By Dana Brunson
Paul Rogers. Any tattooist that doesn’t recognize this name should do his homework. As strange as it seems, I’ve met some young artists over the years who don’t have a clue to the past history of their profession. They can be so self-absorbed with their coolness that they use tattooing as a self-promoting medium with no regard to the past. They don’t realize that, without the struggling tattooist before them, they’d be just another pinhead that can draw. For years, I’ve
said tattooing is more than just a pretty picture. The mystique and the characters were what drew me to tattooing, and I like to think I always had respect for the older artists. They had all the secrets! Ha! Now that I am becoming an older artist myself, my interest in the past has increased. Paul Rogers was the epitome of what I think a tattoo artist is or was. His life reads like a colorful story waiting to be made into a movie. Working in cotton mills as a young man, poverty and hardship were his driving force for a better life. Tattooing during the Depression, traveling with the fairs, Paul did whatever it took to make a living. He married a snake charmer and worked with the legends of his time. Paul continued learning and, working hard, managed to become a highly regarded legend. There is plenty of information out there about Paul. Do yourself a favor and read it. This article is about the man, tattoo artist and friend that I had the good fortune of knowing.
Paul always said he was a better mechanic than artist, although his tattooing was compared to Coleman’s (the best of the day). Paul always seemed to be void of ego. He would embrace anyone that visited his trailer in Jacksonville, Florida with kindness and a wealth of knowledge. Working in his “Iron Factory” shed building machines, he would go through stories and machine theory with anyone willing to make the trip. He was full of down-home style and an ease that was a pleasure to be around. Paul told it as he saw it, never saying anything but the truth, leaving the listener to form his own opinion. He was also kind and funny, wise and trusting. Paul would leave his visitors to look through boxes of his tattoo treasures, while he took his afternoon nap, stating that he only had good people come to visit him.
I bought a few machines from Paul, like many others out there, but one of the favorite pieces in my collection was a gift from him. It is a unique light stand made from a car brake drum and plumbing pipe. He made these and reserved them only for people who were on the quest and would make the journey to see him.
Now that I’ve ranted about certain young artists out there and their egos, I realize that I have a tattoo ego as well. But at this point, mine is derived from knowing these wonderful characters from the past. Time seems to change priorities and I’m sure all the young guys will have better stories in the future. I hope so, because the people along the way are truly the most important part of tattooing.
See ya in the funny papers, and keep your hat on so I’ll know ya.