- Posted by CHallowell
- On July 27, 2023
Ranking the best tattoos in Dallas history is a daunting task. Lucky for me, I have had the opportunity to see many to choose from, and to witness the winners i have chosen with my own two eyes. The following are what I believe to be five of the best tattoos in Dallas tattoo history.
Well, this first one, I watched get done and it is the only one on the list of which that is true. My buddy, Chris Erickson, always on a new trip, always supercharging some new plan, always late and lighthearted, effortlessly talented and never stressed. He comes up with this idea to give away a traditional Japanese tattoo back piece during the auction portion of Oliver Peck and Dean Williams’ annual Christmas party, at which tickets won by gambling during the party can be used to bid on a number of gifts or offers.
Erickson comes up with this! Well, what makes it magical, is that Mr. Bob , a Dallas filmmaker and teacher, bids on the back piece and wins it! He had decided to do it right then and there. He made a decision that would change his life forever. Keep in mind that a traditional Japanese back piece begins at the shoulders, travels all the way down the back, over and down the buttocks, finally terminating at the mid-thigh. Bob did it! He won the tattoo.
The crazy part is that Bob does not have a single tattoo. Over the next year, He and Erickson worked on this tattoo masterpiece weekly, a dedication of skin and pigment, iconography and folklore.
A Japanese tiger, standing on a rock, puffs out its chest displaying its strength, while, overhead, a Japanese dragon exerts its dominion of the power of enlightenment, hanging in the clouds, as peonies bloom everywhere.
Hundahl of the Black Lagoon
There was this Creature of the Black Lagoon tattoo done by Tony Hundahl while he was working at Elm Street Tattoo in Deep Ellum. This tattoo was so bold, big, and in your face, and was a precursor to the strong style that Tony would go on to achieve shortly. Big, solid areas of green covered the customer’s forearm, set off by contrasting colors that just made the piece jump.
Irreverent tattooing, as I used to call it. It was off the wall, zany, still based on traditional American tattooing but departing through the imagery to a place of levity and personal preference. Fun, bold, and unique. But it was the technique itself that really made this tattoo sing.
When Frank Came to Town
Well, in the mid-’90s Frank Lee blew into town from Florida and really drank in all that the city had to offer. He was hot on the heels of his first set of tattoo flash that really had an amazing impact on the shops and customers of the day.
Lee created really well-drawn illustrative stuff that was based on a traditional tattoo design but that just read out wild. He mostly created chicks, chicks, and more chicks, with each one totally va va voom, and looking better than the last.
Customers loved these things! But the tattoo I remember was on a young cat named Casey. It was a full forearm portrait of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, rendered in the traditional American tattoo style. Instead of shading His skin with shades of brown, Lee shaded Christ’s visage lightly with blue, making the Lord’s skin appear to glow bright White. Beautiful.
The way the tattoo looked in the skin was an amazing thing to behold! It was so smooth, so soft; it looked as if Casey had been born with it. It looked like it was drawn with water, not a needle. I had never seen a tattoo so soft. Being a huge fan of the rough and tumble tough tattoos of the American tattoo tradition, I had never even known i wanted to! But my was this exquisite. Later on, I saw work by Adrian Evans that also had this soft quality. It was hard to believe these tattoos hurt to get!
Then there was full body traditional Japanese dragon tattoo that Robert Hackney, aka Hack, put on Kelly Keyes, the owner of a tiny record shop that was off Exposition back in the late ’80s. A full body dragon implies that the whole body of the dragon is portrayed- and it was- but full body where this tattoo was concerned means that it spanned the length of Kelly’s whole body, snaking from her armpit, to her ribs, across her hip, to curl around her leg and tap its tail against her ankle bone. Flipping through records was often overshadowed by catching a glimpse of Kelly’s dragon; a masterpiece in greens, reds, and yellows that just became part of her body, part of her persona, part of the scene itself.
Hail to the King
And of course, the one we have all been waiting for without further adieu, I call him “The King of Deep Ellum Tattooing,” and you know that it is none other than Richard Stell. All of these best tattoos in Dallas history are supposed to jump right out to the forefront of your mind, but so many do when you consider Richard’s work.
How about his Deep Ellum Man’s Ruin, or the Dragon backpiece on the prison guard? Talk about irreverent tattooing; this was the peak of it. Fueled by the wacky antics of Dave Lum down in Austin the wilder the better was the order of the day, and like Lum and even Trevino already, Stell delivered.
But how could it not be a piece of Richard’s more traditional work that would gain the top honor here? As my old boss James Tapscott and his first chair tattoo man Ben Howe were continually getting tattooed by Stell, vying for coverage and the best tattoo of all, finally Richard did it. There, stretched out along the length of the back of James’ forearm was the best panther tattoo you had ever seen. For starters, the perfectly placed black shading gave way to a perfect medium purple that showcased the very best of what 90’s tattooing had to offer. But the panther came with a twist- he was bandaged from head to toe, blinded by a bandage, tail wrapped with bandage, bandaged at the ribs- these were all shaded with powder blue, which gave the impression of clean white bandages. But they were soiled with blood, blood so correctly placed you would think maybe Richard rode with a biker gang or something… But that is another story for another time.
And now Richard has returned to be With Our Lord, and so I miss him in a daydream while typing and thinking of his work, of him punching me in the arm, letting me hang around him, teaching me to mix pigment, tattooing on me, and drawing in the palm of his left hand with his pointer finger to show me how to draw an eagle’s tail correctly after he had gone blind…
Become Part of the Next Lineup of Best Tattoos in Dallas
If you are interested in wearing a traditional American or Japanese tattoo, you could be on the top five list of another Dallas tattoo artist sometime in the future. Contact me today to inquire about your tattoo and lets join the next lineup of the best tattoos in Dallas.