Tattoo Artist Mike Brown - Art Talk - VICE

Uploaded by vice on Nov 18, 2011





ERICH WEISS: My name's Erich Weiss, and I was--
the director of the documentary Hori
Smoku Sailor Jerry.
It's a documentary about the life and times of Sailor Jerry
Collins, who is a infamous tattoo artist who was based in
Honolulu, Hawaii from the late '20s to when he died in 1973.
I think during the movie, my image of Hawaii kind of
changed and shifted.
Because I'm from the East Coast.
I'm from Philadelphia, so Hawaii really is
another world away.
And when you think of Hawaii you think of hula girls, and
pig roasts, and that kind of thing.
And researching for the film, I learned about where Jerry
tattooed, and that was Hotel Street, which
is Chinatown area.
And it's always been notorious, because that's
where soldiers and sailors would go to drink, meet a
lady, usually a lady for hire, and get tattooed.
And I listened to stories about how seedy and dirty and
dangerous that area was.
And I was attracted to that.

That's Mike Malone.
ERICH WEISS: Kandy Everitt.

ERICH WEISS: There's a lot of people that are still here
that were tattooed by Sailor Jerry.
And you could find people that worked in Jerry's shop just
after when Mike Malone took it over, and it was
called China Sea then.
So there are continuous lines of history that you can follow
and people that remember what Hotel Street was like and what
that era represented.
There's Mike Brown, who's still working here.
Around the '70s, I think that's when Chinatown started
to really go on its decline.
And Mike Brown worked at China Sea during that time period,
and now he's working in Waikiki.

MIKE BROWN: Oh yeah.
We're Skin Deep Tattoo in the heart of Waikiki, right next
to the Tiffany Building.
Majority of our tattoos here are done on tourists.
MIKE BROWN: Plumerias, hibiscus, turtles, koi fish.

We do have guys that come in and want a traditional-style
tattooing, and I can do it, no problem.
Because that's what I started out doing was
that style of work.
So I have no problem with that.
I grew up in suburbs of Los Angeles, a little town called
Pico Rivera.
Yeah, most of the people I hung out with had tattoos.
All the older guys did, peacocks, like this.
I think the peacock was the most-used image at that time
in the late '60s.
I think that the old junkies used to do it to hide their
needle marks.
That was the whole significance of it.
They'd get it, the body here, and then the tail would come
down there.
And this arm was a little bit of my recreational drug abuse
caused me to have surgery on my arms.
Kids love it.
Well, I was not doing real good in California.
I was--

oh, I guess everybody knows.
I was a drug addict, and I needed to get away from the
drugs that were there.
So I came here and got away from those drugs and soon
found other drugs here.
But I would go through downtown on my way to Waikiki,
and I'd look down the street to see if the shop was open.
And it was never open, because at that time, Mike Malone was
in the process of opening the shop after Sailor Jerry died.
He had died in June, and I moved here in the
beginning of August.
So it still had the Sailor Jerry sign out front.
So one day I walked into the--
I noticed the shop was open.
And I walked in and met Mike.
Well, that was the only tattoo scene that was going on here
at that time in '73.
So I just started coming around the shop.
And then from there, we started hanging out together,
because back in the old days, in the '70s, there weren't a
lot of haoles here, or white people.
We were definitely the minority at that time, and so
if you met somebody that was a haole, and you were a haole,
you sort of became friends with them if you wanted to
have friendship.
Because the locals really didn't take to us that good in
those days.
They were real hesitant, because all the stigma of
Captain Cook, and from then on how they raped and pillaged
the island.
Before I started to tattooing, came over here in '73, and I
liked to eat sweets, always have.
So I decided, well, maybe I'll be a baker.
So I went to baking school for a while.
Then Malone set me up in a doughnut shop across the
street from the tattoo shop to plug up the business for the
other Filipino guy used to work.
I pursued baking for another few years, and then come 1977,
I was through with it.
And I told Malone, teach me how to tattoo.
If I could see something, I could copy it, but I wasn't
always real good at making stuff up out of my head.
I've always had trouble with that.

MIKE BROWN: Lance McClain, Kandi Everett, Mike Malone,
and myself, and that was it.
Oh, Mike would be real friendly on some days and real
grumpy on other days.
It would just depend on how it was going for him that day.

MIKE BROWN: Well, real clean, real bright, Sailor Jerry's
designs, most of it.
And then Mike had painted up a lot of his designs too.
But for some reason, we sold a lot of the Sailor Jerry
bulldogs and eagles.
It just seemed like the '70s, everybody wanted
bulldogs and eagles.
That was mainly what all I did back then.
But we did mostly Marines and Navy on military paydays.
Back then they got paid every two weeks by cash.
It was just production shop on military payday.
We'd do 10-15 people on a 12-hour shift, and you
couldn't do any body work in there when you
had a military payday.
All you did was backs and arms.
Back then, if you tattooed 3% to 5% of the population, you
were probably being very liberal.
It seemed like nobody got tattooed back then.
I'd get on the bus, and I had this big dragon my arm.
And little Chinese ladies wouldn't even sit by me.
They were afraid of me.
I went to the first tattoo convention in Reno, Nevada.
It was before National Tattoo Association started.
So I went over there with Mike.
He had just finished my back piece and wanted me to enter
it in a contest.
Went to the convention, and I saw that tattooing was
starting to get really good.
And you could make a decent living at it.
Back then, there was only people that were in the tattoo
business were the only people that came through
the door, it seemed.
Nobody made very much money, because everybody was gambling
that weekend.
So it wasn't a real good idea to have a tattoo convention in
a place where they have gambling, I don't think.
Oh, Thom Devita was there.
Huck Spaulding was there.
And then Ed Hardy, and Mike Malone, and I, and--
that's right.
Jack Rudy was there, and Charlie Cartwright.
He was a character.
That's where Ed and Mike met Jack Rudy and saw the work he
was doing and were just blown away by that single-needle
work he was doing.
Oh, yeah.
We were doing four- and five-needle outline tattoos,
bright colors.
They were doing all single-needle, black and gray,
using a shade or two.
But it was all just black and gray, real fine, more
realistic than what we were doing.
Yeah, I moved back to the mainland in 1979.
I thought I could get a real job for a while and realized
it wasn't for me.
So I went right back to tattooing and started working
for Ed Hardy at Tattooland in East LA, the one that looks
like a little gingerbread house, yeah.
Oh, there it was strictly tattooing gang bangers.
That's all we did was just tattoo gang
bangers, day and night.
They didn't mind.
They liked-- we were one of the only shops.
Freddy Negrete, he was the only one that was--
he grew up in the barrio.
He was a gang banger too at one time.
And he was from South San Gabriel--
or no, San Gabriel, excuse me.
I say South San Gabriel, he'd get mad.
He was from San Gabriel, or Sangra, they called it.
They'd get girls' heads, peacocks, roses, and names.
Do a lot of names there.
I could do a decent script name when I worked for Malone.
And then afterwards, with Jack Rudy and Freddy Negrete, I had
to learn how to letter better if I
wanted to get more business.
So I studied their style of lettering, and Jack would show
me stuff, and so would Freddy.
And from there, I sort of developed my
own style, I guess.