A Love Letter to Tattoing: 'Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World'

Christel Loar

A visually stunning and passionate testament to one man's visually stunning passion.

Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World

Director: Emiko Omiri
Cast: Ed Hardy
Distributor: Docurama
Rated: unrated
Release date: 2011-09-20

Ed Hardy is arguably the world's most famous tattooer. His instantly recognizable designs have been etched into the skin of thousands of people over the last forty-odd years, and since 2005, when the first Ed Hardy store opened, his work has been emblazoned on everything from clothing and housewares, to collectables and even wine labels. His merchandizing empire is now worth around $500 million a year, but it all began with a love of art—and a fascination with the art of tattoos.

Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World is a documentary feature from award-winning filmmaker Emiko Omri (Rabbit In The Moon), whose fascination with Hardy began with her own first tattoo. When she returned a few years after that first experience—as Hardy predicted she would—for another tattoo, she brought along a camera and an intention to document the vibrant world of this living art form (She previously made Tattoo City, which focused on Hardy's first walk-in parlour, in San Francisco).

Tattoo the World is biographical look at Hardy's life and work, but it's also something of a love letter to tattooing itself. All of the people interviewed are clearly passionate about tattooing,and obviously, Hardy himself is the most passionate of them all. Don Ed Hardy was first drawn to tattoos as a young boy in Corona del Mar, California. He decided he wanted to be a tattooer at ten, and would practice drawing typical designs (anchors, skulls, pinup girls, hearts, etc.) on friends with eyeliner and colored pencils. As a teen he became obsessed with surfing, but drawing was still a major force in his life. After high school, Hardy went to the San Francisco Art Institute, where he studied print-making, but he turned down an opportunity to go to graduate school at Yale in favor of pursuing his passion for tattoos.

Omiri traces Hardy's tale from San Francisco to Vancouver and San Diego, where he honed his craft on a steady clientele of sailors; then, in 1973, to Japan where he apprenticed with classical master Horihide; and back to San Francisco in the mid-'70s, where Hardy opened the first private tattoo studio in the United States. This is also when he began doing Japanese-style full-body tattoos.

Much of this background and biographical information is told directly on camera by Hardy and presented with with his own archival photographs, early drawing and designs, but it's when we begin seeing footage of the actual tattoos, both in progress and once the are complete, that we truly get a sense of the awe-inspiring, life-affirming, breath-taking beauty of these works of art. Though he refers to himself as a tattooer rather than a tattoo artist, Hardy doesn't see the distinction between tattooing and "art" that some people see. "It erases, to me, barriers of time and culture and ethnicity. But the reality is, it just brings art into people's lives," he says of tattooing.

Now in his mid-60s and living in Hawaii, Hardy has spent the last several years focusing on other forms of visual art, but tattoos and classic tattoo imagery still figure prominently in his work and his life. He's an artist. He's a tattooer. He's a brand. Six years after the first store, and almost half a century since his first tattoo, there are now 70 Ed Hardy stores worldwide. But even without the branded merchandise, we would recognize his work. His images have become iconic, as if they are tattooed on the very skin of our culture.

The Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World DVD comes with four temporary Ed Hardy tattoos, and it includes 77 minutes of extra footage, deleted and extended scenes, additional interviews and, of course, more magnificent, gorgeous tattoos.


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