Local Artist Spotlight: Bobby Lane

By Jed Sanders

Bobby Lane is a down to earth kind of character with a lot of creative soul. His work stretches back four decades with rock n’ roll graphics and band gig flyers from the San Diego underground music scene of the 1980s to the insanely beautiful tattoo work he does today. If San Diego were to build some kind of underground Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, without a doubt, Bobby Lane would be in there with the many contributions he has made in the early DIY scene. We stopped by HD Tattoo and Trading Company in North Park where Bobby works and he was kind enough to answer a few questions.

Where are you from?
I was born on October 2, 1964 and raised in San Diego. My mother and father met at Hoover High School and I was the result of their teenage romance. I sometimes wonder or speculate as to the circumstances of my conception. I like to think it was in a 1952 or ‘54 Chevy Bel-Air, but I have a feeling it was a Ford Business Coupe… I’m a working man at heart.

Do you have any fond memories of San Diego years back?
I’ve lived most of the last 30 years or so in and around the North Park area. North Park and San Diego had a pretty rich unwritten history during those years. Many artists and musicians lived here as the rent was much cheaper and a person could afford to devote their time to other things besides chasing the dollar. It’s a much more attractive place at first glance – today of course – with nightclubs and restaurants that would have never survived here before, in a neighborhood that was the domain of dive bars, thrift stores, 99¢ stores, slice joints, doughnut shops, liquor stores, and the Paras Newsstand where Tom Waits had his photo taken for the back cover of his first record. Paras is still there…God bless ‘em!

I remember the drive-in movie theaters and going to Belmont Park when it was a real old-time amusement park like Coney Island with a funhouse and a haunted house. There was that scary fucking rollercoaster and you could ride all of the rides all day for 5 bucks, which seemed like a fortune in those days. I remember when the hookers used to walk up and down Broadway in downtown instead of El Cajon Blvd. There were burlesque joints, strip bars, peepshows, and arcades. You could play pinball or skeeball, shoot at a shooting gallery, and buy a fake switchblade or bowie knife all within walking distance of city hall and the county courthouse. Funland, Roaring Twenties, and Ship’s Services – 10 cent cups of coffee, all night diners, and movie theaters!

The tattoo shops started at the foot of Broadway and went up to Horton Plaza and down Fourth. There was old Doc Webb’s where I walked in at the age of 12 and asked, “So how old do you gotta be?” and Doc replied, “Older than you, son.”

What made you first interested in becoming a tattoo artist?
My early work in pen and ink, and flyer art was influenced to some extent by tattoo art. Growing up in the punk scene, a lot of the older guys I looked up to had some pretty extensive tattoo work for the time. One of those was Mad Marc Rude, who was a big influence on me in those years and still is. He too became a tattoo artist and always lived the life of an artist. I was also influenced quite a bit by seeing the early work of Filip Leu. It let me see that there were possibilities beyond what I was aware of in tattooing. I didn’t get tattooed until somewhat later, but when I did, it was an epiphany that I could do this.

How long have you been tattooing?
I started tattooing on my own in 1993, working mostly on friends, independently. I began tattooing in tattoo shops in 1995.

What was the first tattoo that you gave?
I tattooed a small drawing of my own design just above my left knee. It was not as easy as I thought it might be. –Skin does not behave like paper or canvas.

What’s the best thing about being a tattoo artist?
Tattooing!  I love it; making people happy. Being able to see your customer’s reaction to the art that he or she is taking with them everywhere they go from that point on.

Any advice for upcoming tattoo artists?
Work hard. Don’t try to re-invent the wheel. Some shit just won’t work as a tattoo, so don’t try and make it. If you are not possessed by the desire to do this, don’t bother.

Is there anything from your childhood that you find comes up in your work frequently?
In painting perhaps, but since I’m still working that out, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what that is. I think we all have things coming up from our childhood throughout our so-called adult lives; in tattooing, certainly not. I wouldn’t want to burden my clients with the detritus of my personal life. I’m there to help them work their shit out.

