When tattoo legend Rick Walters died on March 4, the sorrow could be felt reverberating through not only the tattoo community, but also everyone else who knew him. The 73-year-old artist’s health had recently started deteriorating after blood clots were found on his lungs, but that doesn’t mean anyone was prepared to lose one of tattooing’s most prominent father figures just yet.
Perhaps the only good news that came from the Long Beach icon’s passing was that his friends had already begun putting together a fundraising art show (with a $200 maximum price) for March 30 to help pay off his medical bills. Although that money will now go to his wife, Robin, to help cover funeral expenses and more, there was never any doubt among the organizers that the show still needed to happen.
“I already had dozens of paintings of [Walters] that people had donated when [I found out he died], so I had him staring back at me from all over the room and knew the show must go on,” says Jeremy Hanna, a founder of Sullen Art Collective and one of the show’s primary organizers. “It went from helping to pay his bills to a celebration of his life, but it’s fitting because everyone who knew Rick knew he was one of the first to show up and the last to leave for any party. Even though he was sober for the last 30 years, he still knew how to party harder than anyone.”
Among those who knew the historic tattooer best outside of his immediate family, tattooer Chris Winn went from being Walters’ apprentice at Bert Grimm’s to an accomplished artist in his own right. Considering that his tattoo dad saw him through some of his roughest days, Winn knew that he needed to pay it back to Walters in his time of begrudging need.
“I had to do something, because Rick has given me so much of this life that I have,” Winn says. “Giving back was just the obvious choice. I was obviously bummed that his health had gone to where it was, but I felt very grateful to have friends like Jeremy and Ryan [Smith, the other co-founder at Sullen] who can help put on a show like this.”
“Chris reached out to me and wanted to do some charity shirts or something, and I had the idea to do a quick art show instead,” Hanna adds. “We’re not trying to half-ass anything, but we wanted to do something where artists could use something they already had or put together something fairly quickly that doesn’t take them weeks or months to do. When Chris and I went to [Walters’ Sunset Beach] shop to ask Rick for his blessing, we could see that it lit up his heart. I just feel blessed to have this platform where I can bring people together like this to help our friends.”
For those who don’t understand the importance that Walters held over his tenure as arguably the most recognizable artist in the history of the Pike in Long Beach, one only needs to look at the tattooing family tree he left behind. His industry children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins could fill the walls of any gallery or museum not only across Southern California, but around the world. Perhaps the only things to spread farther than the teachings he instilled in his apprentices were the “Rick Walters Hates You” stickers, posters, and merchandise that he’d pass out to just about anyone he encountered and the tales that continue to make it difficult to separate fact from legend when discussing the man himself. On Saturday night at Collective Ink Gallery in Garden Grove, all three of the widest-reaching aspects of Walters’ legacy will undoubtedly be packed in one location tighter than ever before as the tattoo world comes together to celebrate him one last time.
“It’ll be great to see some faces that I haven’t seen in years” Winn says. “When he finished apprenticing you, he’d opened the door into tattooing and tell you to ‘go out and make your own way.’ There are only a few of us who can say we were trained in Bert Grimm’s, and I feel very blessed to be a part of the Bert Grimm’s family with guys like Mark Mahoney and Freddy Negrete as my uncles, and all of my amazing brothers and cousins. It truly is a huge tattoo family, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to see everyone on Saturday night.”
The Rick Walters Memorial Art Show starts at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 30 at Collective Ink Gallery in Garden Grove.
Josh Chesler used to play baseball for some pretty cool teams, but now he just writes about awesome stuff like tattoos, music, MMA and sneakers. He enjoys injuring himself by skateboarding, training for fights, and playing musical instruments in his off time.