Picnic at Hanging Rock #9 - Craigy Lee

Published: 22 August, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 202, August, 2011

This month, I’ve been delving into Australia’s tattoo history by meeting up with two colourful characters that have helped put Australian tattooing on the map...

Bev Robinson is a name you might not be familiar with, however, Cindy Ray, the alias she used in her younger years should certainly ring a bell with almost every tattoo artist reading this magazine. The original painted lady and tattooed pin up girl from the ’60s has been seen in many tattoo books and magazines across the world over the past 50 years. I was extremely excited to meet Bev, a living legend of Australia’s tattoo past and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Now having met with her and gotten to know her, I face the extremely daunting task of trying to write down, represent and do this remarkable lady justice.

Bev is approaching 70 and still tattoos every weekend at Moving Pictures. For the past five years the shop has been run by Kenny after a spate of unreliable staff – Bev wanted to take a step back and even considered closing the shop. Luckily Kenny, having initially come in to buy some of the studio equipment, ended up taking the shop on and continuing the name. Bev opened the shop 42 years ago, making it the oldest shop in Melbourne “except maybe for Johnny Dollar, he’s been around as long as me”, she tells me.

Bev is an extremely lovely lady, down to earth and still very much involved in the tattoo industry across the world, writing and corresponding with many artists. She admits there has been such a boom in recent years that there are many good artists she is seeing work by and hasn’t even heard of, though I’m sure she would happily meet them all if she had the chance. In an age where everyone seems to be chasing the limelight to become a ‘celebrity’, Bev shrugs it off. Even though she still receives fan mail from across the world she is more concerned with just being a part of the industry she loves. In 2005, Bev was flown to St Louis, U.S.A and was inducted into the tattoo hall of fame by Lyle Tuttle. This is the kind of recognition she is proud of.

And while her images have been published across the globe, Bev is very much Melbourne born and bred. She went to school here, grew up and still works and lives here today. She is extremely modest about all the attention she has received over the years. Originally having replied to an advert looking for models “willing to shave their eyebrows,” the photographer told her if she got tattooed she could make a lot of money. So he paid for her tattoos and took a set of pictures which appeared in a book and the whole thing just escalated. “There were only a handful of photos and to this day I don’t even have a set, but it’s those photos that made me known across the world as Cindy Ray”, she tells me. Soon afterwards she started tattooing and married a tattooist who did the rest of the work on her arms and legs.

I can’t help but think that Bev could easily make a ‘quick buck’ at tattoo conventions worldwide tattooing Cindy Ray flash and charging over-inflated prices to eager tattoo collectors. After meeting the woman behind the picture it’s easy to see why that would never happen. Bev is very much your ‘salt of the earth’ kind of person, happy working an honest day for an honest days pay. It’s old school tattooers like Bev that have moved our industry forward. Working because they love it, not taking advantage or trying to become a superstar. They have created the industry that the younger generation of artists like myself are a part of today. Giving back what they take, still as enthusiastic as ever about tattooing and happy to meet and talk with tattoo artists and enthusiasts alike.

From old school tattoo history to modern history in the making, Lucky Diamond Rich will most certainly be a name you have heard. He is the Guinness World Record holder for being the most tattooed person in the world and among other appearances, he also makes the trip to London every September to perform at the London Tattoo Convention.

He has a background I could fill an entire article with and his stories are free flowing and full of character, in short – very short – he started his life in the circus on the road and has finally made his way into the tattoo industry. His performing has now taken a backseat and his enthusiasm is now channelled into his painting and tattooing. While I’m not sure you could ever really keep him in one place, for now he is settled full-time at A Splash of Color Tattoo in Melbourne.

Starting out 12 years ago in New Zealand, he would perform his show at tattoo conventions and after a while started asking organisers for a booth as part of his payment so he could tattoo Mr Lucky skulls: “I did some bad tattoos back then,” he reflects, “when I look back I’d like to shake those peoples hands.” His turning point came when some friends told him to knuckle down and concentrate on getting good or quit! So he worked in a street shop for two years doing small tattoos and building up his skills until he decided to do less performing and concentrate on tattooing 100 percent. “I know I’m not going to be the best tattoo artist in the world, but my goal is to make every tattoo a good clean tattoo.”

When he travels to perform you will now find him working guest spots; one of his favourite shops to work in is Soho’s Diamond Jacks. “I love working in street shops, I love the characters that come in to me. It’s not studios in the industry that attract me but the characters that work there.” One of his favourite characters is Australian tattooist Karl Koffman from Sydney – as well as seeing different cultures, which he loves, Lucky is now happy to have a place to call home where he can start getting regular clients. Rick gave him a full-time spot at Splash of Colour, which is a very creative environment and encourages all the artists to not just tattoo, but also paint. 

“There’s a good art vibe here rather than just making money” – in fact rather then let me pay him for the tattoo he insisted on giving me, he would rather I paint him a Craigy Lee version of a Mr Lucky skull to add to his collection. Most times when you see and read about Lucky in magazines, it is based around why he got so many tattoos and how he got to be the ‘Worlds’ most tattooed man, what most people don’t know is he is actually a serious artist with some seriously awesome stories to boot. Lucky has one of the most positive attitudes towards life I have ever encountered and while he will freely admit that it took him a while to get to where he is, he is certainly a character you need to meet, and before he gets too busy tattooing see him perform!

Credits

Text & Photography: Craigy Lee

Related