What do you want people to walk away with when they see your art?
With tattoos, whether simple or elaborate, I would like them to leave with a smile and a sense of satisfaction. If they see a painting or a drawing, I hope it does the creepy-crawl on them. By that, I mean I hope it moves them outside of the established realm of both their personal and collective dominant paradigm. Forget about authority, question reality. That is the ultimate authority and a truly insidious form of fascism.

What do you find is the most troubling when it comes to the business side of art?
I suppose it would be that there is a business side to art.

What do you do for fun?
Lately, I like spending time outside for a hike or a long walk in nature. I love music and I always have. I enjoy going out to see some live music when someone I really like is playing, as well as watching my friends play. I also like to go bike riding and skating, and enjoy doing all of these things with my son and my girlfriend whenever possible.

Best show you ever attended? Favorite bands?
Man…I saw so many good shows. Iggy was probably one of the best shows I ever saw. Also, Black Flag in 1980 and The Cramps in ‘82. Funeral was a really good band I saw. Bad Brains in about ‘84, a lot of the Morlocks and Telltale Hearts shows, and I was at all of the Crash Worship shows. Zeni Geva, hall shows in the 80s, all the Che shows from the mid 80s thru the early 90s, and Generator shows at the Nude Bowl – there are so many! Bands I like a lot these days are The Soundtracks of Our Lives from Sweden, Boris from Japan, Ufomammut from Italy, and Queen Elephantine from Hong Kong and New York. Some local bands I like include Death Crisis (who I saw for the first time recently), the Tori Cobras, and The Sess (who are now defunct).

How did you get started doing gig posters/flyers?
I started going to punk rock shows at the age of 15. In those days, the punk scene was a very DIY place to be. It still is where it exists today, in its true form. I needed to contribute and I liked to draw, so that’s what I did. I approached the promoter, Big Mick of Dead or Alive productions, and asked if he could use a design that I had come up with for an upcoming Circle Jerks show at the Adams Avenue Theater. It was a rudimentary effort at best, but my friend Marc, who I mentioned before, suggested better quality pens and paper. Things got better from there. I continued doing flyers for the next three years on a regular basis and, for some years, sporadically after that.

What would you say is one of the biggest differences between the gig posters of today and those in the 80s?
Well, in those days, we mostly did flyers and not too many posters. They almost always were standard size 8½ x 11 Xeroxed or sometimes offset printed. Most of all, my flyers were limited to runs of a thousand at the most, and everything was handmade and hand drawn. There wasn’t a computer that was capable of helping you do art at that time.

How would you define “success” with your art? What are you working towards and where do you hope to see yourself in 10 years?
As far as my tattooing goes, success for me is making each person happy one at a time. I’d like to concentrate on doing the work that I like to do, which is mostly larger pieces in a Japanese style or traditional western style with some inventive twists to it. Perhaps at some point, I would like to have my own studio.

What current art projects are you working on right now?
I have a few sleeves in progress in the Japanese style. I’m working on a back piece of the Dragon Gate where a koi is swimming up a waterfall and is in the process of turning into a dragon. I’m working on a really cool skull sleeve in the Japanese style that has red rays shooting out of the eyes. I’m also working on a very nice piece that features a bear in a more traditional style, but with Japanese peonies and a golden scrollwork frame. One of my favorites is a half sleeve Ganesh design that I’m doing on a good friend of mine. I’m also working on a couple of biomechanical projects, which are a lot of fun.

Hey! Thanks so much for the interview and your time.
Thank you! If you like what you see, come get tattooed!

You can check out more of Bobby’s artwork and tattoos at www.bobbylanetattoo.com. To set up an appointment to get tattooed, contact Bobby@bobbylanetattoo.com or give him a call and pay him a visit at HD Tattoo and Trading Company, 3066 University Ave. (North Park neighborhood.) (619) 246-2416.

bringing you that fire! stay tune for more posts.

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