Indiana Tattoo: History and Legacy

13 Jan — 3 Feb 2017 at Grunwald Gallery in Bloomington, United States

Badlands Shop Front- Gary, Indiana-1980’s-1990’s, Photograph courtesy of Eric Smolinski
Badlands Shop Front- Gary, Indiana-1980’s-1990’s, Photograph courtesy of Eric Smolinski
13 JAN 2017

Indiana Tattoo: History and Legacy, is an exhibit co-curated by Indiana native and internationally known tattooer Colin McClain and Jeremy Sweet, Associate Director of the Grunwald Gallery.

This exhibit will be the first comprehensive look at the history and culture of Indiana Tattooing and will contain examples of the work and lifestyles of historically influential tattooers from Indiana’s past, including Roy Boy, Fred Clark, Mark Huff, Sailor Lew Parrish, W.R. King and Kevin Brady among others. Their work will be highlighted through the display of original “flash” sheets, tattoo machines, videos, photographs, letters, legal rulings and memorabilia from the archives of multiple Indiana collectors as well as a large collection of Bernard Kobel and Samuel Steward’s tattoo photographs from the Kinsey Institute.

Examples of work by over 35 contemporary tattoo artists will be displayed. 5 Indiana artists from different regions of the State will be profiled for their works. Another 30 artists from across the state will participate by painting roughly 5 hand painted tattoo flash sheets each made specifically for the exhibition. These works will be featured on a massive a “Flash Wall” containing approximately 150 hand painted flash sheets.

Roy Craig Cooper aka “Roy Boy” is one of most iconic tattooers and overall wild men in the history of the State of Indiana. Roy began tattooing in 1969 in Balboa, Indiana and later moved to Gary, Indiana. He would eventually set up his own shop, “Roy Boy’s Place” and then later opened up his World Famous shop “The Badlands “. Roy was an apprentice under the legendary Tatts Thomas and later studied with Cliff Raven, one of the most influential tattooers in Chicago tattoo history and a former Indiana University Fine Arts graduate.

“The Badlands” was more than just a tattoo shop, which at the time was illegal in Indiana. It was also a weightlifting gym, photo studio as well as the place where he kept part of his collection of exotic animals, including tigers and large snakes. The name “The Badlands” is an ode to Gary, Indiana that at the time was the “murder capital of the world”. In 2002 “The Badlands” shop was actually firebombed and destroyed. Roy would end up owning multiple shops in the Northwest Indiana region where he worked closely with his wife Deb Cooper until his death in 2010. Roy and Deb were featured in many tattoo and biker magazines from the 1980’s and 90’s, which helped to spread his legend nationally and internationally. It was his filmmaking however that legitimized his eccentric and often surreal lifestyle. These films offer a glimpse into Roy and Deb’s world of tattoo’s, motorcycles, guns, boats, racecars, jewelry, guitars, weightlifting and large exotic animals.

The Roy Boy collection that will be displayed in Welcome Back to the Badlands is owned by tattoo artist and collector Eric Smolinski. This extensive collection of art, photos, signage, films, clothing and other objects from the life of Indiana native Roy Boy is the only one in existence.