Pittsburgh is home to more than its fair share of tattoo parlors. From the never-ending stretch of South Side shops, to the few homey establishments in Bloomfield, anyone looking for new ink can take their pick from a variety of local artists. But how did tattoos go from a sign of rebellion used by outlaw bikers and ex-cons to a mainstream art form celebrated on television shows and fashion lines? That transformation is the subject of the film, Tattoo Nation.
The feature documentary examines how a few incarcerated, but very talented Chicano artists changed the world of ink forever. It follows three tattoo pioneers, Charlie Cartwright, Jack Rudy and Freddy Negrete, and shows how a new, fine line style using detail and shading to achieve a remarkable realism revolutionized the world of ink. In 1975, Cartwright and Rudy boldly opened the first tattoo parlor in the heart of East LA’s Chicano community. They hired a recently paroled teenager who, while in jail, unknowingly established iconic images that spoke to an entire generation of Chicanos. Negrete became the first professional Chicano artist employed by a mainstream tattoo parlor – a tattoo parlor that was embraced as a new vehicle for self-expression by the Chicano community in East Los Angeles. For the first time, these and other legendary figures such as David Oropeza and “Chuco” Caballero tell their stories in this new work from director Eric Schwartz.