Thom Devita’s “Odd Art” Returns to the Bowery
He inked up New Yorkers when tattooing was illegal. Now, Thom Devita is a walking tat legend.
The show itself was a revelation, displaying decades of Devita’s work and soundtracked by big band jazz and swing, Devita’s preferred music. As famously noted in “Tattoo Age,” he doesn’t seem to appreciate any art made after the 1940s preferring film noir movies and the aforementioned types of music.
“You know what kind of people like John Coltrane,” asks Devita in his “Tattoo Age” series, “People that don’t like Jazz music.”
Devita bleeds art; his house in upstate New York shown on “Tattoo Age” shows a home in which every article was a stand alone art piece, “It’s just as crazy as you think, probably crazier,” says Grosso. “If you went into his bathroom you’d see Gotham tattoo stamps all over, it’s like a little art installation.”
Devita’s “flash,” the drawings that hang on the walls at tattoo shops, are unique and featured heavily in the show. Unlike most flash, Devita used wood blocks instead of paper to show off his tattoo designs. When his Parkinson’s rendered him incapable of tattooing, Devita started making art out of “creative rubbings,” or acetate tattoo stencils placed under thick paper and rubbed over a dry medium that were influenced by mid-century painters, Willem De Kooning and Franz Kline, according to the Kings Ave blog. The show also had collages made of tattoo imagery and photographs of Devita and his clients back in the day. Some of the more special pieces were homages to Devita’s friends; one dedicated to Tux Farrar who Bubash and Devita taught to tattoo, as well as ones for Ed Hardy and Mike Malone. Devita’s ability to dabble in so many forms of art inspires awe among some of the best tattooers in the world.
“As a tattooer it’s really scary to think what you are going to be able to do when you can’t tattoo anymore,” says Oliver Peck, famous tattooer, judge of Spike TV’s “Ink Master”, owner of True Tattoo in Hollywood and co-owner of Elm Street Tattoo in Dallas who traveled all the way to New York just for the show. “Guys like Thom back in the day did all sorts of art, and that’s lost on a lot of the younger tattooers. The longer I have known Thom the more my appreciation for him has grown.”
Of the three days Devita’s work was mounted over the spacious venue located on Bowery and Delancey, Saturday proved itself the most star-studded, its attendance reading like a who’s who of the best tattooers in the country. As per usual, the artists of Kings Ave tattoo themselves, one of the most prestigious lineups of tattoo artists in the country, were all doing their thing. Owner Mike Rubendall as well as Chris O’Donnell, Grez, Brian Paul, Justin Weatherholtz and Frankie Caraccioli were all at their stations tattooing away.
But aside from the Kings Ave regulars, many others tattooers came out to either tattoo or get tattooed in the presence of the legendary Devita. The aforementioned Peck came just to see the work and hang out with Devita. Scott Harrison, a legendary tattooer and Devita fanatic and friend who has helped expand Devita’s notoriety through last year’s art show and other ventures came out special to do five tattoos at Kings Ave. “in the style of Devita,” according to his Instagram.
One of Harrison’s clients was upcoming tattoo talent Will Sheldon, who after only three years of tattooing has secured himself a spot on the esteemed roster of Saved Tattoo, Scott Campbell’s shop in Williamsburg. He was ecstatic to be receiving a Devita-style tattoo from Harrison. He’s been a fan of Devita since he first saw his work in Ed Hardy’s Tattoo Times magazine in the “Art of the Heart” issue and has been hooked since.
“His work, even though traditional, is so out of the box,” says Sheldon, “It’s so primitive and raw. He taught the understanding that you can get imagery from everything.”
Bubba Reeves of Pair O’ Dice Tattoo in Tulsa was also tattooing as a guest at Kings Ave. While tattooing one very lucky client, Reeves asked if Thom would like to lay some lines down on the outline of an eagle on the left side of the client’s chest. The client did not care that Devita’s hand was shaking, because he knew he was about to have one of the best tattooers of all time do work on him, a testament to the legacy of art that Devita has left behind.