Ed Hardystudied at the San Francisco Art Institute in the ’60s, maintains a tattoo shop in North Beach, has printed books on alternative art, and has a licensed brand that can be found on everything from T-shirts to wine bottles. Hardy’s art will be on exhibit at San Francisco’s Beat Museum until Jan. 20. He tells us about the role family has played in his life, how his art is inspired by the past and other cultures, and how he hopes his work opens people up to ‘the mystery of life.’
Who has had the biggest influence on you in your life?
In terms of my art, my mother had an enormous influence on me. My mother encouraged my art. My dad left when I was 6 and went to Japan. He sent me art. Also a guy named Gordon Cook who taught me printmaking at the Art Institute. He was a real blue- collar guy who had a respect for art history.
Is there a “golden rule” by which you live?
I guess it’s like a doctor: “Do no harm.” I try to be mindful, to give people space. I try to accept people for who they are and work toward a greater good, toward peace.
Where, or to whom, do you turn to in tough times?
My wife. I’ve been married for 37 years. Her name is Francesca Passalacqua.
Where do you find inspiration?
I mainly find inspiration through a lot of art from the past. I’m impassioned by art from other cultures. I go to a lot of museums. A lot of Asian art, a lot of classical, from Mexico and Mesoamerica.
Is there something about you that people would find surprising?
The most consistently surprisingly thing is ever since I’ve been doing tattoos, people would meet me and say, “You don’t look like a tattoo artist.” I’ve been dressing the same way since high school. I just look like a regular guy. I don’t have a lot of tattoos. I have some.
What would you most want to hear your colleagues say about you?
Just that I inspired them, that I set a good example in certain ways, for other tattoo artists.
How did your interest in tattoos come about?
My best friend’s dad had tattoos from being in the service in World War II. We looked at them and thought, “This is cool.” I drew them. I was an artist. I started drawing sheets of tattoos. I started drawing tattoos on neighborhood kids with pencils, with dissolvable ink. There was a photo of me tattooing kids in a local newspaper. I was obsessed.
How did you go from tattoos to clothing, books, wine … ?
There are people in L.A. that had a small casual clothing line. They saw an article about a painting show of mine in Santa Monica, and they approached me. I liked them and their business and said, “Yeah, I’ll license some of these out to you.” A designer in L.A., Audigier, said I could make this into a really huge thing. That’s been going on for about five years. It’s crazy. Ed Hardy perfume and clothes … I own the brand.
How do you see your role in the world?
As an artist and somebody that can hopefully light up people’s lives with the work that I make and influence people with my art. If it makes you think — takes you outside yourself and opens yourself to the mystery of life — that’s great.