Henk Schiffmacher is a tattoo artist, painter, writer, collector, world traveller… You can see immediately from this list that it is impossible to briefly summarise either the profession or the activities of this creative and cultural gadfly. Nor is it simple to compile a record of service, a so-called curriculum vitae, but here is a stab at it:
Henk Schiffmacher was born in 1952 in Harderwijk and grew up in a Catholic butcher’s family. He demonstrated a predilection for drawing and collecting early on. School held little interest for him. He wanted to be a painter. His first sketches and drawings found their way to the homes and bedrooms of uncles and aunts and Henk won annual drawing contests. His artistic ambitions ultimately led to a brief period of study at the Reclame School REX on the Frederiksplein in Amsterdam during the early seventies.
Painter, silk screen printer, window dresser at the Bijenkorf, technical photographer, graphic designer, typographer, fashion and news photographer for publications including the New Revu are some of the professions Henk practised during his turbulent initial years in Amsterdam. This was followed by a period of travel during which he collected an impressive collection of objects related to the history of tattooing. The numerous images on his own skin also bear testimony to his search for the origin of this centuries-old art.
Upon his return to Amsterdam Henk Schiffmacher opened his tattoo shop; a phenomenon was born in the tattoo world. Henk continually changes the images of his tattoos and creates a new perspective on tattoos through the countless conventions he organises. The resulting professionalisation of this extraordinary profession means that tattoos are no longer just for rough types; Henk’s tattoos have become fashionable for a broad public. Henk has tattooed a host of international film and rock & roll stars including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Kurt Cobain, Willy de Ville and Herman Brood.
Henk has written three successful books including his autobiography “Heet van de naald” and he produced a TV documentary about the origin of the tattoo that has been shown world-wide. For several years now he has also operated a unique museum dedicated to the art of the tattoo. During the early nineties he felt the urge to paint, an activity that has taken up more and more of his time over the years. For Henk painting is an unprecedented luxury because he no longer needs to concern himself with others’ tastes. According to Henk the canvas offers other advantages: it doesn’t talk back, it doesn’t tremble and it doesn’t faint.
A retrospective in the Municipal Museum of Zwolle in 2000 and the Archer’s Portrait on the Parade in 2001 must be mentioned as absolute breakthroughs in visual artist Schiffmacher’s development. His contributions to expositions in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the Arti et Amicitae members’ exposition and the De Appel Centre for Visual arts in Amsterdam as well as the design for a unique damask tablecloth for the Dutch Textile Museum in Tilburg are also noteworthy. Henk has served as an advisor for exhibitions about the history of tattooing at influential institutes such as The Museum of Natural History in New York and the Museé de la Civilisation in Canada. He has collaborated on a extraordinary exhibition celebrating the 400th anniversary of the VOC in the Westfries Museum in Hoorn. In 2002 he created a Mexican altar in the Catharina Kapel in Harderwijk, which was subsequently displayed as part of an exposition in the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam in 2003. At the beginning of 2004 the first large Belgian exhibition of his paintings was held in Antwerp.
Nowadays Henk Schiffmacher is primarily a painter, designer and writer. He also gives regular lectures and in his few leisure moments, he is an ambassador for Orange Babies, a Foundation that provides assistance to pregnant women and their babies in Africa, who are most at risk for infection with the HIV virus. But above all Henk is head over heels in love with his life partner and painting buddy Louise van Teylingen.
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