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Tattoo Book Review: "In A World of Compromise...I Don't" by Bob Roberts

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Scott Sylvia

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Published by State of Grace

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My first experience with Bob Roberts was in 1989. I had just moved from Monterey, a nice quiet place, to this mega asphalt hell called southern California. I was 17 and working as a union apprentice butcher. I had been tattooed a few times by my high school friend Aaron Cain. He had told me where to find Bob Roberts, who was know to me as the guy in the "tattoo times" who tattooed all the punk rock folks, so away I went. I drove from West Covina to Hollywood, which coming from Monterey was a long haul, to see Spotlight Tattoo. I walked in the door and no one was there. "What the fuck?" I thought. "Mecca and no worshipers?" so I went about my gazing. Bob was tattooing, greeted me with a squint, and I stared and stared at everything for what seemed like an eternity. It made such an impact on me that I can remember it to this day, and I have a terrible memory. The flash, stickers, little signs... man, it was cool. Where I came from, the tattoo shop look like a trailer or something, like you could pick it up and run with it. This was probably for good reason, the owner was no good.

So I'm there for maybe 1/2 an hour maybe 45 minutes and bob stands up with this sort of bull grunt, walks over and says, "Well you gonna get tattooed or what?" I could feel my self get hot and start to sweat when the words came out, "Ppbff, no man, I don't have any money." This, apparently, was the exact thing that needed to be said to receive this gift - "What the fuck you think this is, the god damn library?" He glared at me and I think he may have also gotten a little taller. I decided that my stay was over, thinking that I'd better go before this before this dude popped me in my mouth. That is what tattooing was to me, and at times, it still is. I can't possibly thank Bob Roberts enough for teaching me that I was standing in his church, and I had brought no offering. Nothing but stares of amazement at all the reapers and tribal designs, which ruled long before the Chili Peppers made them popular.

So here's his book, and at first the price hurt my ass, dispite the fact that this printing was part of a limited run of 1000. Sometimes I think that book prices are being driven way up for no real reason these days. At first glance I thought this was confirmed, but then I started to get into the book. I mean not just the pictures, I started really reading it. First the forward, then the intro from Ed Hardy, which is pretty cool. Ed gives a nice time line, and there's a ton of respect praised upon Bob without too much self celebration. Then I read the Bob interview, which is really more of a manifesto, 'cause he's sort of staking his flag in the back of tattooing. As I thumb through the pages, I'm reading this awesome history of tattooing and life. There are some real moments in this book that really inspired me, like his relationship with his kids, and how much he adores charlie is incredible. Also his friendship with Horiyoshi, and how he speaks of the connection they have. I am especially grateful to hear him talk about how that we aren't shit without the customers. It's an awesome point of view and well worth the read. Bob Roberts' life is amazing, with all his ties to Ed, Greg Irons, Zeke Owens, Jack Rudy, and on and on. How could this book this go wrong? It can't. I don't want to go into every detail of the book, but it's refreshing to see a man that's been tattooing that long and is still inspired and can be honest about himself. Bob Roberts is man is full of integrity and opinions, and he shares them all without apologizing.

The book is probably 7/8 photos which is good, 'cause man, his paintings are incredible. There's big sections of tattoos, then line drawings, then tattoo paintings and non tattoo paintings, some of the photos are a little pixelated but makes no difference. The only thing I find strange is that he has his current crew in the back of the book. I understand why, but it dates the book, so in three years when people have moved on they'll still be there, in the back of Bob's book. I was told that was one of his requests, so God bless this man, for never giving in to what everybody else wants him to do, and still reminding me that it's his church and I'm just standing in it, looking at pictures.

You can buy it here: Horitaka's State of Grace.

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sadly not yet. i was suppose to when i worked at the shop on several differant times but it never panned out. soon maybe this winter. you?

No, I've been by there a few times, but I haven't figured out how to get past baby ray.

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this past june i was in LA and went to SPOTLIGHT for the first time. man, i hadn't felt that intimidated in a shop since i first went into one in the early 90's...so cool though.

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got to spend some time down there when Juan was working there. That shop reminds me of what shops used to look like (although it seems to be trending back to that) I don't smoke but I love it that they smoke in there. Something about green soap and cigs. that smells just right. Bob is the real deal.

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Another great thing about Spotlight. Hand painted flash on the walls. Goldfields, Dave Gibson's Deluxe, and Spotlight are three shops I've been in where all the flash was actually painted rather than reproduced. It makes for an impressive look that's seldom seen . Or maybe I'm not getting around enough.

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Wow Scott! What a well written piece. Thanks from all of us at State of Grace for all of the generous praise. I would like to add that the hardcover is a first edition, signed, limited release and that it will be followed by a more affordable soft cover version in the coming year. Thanks again and I am looking forward to reading more of your work! :)

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So I realize this thread is a little dated but I'm new to the site and have been foraging through tons of stuff. Anyway, being one of the "crew" in the back of Bob's book, I agree with Scott. It came as a shock, I guess the thing to say is "I'm honored", but the truth be told I don't even know how it makes me feel. The "crew" at Spotlight definitely has a history with more noteworthy individuals than myself (hell, I wouldn't even be there without Juan's help, and Bryan Burke was like his second son) not to mention some of the people in the book are already gone. That's just one of the cool things about Bob though, he really gives a shit!! About us, about tattooing, and about "Family". Past his ominous exterior, short temper, and brash outburst, is a great man with a great story that's still being told. So if you haven't already read the book and get caught up.

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I miss that tattoo magic, I remember that fun element of fear you used to get going into a tattoo shop. The same feeling when waiting in line for the roller coaster. I remember being asked if I wanted a tattoo and me being timid 16 year old saying " I think so" and then promptly being told to get the fuck out and to come back when I knew I wanted one , haha. I never got tattooed by that mean old bastard, but I always smile a little when I think about it. I'm a lot nicer to the folks who come into our studio , but man , some times I really wish these new clients could appreciate the magic that those old carnie biker old schooler guys had. Just the elaborate bravado and sea of bullshit, that stuff was in itself an art , an art that is all but dead now.

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