You might know of Jonathan Shaw as the first tattoo artist to ever appear on The Tonight Show with David Letterman. Or maybe you’ve seen his likeness depicted by Pulitzer Prize-winning artist Art Spiegelman on the cover of The New Yorker. Or you might know him as the son of legendary Swing-era bandleader Artie Shaw—or maybe the tattooed thug playing opposite Clint Eastwood in the movie Tightrope. You may have seen the magazine Jonathan Shaw founded back in the 90s, International Tattoo Art, at your local newsstand. Or you could have read his book, Narcisa: Our Lady of Ashes, published by Johnny Depp’s HarperCollins imprint, or his recent visual exploration of tattoo art, Vintage Tattoo Flash. You may have read mind-boggling excerpts from his long-awaited memoir-style novel, Scab Vendor: Confessions of a Tattoo Artist online. Or maybe you only remember the name Jonathan Shaw as the infamous “tattoo artist to the stars” who recently made headline news for being indicted by a New York City Grand Jury and charged with 89 felony counts of illegal weapons possession.
Or . . . maybe you’ve never heard of Jonathan Shaw at all.
For decades, Jonathan Shaw was a world-renowned celebrity tattoo artist. Over the course of his well-documented career, he was one of the most infamous and influential tattoo men on the planet. Described by Iggy Pop as “the great nightmare anti-hero of the New Age,” Shaw’s client list included names like Johnny Depp, The Cure, The Velvet Underground, The Pogues, The Ramones, Marilyn Manson, Jim Jarmusch, Joe Coleman, Johnny Winter, Kate Moss, Orlando Bloom, Tupac Shakur and the notorious Great Train Robber, Ronald Biggs. Jonathan Shaw is still one of the most respected names in the tattoo profession today—despite having retired over 15 years ago from an industry with an absurdly short memory—an industry he was instrumental in pioneering.
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