You may know of Jonathan Shaw as the first tattoo artist to ever appear (more than once) on The Tonight Show with David Letterman. Or maybe you’ve seen his likeness depicted by Pulitzer Prize-winning artist Art Spiegelman on the cover of the stately old New Yorker. You might know him as the son of legendary Swing-era bandleader Artie Shaw and Hollywood bombshell Doris Dowling - or as the tattooed thug playing opposite Clint Eastwood in the movie Tightrope.
You may have seen the magazine he founded back in the 90s, International Tattoo Art, at your local newsstand, or you might have read his last book, Narcisa – Our Lady of Ashes, on Johnny Depp’s HarperCollins imprint; or perhaps you have seen Depp - a close friend of over 30 years - channeling Jonathan as his role-model for Captain Jack the Pirate in Pirates of the Caribbean.
- Say What?
Yeah, we know, Depp has publicly stated that Keith Richards was his inspiration for that character. But it’s well known to insiders that Shaw was the original Captain Jack, long before Uncle Keith was added to the mix. Shaw even taught Johnny Depp to make tattoos, in preparation for a movie based on his multi-generational memoir series, Scab Vendor – Confessions of a Tattoo Artist. This will all be uncovered and revealed in the course of our film.
But we digress.
Maybe you only remember the name Jonathan Shaw as the infamous “Tattoo Artist to the Stars” who made headline news for being indicted by a New York City Grand Jury and charged with 89 felony counts of illegal weapons possession.
Or… maybe you’ve never heard of Jonathan Shaw at all.
We're going to assume that’s the case and let you know little more about him:
A traveler of the Seven Seas, tattooist to the rich and famous, the dark and infamous. Buying low and selling high, making it all happen, while wearing many hats: Underground. Entrepreneur. Gonzo journalist. Producer. Director. Poet. Novelist. Screenwriter. Painter. Creator. Curator and Collector of Lowbrow Art and Memorabilia. Low-Life. Underworld Celebrity. Wheeler. Dealer. Hustler. Healer. Psychic and Psycho. Pirate and Pimp; Roving reporter, contributor and Editor-In-Chief to major international magazines. And, last but not least, the eccentric, eclectic, world famous founder, owner and operator of the legendary, avant-garde NYC landmark, Fun City Tattoo Studio. Wild man, outlaw, gypsy, biker, Jonathan Shaw is truly the last of a kind.
Over the course of his tattoo career, he was the most infamous and influential tattoo man on the planet. His client list included names like Iggy Pop, Johnny Depp, Robert Smith from The Cure, Shane MacGowan from The Pogues, Dee Dee Ramone, Marilyn Manson, Jim Jarmusch, Johnny Winter, Kate Moss, Orlando Bloom, Kathy Acker, Max Cavalera from Sepultura, Tupac Shakur and all his bitches. The VIP list goes on and on. In Shaw’s own words: “Even Vanilla Ice was lining up for an appointment back then - much to my embarrassment. But hey, it was the 90s, right?”
Jonathan Shaw is still one of the most respected names in the tattoo profession today - despite the fact that he retired almost fifteen years ago from an industry with an absurdly short memory. He is sixty-two now. He got out at forty-eight, after decades at the top of the tattoo game, and he never looked back. Since his retirement, Shaw has gone on to become a full-time writer and emerging literary figure. As such, he has optioned his life story to Leonardo DiCaprio and published acclaimed novels with Johnny Depp’s Infinitum Nihil, HarperCollins, Turner Publishing, Powerhouse Books and Heartworm Press. His novels have been translated by the most respected publishers in Europe and Latin America, and a lot more. Over the last fifteen years, Shaw has crafted works that have become modern cult-classics, and he’s been dubbed “The Next Bukowski” by Rolling Stone Magazine.
Over the course of a fascinating, multi-dimensional life, Shaw has travelled the South American backlands by motorcycle, thumb and tramp freighter. He has lived in third world slums among notorious drug cartels, consorted with the rich and famous, mixed and mingled with witch doctors, criminals, wise men, shamans and whores – writing about those experiences all along the way - and still managed, most recently, to put together and publish a museum quality collection of rare artwork for Powerhouse Books in New York, documenting the last hundred years of tattoo history.
And now, he has suddenly become an upwardly mobile modern day cult legend.