Award-winning art that will last a lifetime

Artist Vyvyn Lazonga, owner of Madame Lazonga's Tattoo, and staff artists Jacqueline Beach, Greg Coolligan and Melissa Thompson create art daily on human bodies at 1516 Western Avenue, beneath the Market's "down under" shops.

Lazonga, recipient of national awards, including the 2004 National Tattoo Association People's and Artist's Choice Awards for best tattooed male, believes tattoos should express personal mythological or philosophical beliefs.

"While I appreciate that many people want a tattoo to commemorate a powerful event or powerful moment in their lives, that is only a small part of my work," Lazonga said. "I think tattoo expresses a person's mythology, their deepest self in this life which makes my approach very different than most tattoo artists - and there ?s only a handful of us who work this way."

She prefers this approach to the art form that is thousands of years old, "because otherwise clients end up with patchwork, rather than body art, which is what tattooing really is.

"For many people tattoo is a fad, which I dislike, because we should not live our lives directed by outside forces."

A pioneer among U.S. women tattoo artists, Lazonga began her career 32 years ago when she saw her first tattoo by artist Cliff Raven.

"I immediately knew tattoo was the art medium for me," she said. "And I began looking for where I could obtain my first tattoo."

In 1972 she obtained her first tattoo in Tacoma at "a cute little traditional tattoo shop owned by Professor Rex and his wife Brenda." Her career continued in Seattle where she initially apprenticed with Danny Danzl. "Back then, we were all part of the flavor of First Avenue, which was part of Skid Road."

Lazonga credits artist Don Ed Hardy as the creator of the phoenix artwork that flows on her body, art that won the 1976 National Tattoo Association's most beautiful tattooed woman award.

"I feel as though my life, in many ways, reflects the mythological aspects of the phoenix," she said.

In 1979, she opened her first studio at Olive and Denny before "renting studio space in 1989 in the Corner Market Building." Expanding in the early '80s to San Francisco and in the '90s to New York, "My life has included living through the '89 earthquake and September 11," she said.

At the forefront of creating acceptance of tattoo as art, Lazonga has seen a proliferation of studios grow to include 29 in Seattle and 214 statewide.

She thinks tattoo art emerging into the mainstream may be, in part, a response to "the disembodied lives many people experience because of pervasive high technology," she said. "Any bodywork, including massage, brings a person in touch with their physical self, which little in our culture supports.

"One of my main fortes is to design something for the body that doesn?t look cluttered," she said. "I prefer clients bring samples of visual images they have an affinity for to help me organize and synthesize their ideas," she said.

Tattooing fees range from $100 to $300 and more depending on design and size. Once a client accepts a design, Lazonga and her staff create body art with liquid inks permanently placed on the body with needles and a palm-sized, hand-held tattoo machine.

A sterilized needle tip, composed of a bundle of fine needles soldered together, is placed in sterilized stainless steel tubes mounted in the tattoo machine. Inks are applied to the top layer of the skin, the subcutaneous layer, by repeatedly dipping the needle tip into inks held in miniature plastic cups.

Before use, each needle tip is visually inspected under powerful magnification for smoothness.

"The needle tips are bundles of little needles in various shapes, like art brushes, and I work with both the rounded and the flat tips," she said. "Everything is sanitary, so after one use, all needles and plastic cups are safely disposed of and everything is autoclaved to ensure sterilization."

Media attention, which has spotlighted Lazonga throughout her career, began with local TV coverage "which interviewed all of us as part of Seattle's underground." Since then, she's been interviewed many times, including for a 1999 CNN-TV documentary, Women of the Ink, and a 1998 Turner Broadcasting station documentary.

Books that feature her work include Marks of Civilization (Museum of Cultural History), Bodies of Subversion and 1999 Tattooist Yearbook (Milan, Italy). Magazines and newspapers that covered her art include Elle, Health, Tattoo, International Tattoo, The New York Times, Skin Art and Skin & Ink.

Two caveats: Washington State law permits tattoo artists to create body art only on adults age 18 years and older. And, to protect against infection and ink toxicity, obtain tattoos only from licensed and skilled artists such as those at Madame Lazonga's Tattoo.[[In-content Ad]]