When C.W. "Chuck" Eldridge of Berkeley's Tattoo Archive decided to put up an exhibition called "Patriotic Tattooing," he might have figured it would draw a mixed reaction. After all, even though the 9-11 terrorist attack has revived ostentatious flag-waving in the rest of the country, the East Bay isn't exactly saluting. "I have not done any patriotic tattooing at all," claims tattoo artist/historian Eldridge, who chose the ships, anchors, flags, crossed cannons, Statues of Liberty, and other classic patriotic images for the show, which runs through June. "Berkeley is kind of a unique niche. Colleagues in other parts of the country have told me they are doing more patriotic pieces, but here we had anti-war demonstrations. That set the tone."
Nevertheless, the affable Eldridge thinks his photographic display of patriotic tattoos, most of them reflecting military culture, has a definite historical value. The large collection fills the tidy shop at 2804 San Pablo Ave. (510-548-5895), where soldiers and sailors have always been big customers. Almost inevitably, tattoo designs gravitate toward the martial. Notes Eldridge, "Right now I'm working on a large back piece. It has a 'Pharaoh's horses' -- an arrangement of three horses -- framed with a rope design, with American flags on it. You can have forty to sixty hours of work on a back piece. I've been doing this one for over a year."
One type of motif that never goes out of style is whatever is being worn by rock musicians. "If you watch MTV," says Eldridge, "rock stars still have them. That hit big in the '80s and is still going on." In some circles, the elaborate Japanese yakuza (gangster) designs are a hot item. "The yakuza have kept tattooing alive in Japan," states Eldridge. "Now there are street shops, where before they had to work underground because tattoos were outlawed. Even New York City banned tattoo parlors in the '60s, and only allowed them back in the last four or five years. Tattooing has always been controversial." The Tattoo Archive is open Monday through Saturday, noon to 8 p.m.
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