The Tattoosday Book Review: Skin Graf – Masters of Graffiti Tattoo

I guess it’s no surprise to me that a quality book about the convergence of graffiti and tattoo art  has come to pass. Even less surprising is that Michael “Kaves” McLeer is involved.


Kaves is co-author, with Billy Burke, of  Skin Graf: Masters of Graffiti Tattoo, which is being released tomorrow, April 25, 2013, by Prestel Publishing.

In fact, before I even talk about the book, I should alert readers that tonight, April 24, 2013, Kaves and Burke, along with writer/producer Sacha Jenkins, will be speaking at the New York Public Library as part of the library’s “Design and Style Series.” The event runs from 6:00 to 8:00 PM and I plan on being in attendance. Directions and further details can be found here.

I am not a native New Yorker, but when I moved here in 1997, I settled in south Brooklyn, in the area known as Bay Ridge. My fellow city-dwellers who have lived here longer, recall the days when graffiti artists were household names, and have their share of memories of subway cars that were moving billboards for the daring and adventurous artists of this often-misunderstood art form.

When I started blogging about tattoos in 2007, it really was a learn-as-you-go experience for me. I first encountered the work of Kaves a year later, with this post. A year later, I met him, after he opened up shop on 93rd and 3rd near my home in Bay Ridge, and had the pleasure of watching him tattoo close-up (while I was being tattooed by another artist working in the space). His shop, Brooklyn Made Tattoo, is a fixture in the neighborhood and I run into Kaves from time to time, such as when he shared this tattoo, which was done by the legendary Mark Mahoney.


So you can imagine my excitement about the opportunity to read and review this new book, which chronicles   the history of some of the most well-known graffiti artists who have crossed over into the business of tattooing.

The list of artists ranges from Kaves to Seen (“the undisputed godfather of graffiti-inspired art on skin”), and includesMedBabaMister CartoonGiantCesYes2PyroNormHelz and Coast.

Each artist merits a chapter, cleverly color-tabbed, and chock-full of wonderful photos by Estevan Oriol and Angela Boatwright, and supplemented by many of the artists, as well.

The reader is introduced to each of these legendary figures with their tags, locations (Bronx, Brooklyn, San Francisco, L.A., Boston…), a small biographical blurb, and several pages of first-person narrative, accompanied by pictures of both art forms, graffiti and tattoo.

Photo by Estevan Oriol

The juxtaposition is brilliant, as the reader is treated to the sense of styles jumping from inanimate to animate, from brick to flesh. And just to prove to the naysayers who may question the “validity” of graffiti as an art form  we also see more traditional tattoos from these amazing artists, but with that extra something, a touch of the urban art that lies within the steady hand of the tattooers.

by Mister Cartoon
Photo by Estevan Oriol

I can’t praise enough the ambitiousness and scope of this project, which succeeds to no end. It’s amazing to see the versatility of these exceptional artists who can work as impressively on a canvas the size of a building facade or on something as small as the side of a hand.

Pyro Can
Photo by Estevan Oriol
by Kaves

Photo by Angela Boatwright

This book really is a visual treat.

by Mike Giant

Courtesy of Giant

by Mike Giant

Courtesy of Giant

The range of talent is breath-taking and I whole-heartedly recommend Skin Graf as a must-have for fans of graffiti art and tattooing.

My only criticism is that I want more. The book is bursting with color and styles, but it leaves me with questions, and wanting more. I would love to see a sequel. Are there any established female graffiti/tattoo artists? How about from other parts of the world? Hopefully we’ll see a Skin Graf 2!

This book will hook you with its serious appreciation of the history and art of graffiti tattoo. It certainly expands one’s appreciation of the art form, both on and off the human canvas. It’s a must-have for your tattoo library!

Remember, if you’re in New York City tonight, come to the New York Public Library to hear the authors discuss this incredible book.

This entry is ©2013 Tattoosday.

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Kaves, Billy Burke, Sacha Jenkins – Skin Graf – Design and Style Series Event



Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 6 – 8 p.m.

Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Margaret Liebman Berger Forum (Map and directions)
Fully accessible to wheelchairs
First come, first served

FREE – Berger Forum doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Acclaimed graffiti artist turned tattooist Michael “Kaves” McLeer discusses his groundbreaking new book Skin Graf. He explores the relationship between graffiti and tattoo art, delving into their deep connection and highlighting some of the most cutting-edge artists in the community today. Fellow experts Billy Burke and Sacha Jenkins also join Kaves for a conversation.

