Michael Houghton’s “Zeke Owen: Master Tattoo Artist” is more than just a peek into the life of the famed tattooist. It is an appreciation of the pure skill, rare talent and the often-underappreciated field of tattoo art.
The film is a restoration by Karen Houghton and Mike Hardy and a fitting completion of Houghton’s original work. The film is set as one continuous oratory focused on the life of the late Zeke Owen, a legendary tattoo artist in Seattle during his time. The film showcases Zeke while working on tattoos for various clients. He narrates a brief history of his life as an artist and goes on to passionately recount the history of other greats in this artistic field.
From his humble beginnings as an admirer of Ernie Sutton’s work to his stints in barbershops to then finally establishing his own business, the film strives to leave no stone unturned in painting a clear picture of the exemplary artist Zeke was. It is impossible to ignore the reverence and passion in Zeke’s voice as he talks about his trade and other tattoo artists he looks up to. Clearly ahead of his time, one cannot help but marvel at his astounding work throughout the 30-minute film.
The film’s history is almost as long as that of the art form it exhorts. Designed as a portrait of both the artist’s life and the tattoo culture, it was a personal project that the director undertook soon after meeting Zeke in 1969. He recorded a few clips of the artist at work with the intention of modeling a film based on Zeke but was, sadly, unable to complete it during his life. Driven by a goal to make Michael Houghton’s work available to the public, Karen Houghton and Mike Hardy took on the project of painstakingly and lovingly restoring, editing, and packaging the footage to produce the final result: a film made as passionately as Zeke was about his art.
“Zeke Owen: Master Tattoo Artist” is a truly glorious film that allows the viewer to bask in the rich tapestry of the tattoo culture while celebrating the life of tattoo legend Zeke Owen.