“I hate this shit” remarked the robust, bearded guy sat opposite me in Sailor Jerry Hotel Street as he flicked through one of Britain’s classic tattoo / tits and arse magazines.
But this wasn’t just any guy dressed in oversized Dickies dungarees and a jauntily placed wicker hat with two glimmering gold front teeth. This was Henk Schiffmacher, or ‘Hanky Panky’ as he’s known to his friends and the rest of the world.
“Who would even want to tattoo Harry Potter on their arm?”
Henk: Devoted husband, father, author, photographer, artist, tattooist, explorer, coffee fiend, collector and model (oh yes, he appeared in Dutch Vogue)… to name but a few. Tattooed from ear to toe; marked with Maori tribe designs to Californian art; inked by wild boar tusks, bladed sticks and traditional needles. His skin is etched with an abundance of memories and endless tales to tell, and he is undoubtedly something of a modern-day walking cultural masterpiece.
He’s tattooed the likes of Lenny from Motorhead, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Pearl Jam and Kurt Cobain.
Although, when I asked him which tattoo of Cobain’s he did, he said he didn’t have a clue as everyone looked the same back then. Hilarious. He was so blasé about the whole thing, but I bet there’s part of him that loves that he made his mark on one of the most iconic grunge singers of our time.
Just a few days ago, Henk was in sunny California aboard the Queen Mary at the annual Ink-n-Iron Tattoo Festival, surrounded by babes, booze and outrageous ink. In memory of the 39th anniversary of Norman ‘Sailor Jerry’ Collins’ death, he’s come to el capital to host a late-night viewing of the exhibition he curated of original Collins old-school American tattoo art and to share stories of this legendary and revolutionary artist later on tonight. (Tickets for this are available here: www.facebook.com/sailorjerryUK).
I was lucky enough to grab a few hours of Henk’s time to find out more about his life and his work.
Over lunch, we talked tattoos, travels, music, and fleshlights. (Yes, those things things that men put their bits in for fun.)
He told us how much he loved Amy Wineshouse’s tattoos; how it was, and still is, traditional for ladies to walk over Norman Collins’ grave knickerless each year on the anniversary of his death (what a GREAT tradition), how he’s an ambassador for Orange Babies- a charity that supports women and their children in Africa that are most at risk from the HIV virus.
He said it’s good to “give the karma wheel a little clean”, to which his equally as tattooed wife replied “We’re making up for a lot of filth.”
LOVE that. They’ve seen the world, experienced things that I can only imagine, and most importantly they’ve lived their lives to the MAX. If that isn’t inspirational, then I don’t know what is.
Talking us through their tattoos was like looking at a map on their skin. Each had a particular story, meaning, place or memory behind it, and they had something to say about them all. I think that’s so important when getting a tattoo. As Aristotle said, “Tattoos are mirrors of the mind.”
Oh wait, it was Henk who said that. Maybe we should add Philosopher to his list too.
Anyway, here are his and his wife’s hands.
And this was on her arm…
Who said romance is dead?
They are literally covered in years of extraordinary work and diverse culture. They put my four tattoos to shame (and have re-awoken the itch to get more).
After lunch we took to the bustling streets of the West End, and I couldn’t help but notice how interested in everyone Henk was. He was so keen to chat and find out about the story behind this guy’s tattoos, and it was obvious that his inquisition was honest and sincere, born from a true love of this universal art form.
The guy had ‘Made in London’ tattooed on his forehead (sounds like a Made in Chelsea spoof, but better). He also had ‘Fuck off’ tattooed on the inside of his lip when he was in prison.
“Mirrors of the mind“… Yeah. If I were in prison, I’d be telling everyone to fuck off too.
Here we are ready for the next issue of Vogue.
What I’m trying to say is that Henk Schiffmacher is a REALLY FUCKING AWESOME GUY.
… and a little bit insane.
But that’s what makes him such a unique and interesting character.
I’m intrigued to see where life takes him next…