Graffiti and tattoos are now firmly entrenched as mainstream art forms. Over the past few decades, these raw products of street culture have converged in a unique visual aesthetic definitively documented for the first time in the compelling and inspirational book Skin Graf: Masters of Graffiti Tattoo (Prestel 2013). Famed graffiti tattoo artist Kaves and tattoo documentarian Billy Burke introduce, one by one, the masters of graffiti tattoo art, their personal stories, and their diverse handiwork. Each chapter contains an in-depth profile, a personal statement, and fascinating photos of studios and clients. Readers learn about the “skin graffiti” process, view brilliant “flash” drawings (design sketches for patrons to choose from), and come away with a new understanding of and appreciation for an art form that transforms the human body into the ultimate canvas for self-expression.

Kaves at work on a flash drawing at his shop. Photo by Angela Boatwright.

Kaves at work on a flash drawing at his shop. Photo by Angela Boatwright.

Copies of the book are available for purchase and signing at the event after the audience Q&A.

Mike “KAVES” McLeer, is a world renowned graffiti artist and musician turned tattooist.  Having left his mark, literally, on the NYC transit system from the age of ten, Kaves turned his attention to “legal” art in the form of fine art and tattooing, as well as acting. Kaves has created original pieces for companies such as Nike, Adidas and Jaguar, the Beastie Boys, and the 2011 Beaujolais Nouveau wine label for Georges Duboeuf. Kaves’ images have been published in books including Henry Chalfant’s pioneering 1984 chronicle SprayCan Art, Burning New York, Mascots & Mugs: The Characters and Cartoons of Subway Graffiti, Fresh Paint NYC, Graffiti 360, Graffiti Planet 2 andPiecebook: The Secret Drawings of Graffiti Writers. His paintings have been shown everywhere from the MTV Real World: Brooklyn loft to the Gunter Sachs Museum of Fine Arts in Germany, The Blackstone Hotel in Chicago, The Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. His first-ever New York City solo show during the summer of 2011 at the Hionas Gallery garnered overwhelming critical acclaim and saw collectors clamoring for works by the former “vandal.” Most recently Kaves created an original painting for Metallica’s Obey Your Master exhibit. He is one of only 30 artists chosen to represent the band’s lyrics for this groundbreaking show. Kaves owns and operates Brooklyn Made Tattoo a successful boutique tattoo parlor that also serves as the hub for his numerous creative endeavors.

Kaves at work on a flash drawing at his shop. Photo by Angela Boatwright.

Kaves at work on a flash drawing at his shop. Photo by Angela Boatwright.

Billy Burke is a cultural documentarian and entrepreneur. Having spent his young life immersed as a student of fringe cultures, his work continues to be a mixture of study and play. Unearthing and revealing the redeeming qualities of street cultures and outlaw art forms and their collision with popular culture, Burke aspires to more than mere observation of this dynamic, but rather igniting significant change in how art, culture and innovation relate. He is the founder and principal of Fellowship Supply Co. As part of Burke’s exploration, he has created, directed, and produced several documentary films and series, including work for the History Channel and the cable television music network FUSE. Burke holds a Master’s degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

Sacha Jenkins is a writer, television producer and musician living in New York City. Jenkins has written/co-authored many books on the history of graffiti and hip hop culture, most notably Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists (St. Martin’s Press), The Way I Am: The Authorized Biography of Marshall “Eminem” Mathers (Penguin), and thePiecebook trilogy (Prestel). Jenkins’ most recent projects include The Merciless Book of Metal Lists (Abrams) and the debut LP of his new band, The White Mandingos (Fatbeats/Universal) which features Bad Brains Bassist Darryl Jenifer and emcee Murs. In 2000, Jenkins was awarded a fellowship to the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University (via the National Arts Journalism Program). Jenkins’ greatest achievement, however, came in the form of his brand new baby boy Marceau Aguila Jenkins-Cepeda.

Conceived and organized by Arezoo Moseni and in its third year, Design and Styleis a series of events featuring discussions and presentations by leading professionals in the various design fields.