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Wanderer, Writer, and Scab Vendor: Jonathan Shaw

Wanderer, Writer, and Scab Vendor: Jonathan Shaw

Tattoo Artists5 min Read

In promotion of the fundraiser for the documentary about tattoo artist and writer Jonathan Shaw, we spoke with filmmaker Mariana Thome.

Who is Scab Vendor? He's many things, including but not limited to: tattooer, writer, traveler, man of the world. He's tattooed Johnny Depp, hangs out with Iggy Pop and Kate Moss, he travels the world on the regular, he's written books, was Editor for the magazine International Tattoo Art when it was founded, and is one of the pioneers of New York's tattoo community, establishing Fun City Tattoo in 1976 making it Manhattan's oldest tattoo shop. But as much as this seems beyond the work of one man, even this description is sort of reductive. Jonathan Shaw, aka Scab Vendor, is outside the limits of description, and as Jim Jarmusch put it: you need a film to perfectly capture the man behind the deeds. 

Why was Jonathan Shaw's story important to tell? Why is preserving tattooing history important?

Tattooing is an art form that only recently was recognized as high-art. Jonathan and his involvement with news media and ITA definitely paved the way for this to be possible. It’s easy for people to only live in the present and forget about all the artists who made tattooing be the art form that it is now. Yes, technology was different, so a lot of the work that is done today was impossible back then, with the tattoo machines, but these tattoo artists such as Jonathan Shaw, Lyle Tuttle, Bob Shaw, Bert Grimm, they went against a wave of stigma and prejudice and made their work possible no matter what. 

A page from Vintage Tattoo Flash by Jonathan Shaw, published by PowerHouse books. #JonathanShaw #ScabVendor #vintagetattooflash
A page from Vintage Tattoo Flash by Jonathan Shaw, published by PowerHouse books. #JonathanShaw #ScabVendor #vintagetattooflash
A page from Vintage Tattoo Flash by Jonathan Shaw, published by PowerHouse books. #JonathanShaw #ScabVendor #vintagetattooflash
A page from Vintage Tattoo Flash by Jonathan Shaw, published by PowerHouse books. #JonathanShaw #ScabVendor #vintagetattooflash
A page from Vintage Tattoo Flash by Jonathan Shaw, published by PowerHouse books. #JonathanShaw #ScabVendor #vintagetattooflash
A page from Vintage Tattoo Flash by Jonathan Shaw, published by PowerHouse books. #JonathanShaw #ScabVendor #vintagetattooflash

What drew you to his story in particular?

What was it like working with him, hearing his incredible life stories and visiting all of the places he calls home?

Jonathan Shaw, Johnny Depp, Iggy Pop and Jim Jarmusch #JonathanShaw #ScabVendor #JohnnyDepp #JimJarmusch #IggyPop
Jonathan Shaw, Johnny Depp, Iggy Pop and Jim Jarmusch #JonathanShaw #ScabVendor #JohnnyDepp #JimJarmusch #IggyPop
A page from Vintage Tattoo Flash by Jonathan Shaw, published by PowerHouse books. #JonathanShaw #ScabVendor #vintagetattooflash
A page from Vintage Tattoo Flash by Jonathan Shaw, published by PowerHouse books. #JonathanShaw #ScabVendor #vintagetattooflash
Jonathan Shaw, Johnny Depp, and Jim Jarmusch #JonathanShaw #ScabVendor #JohnnyDepp #JimJarmusch
Jonathan Shaw, Johnny Depp, and Jim Jarmusch #JonathanShaw #ScabVendor #JohnnyDepp #JimJarmusch

And yes, hearing his life stories was absolutely incredible. He sent me a rough draft of his book Scab Vendor and I couldn’t stop reading it and making notes about all of the amazing places he’s been to and people he met. It was especially incredible because I am Brazilian and he came to my country because of a movie that I also love, Black Orpheus. He also arrived in Brazil in the middle of the dictatorship, and was part of punk communes and the arts scene of Rio and Sao Paulo. For me, it’s like he is more Brazilian and Mexican than he is American, and filming with him in those countries made me realize how much he blends in and becomes a different character when he is in those places, he’s a chameleon, he speaks the languages, talks with people in different ways, and is extremely engaged with the cultures.

The cover of "Narcisa", novel by Jonathan Shaw #JonathanShaw #ScabVendor #Narcisa
The cover of "Narcisa", novel by Jonathan Shaw #JonathanShaw #ScabVendor #Narcisa

 How do you hope the audience will feel after viewing your documentary?


Justine Morrow
Written byJustine Morrow

Social Producer, Journalist, Editor, and Curator for Tattoodo I am here to support you 🌻 IG: @lathe.of.heaven

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