sailor Jerry. You may not think you know Sailor Jerry, aka Norman K. Collins, but you do. Even if tattoo art is something that has never touched your life, your skin, or your eyes (God forbid you try to tattoo your eyes), you will find the style of the designs in this exhibition immediately recognisable.
They are nothing short of epochal, and everything that you associate with the tattoo art of the sailor tradition, and everything else beyond, for Sailor Jerry was the father of it all.
Born in California in 1911, it wasn’t long until he left home to travel America. Upon these travels was he first exposed to tattoo art, and when he was 19 he joined the Navy, further exposing himself to art from all over the planet, notably South-East Asia and the South Pacific regions.
He developed his skills by practicing on his fellows. Here were the iconic lines born. Honourably discharged from the Navy due to medical complications, he settled in Honolulu and opened his first tattoo shop, and that’s where the iconic designs developed and multiplied. The rest is history, so they say, one that saw him pioneer new needle techniques, endorse extremely popular rum, and have his creations walking around the world, living, as the people wearing them, far beyond the date of his death in 1973.
The exhibition itself has an emphatic design, the wooden panels and brown colouring of the Cargo bar lending itself neatly to the theme. You can’t help but feel you are on the deck of a ship. There are cardboard cut-outs of his feminine designs standing at various corners, welcoming you into a naval environment that obviously lacked the flesh and blood of breathing women, gently immersing you into the two-dimensional world that accompanied the yearnings of sailors far away from home.
For those of you that don’t know, ‘flash’ is the term used to depict the work of tattoo artists that line their shops like wallpaper. Indeed, this is the feel of the exhibition, something like a tattoo shop on a boat, and I have to say it worked very well, introducing a relative novice such as myself to a world that is not restricted to those who wish to adorn themselves.
Suffice to say I was pleased to have attended, and this art deserves to be recognised. There is so much more to the man than I can describe here, and the exhibition has it all, so I suggest you get down there. I don’t believe you will be disappointed. It’s real.
Sailor Jerry Flash Art Exhibition -until November 21
83 Rivington Street
Shoreditch EC2A 3AY
Sailor Jerry Rum is the spirit inspired by Norman Collins. It was the sponsor of the 2008 Kerrang! Icon award and the official spirit sponsor at The Kerrang Awards for the last two years. It was the official spirit of The Camden Crawl, Dot-to-Dot and Hox-to-Dot festivals, as well as having previously worked with rock ‘n’ roll originals The Damned and Biffy Clyro.