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Don Ed Hardy
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Des Moines, Iowa
Master tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy is known for his elaborate tattoos inspired by the artistic heritage and traditional tattooing of Japan and informed by his fine art training at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI). In addition, he is a painter, printmaker and ceramicist. Donald Edward Talbott Hardy was born on January 5, 1945 in Des Moines, Iowa. After World War II his family settled in Newport Beach, Calif. At the age of ten he began drawing tattoo designs and tattooing his friends, using colored pencils and eyeliner. He studied art history under an inspiring high-school teacher, won an award for his art in a national student competition and explored the art scene in Los Angeles. After graduating from high school in 1962 he exhibited his art in a Los Angeles gallery and studied at the art school of the La Jolla Museum of Art and at the Orange Coast Junior College. Hardy entered the SFAI in September, 1963, where his teachers included Joan Brown (1938-1990), Manuel Neri (b. 1930), and Gordon Cook (1927-1985). His interest in tattooing was rekindled after he did a class project on tattooing as a forgotten American art form. Hardy decided to pursue a career tattooing after he graduated from the SFAI in 1967 with a degree in printmaking rather than enrolling in the masters in fine arts program at Yale University. The following year he worked in tattoo shops in Vancouver, B.C. and Seattle, and then moved to San Diego in January 1969, where he worked for another tattooer and then opened his own studio in 1971. Hardy learned Asian designs during visits in 1969 and 1972 to the famous Honolulu tattoo artist “Sailor Jerry” Collins (1911-1973) and while working for Japanese tattoo artist Kazuo Oguri (“Horihide,” b. 1927) in Gifu, Japan for about five months in 1973. In 1974 he moved to San Francisco where favorable publicity and referrals led to a thriving business at his Realistic Tattoo Studio. After learning about “barrio-style” tattoos based on images from Chicano street culture, he opened a short-lived tattoo parlor in the Mission District, then the center of San Francisco’s Latino culture, and bought a tattoo studio in East Los Angeles. He began a series of working trips to England in 1979. In 1982 Hardy published the first of five issues of a magazine on tattooing, “Tattootime No. 1: The New Tribalism,” which focused on the traditional black abstract graphic tribal tattoos of the South Pacific islands. “Tattootime” was introduced at “Tattoo Expo ’82,” a successful three-day convention on the “Queen Mary” steamship anchored in Long Beach, Calif., organized by Hardy and a few friends. That year he formed Hardy Marks Publications with his wife, Francesca Passalacqua (b. 1949), which published the subsequent issues of “Tattootime” and many books. In 1983 he began traveling to Japan once or twice a year to work. The next year he sold his Los Angeles tattoo parlor, hired others to work at Realistic Tattoo in San Francisco, and began planning a tattoo exposition in Rome, Italy. Sponsored by that city’s Cultural Arts Council, with exhibitors from around the world, “The Donkey and the Zebra” ran for the month of May in Trajan’s Marketplace and drew some thirty thousand visitors. Hardy moved to Honolulu in late 1986 and started a decade-long practice of tattooing in San Francisco and Tokyo, while painting his own works and publishing books in Honolulu. Hardy exhibited in group shows in a San Francisco gallery in 1989 and at Honolulu’s Academy of Arts in 1990. In 1992 Hardy began creating etchings at a Chicago fine art press, co-curated a show of tattoo photographs in Santa Monica, curated an exhibition of tattoo designs in Los Angeles and had a solo show in Chicago. During the following years Hardy’s work appeared in solo shows in Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Santa Monica. He helped to organize “Pierced Hearts and True Love: A Century of Drawings for Tattoos” in 1995 at The Drawing Center in New York City, which traveled to six other American and Canadian cities. Hardy created lithographs at a press in Boulder and etchings at a studio in Japan in 1995. A retrospective exhibition of his work was mounted by the Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica in 1999. On January 1, 2000 Hardy began painting “2000 Dragons” on a 4 x 500 foot roll of Tyvek fabric. “2000 Dragons” was first shown at the Track 16 Gallery that November, and then traveled to Denver, Ecuador, San Francisco, Honolulu and Houston. In May 2000 he received an honorary doctorate degree from the SFAI. He licensed designs to fashion designer Christian Audigier (1958-2015) in 2004 and clothing and other merchandise with “Ed Hardy” designs became very popular. Hardy completed his last tattoo in 2008, the year a feature-length documentary film on his life was released by filmmaker Emiko Omori (b. 1940). He has continued to show his works widely and in 2017 donated 156 of his prints to the Fine Arts Museums. Hardy divides his time between Honolulu and San Francisco. (TNB 2/2019) Selected bibliography: Hardy, Don Ed with Joel Selvin. Wear Your Dreams: My Life in Tattoos. New York: Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin’s Press, 2013. Hardy, Don Ed. Tatooing the Invisible Man: Bodies of Work, 1955-1999. Exhibition catalog. Santa Monica: Smart Art Press; San Francisco: Hardy Marks Publications, 1st ed., 1999; 2nd ed., 2005.