Needled

Artist Profile: Beverly "Vyvyn" Lazonga

Vyvyn Lazonga

Beverly "Vyvyn" Lazonga is the mother of the modern fine art tattoo movement. As one of the first women to break out of the traditional tattoo mold, Vyvyn made needled skin art look like brush strokes that enhanced and flowed with the body rather than overwhelmed it. For over thirty years, Vyvyn has been true to her tattoo tenet that body art must work with the anatomy as well as the person’s psyche and personality.

Yet, hanging out with the boys wasn’t easy. Margot Mifflin’s Bodies of Subversion. describes the rough times Vyvyn had at Danzl’s shop watching less experienced artists promoted over her, while she was not allowed to experiment in her art and forced to use shoddy equipment. Mifflin says, "Danzl couldn’t be bothered to repair Lazonga’s broken machines, but he did find time to lovingly inlay them with fake jewels."

Lazonga’s frustration with this unequal treatment pushed her in a new direction and she eventually opened her own shop in Seattle in 1979. Vyvyn does say that she appreciates all that Danzl taught her despite the frustration.

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Influenced by the work of Don Ed Hardy, Cliff Raven, and Sailor Jerry Collins, Vyvyn spent seven years of her life among the West Coast old school artists, starting in 1972 as an apprentice to retired merchant seaman Danny Danzl. She is also one of the first Western first women to get sleeves, which were tattooed by Ed Hardy in the early 70s. Her traditional upbringing in tattooing gave her a solid foundation for her craft, which is why every year, on the Day of the Dead, she says her adulations for her tattoo ancestors as well as those of her family.

In her fight for equality in the tattoo world, she never lost sight of the value women bring to the craft, not only esthetically but soulfully. As one of Vyvyn’s clients has said, "Vyvyn moves around her shop with effortless grace and purpose, the kind of dance a true artist or crafts person executes." He adds that Vyvyn takes the time to get to know her clients in her studio that looks less like a tattoo shop and more like an artist’s workplace. A session with Vyvyn is never quick, and she sketches ideas on skin while listening to the clients’ thoughts and motivations. She treats the tattooing process in a holistic way to arrive at a custom work of art for the client. Watching her work, one truly understands what she means when she says, "Visionary work comes from soul work, from the unconscious. It takes being really mindful of wanting to let the spirit move through."

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