Imaginative, Eccentric, Genuine, Unique, Distinctive, MasterBeing a figurehead in the world of old-school tattooing, Jack Rudy has seen his way around many a needle. With his extraordinary use of black and gray ink work, Jack’s work has spanned through four decades.
Jack became attracted to the lowrider scene beginning in the late ’60s. Living in Lennox, California, Jack had just started high school and gotten his first car in 1972-a ’53 Chevy 210 club coupe, which he still owns to this day. It had a visor and skirts and was originally lifted by Old Man Frank, who used to be up near Dodger Stadium. Jack had Frank install the hydraulics into the Chevy. “I think I might’ve met him through Julio (Ruelas) of the Dukes Car Club in like 1974,” Jack says. “I remember when the first Lowrider magazine came out and I was already tattooing in East L.A. on Whittier Boulevard, and I remember I didn’t get the first one, but I definitely got the second issue, which I still have somewhere. One of the things that stood out was an editorial by Sonny Madrid called ‘Tortillas, Gringos, and You.’ It was a bunch of racist BS toward whitey, but I remember that and the very humble beginnings of Lowrider that we used to trip out on at the time. I have a lot of the old issues, but I missed out on that first issue.” Jack’s career as an artist was already flourishing before the summer of 1975, which is when he started working out of East Los Angeles. “Lowriding was already heavy; it was going on big time in East L.A. as well as others places all over. Then the magazine came out around 1976 or 1977,” he says.
Having been an artist for most of his life, Jack did his first tattoo in 1969. “I started making homemade machines. The first one I made was out of my dad’s electric razor when I was 17 years old. I didn’t tell him what I was going to use it for,” Jack says.
He left for the Unites States Marine Corps when he was 18 and met a guy when he was 19 right out of boot camp who he became friends with who agreed to teach him and let him work for him in the summer of 1975. That was the legendary Good Time member Charlie Cartwright, and his shop was on Whittier Boulevard, which was closer to Garfield Avenue, between Garfield and Atlantic. Jack says the shop remained there for a few years and then Charlie sold the business to Don Ed Hardy in 1977. They moved down the street and then Hardy sold the property sometime in 1984. By then, the East L.A. store was history and it was time for Jack to move on. He decided to go to Orange County, specifically Anaheim, California, and opened his doors in January of 1985. He’s moved once more since then but is still in Anaheim.
As for the influence Charlie had on Jack, well, we’ll let Jack explain: “As far as an influence, he was a tremendous one. When we met there was basically only two styles of tattooing, the fist being what we now call traditional tattooing (Sailor Jerry stuff), the second being pseudo oriental styles, and I say pseudo oriental because there were only a handful of American tattooers doing that style with any accuracy whatsoever; the rest were doing a very watered-down Americanized version. He was into doing a variety of all-black tattoos because most tattooers only did the all-black panther or black rose of death and that was about it ! But when we got to East L.A. it was like ‘Hey holmes, do you guys do the firm pinta-style, the fine-line guitar string way?’ And I told them that we were working on it, and it didn’t take us long to figure out how to adapt it to a modern tattoo machine and then it was on.” Before the end of that year, they were into it fulltime.
“I had done a few tattoos on myself by the time I was 16, My dad said to me, ‘You’re doing some pretty good work but why don’t you wait till you’re 18 and we’ll go down to the Long Beach pike and I’ll buy you a tattoo from one of the tattoo shops at the Pike.’ Well that kept me from doing any more work on myself. But then I went in the Marines and I met Good Time Charlie at the Pike and started working for him in the summer of 1975, so I never took my dad up on his offer. When me and my homeboy got out of boot camp in April 1973, there were only a couple of tattoo shops in the Pike that I knew of. There were only a handful of shops in the L.A. area, a lot of shops in downtown L.A., a couple in Hollywood, and there might’ve been one in Orange County in those days. I was the fourth shop in Orange County when I moved here in 1985, and now there are 100 shops.”
