I thought I would post her bio here and let all of you read about this amazingly talented tattooed woman that set out on the tattoo trail in 1972.
Vyvyn Lazonga has been a tattoo icon for more than 30 years. She was one of the first female artists in the world who went out on her own and didn’t work for her husband or partner; she worked for herself and her art. She broke many boundaries, challenged the tattoo/artistic norm, and continues to create amazing custom body art today.
I have always done art, ever since I could remember, from the age of about 2. Anything I could pick up and draw with I did. Once I remember getting in trouble for drawing on all of the furniture and walls with crayons at the age of 3. The tattoo muse struck me in the early l970’s after I had seen an article done about tattoos in a men’s magazine. The article was on Cliff Raven and his work. At that time there were no tattoo magazines so this venue seemed to be the only happening way for a tattooist to show their work.
I first tattooed on the original “skid road” in Seattle. It was called that because around the turn of the century when they were building the city, they would skid the lumber down the hill to the waterfront where it would be cut and processed for all the new buildings. This became the hub of nightlife for all the sailors during WWI and WWII. My shop is now located in one of the main historical buildings in the Pike Place Market, about 2 blocks from the waterfront. It’s also about 2 blocks from where I started out on 1st Ave., skid road in Seattle.
I learned tattooing from one of the old timers, C.J. Danny Danzl, who was a sailor during WWII and retired seaman with Foss Tug Boat Company. When I first heard that someone was opening a tattoo shop in Seattle I immediately ran down there to talk with him to just feel the situation out. I approached him with the idea of me being his “Go For” and helper. He really liked the idea, so that is how it started.
It never occurred to me that you could create works of art on the skin until I had seen Cliff Raven’s work. I thought how beautiful it would be to create not only a work of art but to be able to carry a talisman around on your skin until you died. This seemed like a very powerful way to make the ultimate affirmation for yourself.
After serving a 7-year apprenticeship with Danny I struck out on my own and decided to take tattooing off of skid road to a neighborhood called Capital Hill. I had that shop for a few years and then moved around after that and wound up in San Francisco.
Living and working in San Francisco was like going to school in a way. I got more streetwise. I had a shop in the outer Mission for several years and learned to adapt to Hispanic culture. After a couple of years of that I moved to lower Haight Street and started developing a very good clientele base.
I made friends with some of the local tattooists there like Henry Goldfield, Ed Hardy, Bill Salmon, Lyle Tuttle, Erno and Captain Don. It was fun times, especially when Lyle would have some of his parties and all the tattoo groupies would be hanging out outside begging to get in. I met Kurinomo, (Horiyoshi II) when he was still alive at one of Lyle’s parties.
It was such a great honor. After the earthquake of ’89 I moved back to Seattle. My place was pretty well ruined in the earthquake so I packed up what I could and moved back to Seattle where I knew I could start over very easily. That was when I opened a shop in Pike Place Market and I have been happy here ever since.
I recently changed my business name from Vyvyn’s Tattoo to Madame Lazonga’s Tattoo, because I had that name for many years early on in my career but had changed it to Vyvyn’s for numerological reasons. Now I feel it’s time to go back to Madame Lazonga because it sort of conjures up it’s own mythological imaginings and it’s more playful. I have also recently opened a larger shop in the Market and added some talented artists.
Watching tattooing change over the decades has been very fascinating. I think one of the reasons why tattooing became so popular is because we as a culture are looking for more meaning in our lives. Technological advances have made it even harder for us to stay in touch with our bodies and our spirit and what has meaning. Tattooing is a very primitive and universal way of honoring the sacred, it seems that we crave meaning in our lives and this can be a very powerful experience when approached with conscious intent.
Joseph Campbell used to say “Artists are the modern day mythmakers, shamans and story tellers.” It is an honor to be able to channel my art in this way. The act of tattooing is a way of transitioning from this world into other unspeakable worlds that lend themselves for being able to create art on skin. Most of my inspiration comes from the natural world, or cultural motifs, a lot of it is non-literal and decorative.
Of course, the ancient tradition of Japanese woodblock prints I’ve always been in awe of. One of my favorite artists is Yoshitoshi; he did a lot of art that depicted women doing every day things. This was during the Edo period of Japan, the period of their renaissance. I really like his One Hundred Aspects of the Moon series. His compositions were genius.
Nature to me is like a religious experience. I can’t help but see the miraculous ness of it all. It’s fun to look at things that grow in nature, their markings and to use them in my art. I’m also very fond of art nouveau because of its fluidity and ability to conform to the body so easily. I get so much of my inspiration too from art nouveau jewelry books. I adore some of the last turn of the century artists like Kaminski, Miro, Chagall, Dali, Klimt, and the Russian constructivist like Leger.
I have been doing more mastectomy scar cover-ups lately, and I finally realized after doing my third one, that I needed to sit down and talk to these women about their grieving process. I needed to talk to them and tell them that this process might dredge up the experience of what they went through and that it’s normal, but that will pass too.
At first, I didn’t quite know what to do or how to console them, but now I have a better idea of how to be supportive without losing my own boundaries and still be able to do the work; work that is very important to their lives.
One thing I noticed, through all of my experiences is that so many people are beginning to see that being tattooed is a way to mark a time in their lives. I totally understand that but for me it was always something beyond time. I always liked the idea of going beyond time into a dimension where the images being put on the body would be something that wouldn’t necessarily represent time but a profound and universal concept.
By having maybe one well thought out tattoo, it saves the body from having a bunch of pitchy-patchy, (that’s what I call it) tattoos that don’t have any congruency. That’s why I think when a person does extensive bodywork that it becomes an expression of their mythological belief system.
Mythology, in my opinion, has always been the glue that has held societies together. What a fabulous thing to see so many people now as an expression of what holds meaning for them. I’m excited to see tattooing changing in this manner. Finally, after 30 years of watching and waiting, we’re finally getting it.