As for customers, sometimes they have a pretty good idea as to what they want, but where they want it done may not work. It may be the scale of the design, the elements may clash within a theme, but those who have no clue as to what they want have a vast amount of samples at Good Time Charlie’s Tattoo Land, or Jack has a zillion things he can pull from his creative brain to help get the dream piece onto the customer. “Sometimes they have a very distinct and definite idea of what they want, but sometimes it doesn’t work,” Jack says. “Mentally or emotionally they think that’s a really cool piece, but it just doesn’t work at all, so you just try and help steer them into another direction. I only do black and gray work, 90 percent is that, I do a lot of portraits, realistic stuff, and a lot of lettering, which I’m known for. A lot people can’t or don’t want to do lettering because it’s so difficult; it’s one of the most difficult works of art to do correctly. It’s just really hard to lay out right, to make something look right, or look legible. There’s a certain style involved in it and I’ve seen many more people f*ck it up than get it right. So whether it be Old English or script, there’s a lot of style involved in it and you can get stuff where it’s too crowded, where you can’t read it, or it spreads out and gets even worse with age, and in some ways it’s even harder to do than a portrait because with a portrait there’s a lot of sketching involved, doing it really light, and with the lettering you get only the one chance,” Jack says. “You have to get your lines right, which can be difficult and something that’s why most people don’t want to mess around with it.”
As far as his lowrider credentials, Jack has an association with Mr. Cartoon, who he’s known for more than 15 years. He says some of ‘Toon’s work (before he started tattooing) impressed him over the years. “I was blown away by his airbrushed murals, and when he started the tattoos I saw that this guy was a natural. Also, while we were in East L.A. we used to tattoo a lot of lowrider guys and their car clubs, mostly all of them from the eastside. As far as the first clubs, it was probably either Groupe or Klique, but besides those two we did Orpheus, Lifestyle, Together, and on and on. I mean, I was there for almost 10 years,” he says. “That was a really big part of our business for about 10 years and the vast majority of those guys were real cool. We shared that common interest in cars and even to this day my truck is totally custom, as in lowrider custom. It’s a ’53 Chevy half-ton pickup. I had bought a ’51 pickup from Julio of the Dukes in 1976, but it was stolen, stripped, and wrecked and then I traded it to an old homeboy in Wilmas for the ’53, which I still have today. It’s kinda cool because it’s the same year as my first car.” Jack loves to drive his truck and has hit the East Coast several times with it. He’s always driven his cars and gets his share of stares and comments on what a cool ride he has.
For those of you who may not know what club Jack’s part of, it’s the Beatniks Car Club, which was founded in the summer of 1992 by Brian Everett, Steve Bonge, and himself. “Even though the club has been around a relatively short time compared to other car clubs, I’ve been hanging out with guys in the club some 25 years or more,” he says. “We have about 50 members worldwide, in 12 different states, and two foreign countries (Japan and Australia). Australia has its own chapter with about 11 members.”
As for the younger generation of tattoo artists, Jack believes in giving back to the ink community through seminars and mentoring, but that’s not to say that Jack thinks he knows it all. “I’m always learning, sure, because once you stop learning and start thinking you know everything, well you might as well hang it up. There are some super-talented youngsters who are doing sh*t that just blows my mind. I can’t believe how good some of this stuff is, so sure I’m always learning and evolving and always trying to get better.”
Sometimes the traveler, Jack has even gone as far east as China. “It was crazy out there,” he says. “Tattooing is exploding out there like nobody’s business. Like 10 years ago, tattooing was virtually underground in mainland China, now there’s gotta be like 100,000 tattoo artists out there.”
So what’s the future of tattooing for this artist among artists? “I’m in it to win it man. The styles and techniques just keep evolving all the time and there’s no telling what’s gonna happen with this economy of ours. There’s going to be shops closing down, and way too many magazines and conventions have become too mainstream. It was never supposed to be like that. When we started out it was kind of an outlaw thing, a blue collar almost underground kind of deal, you know? It’s become a little too fashionable for my taste,” Jack says.
Jack’s advice for young artists who want to get into the business is: “The only real way of learning this is through a righteous apprenticeship in a shop setting. There are some so-called schools, but it’s just bullsh*t. You have to practice universal precautions in as sterile and sanitary a manner as possible to protect yourself as well as the public. Always do your best work. Even if you see something you did say 30 years from now that now looks like crap, you’re still always gonna know that when you did that, it was the best that you could do at the time. Because to me, this is as important as plastic surgery. If you’re not going to do it right, don’t do it at all. Do it when you want to do it, not when you feel like you have to do it. This is the human canvas, there’s really no room for a mistake on it so you have to do your best.”