Great Lakes Tattoo
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History & Happenings, the Great Lakes Tattoo Blog. Sharing news, events and fascinating tidbits on Chicago Tattoo History.  



As part of the Great Lakes Tattoo 5th Year Anniversary Party, we will be exhibiting a selection of photos and ephemera from the Cliff Raven archives in our gallery space, Great State Gallery. 

Cliff Raven was a tattooer in Chicago in the 60’s and 70’s. He worked with both Phil Sparrow and Tatts Thomas in the 60’s on State Street in downtown Chicago. Cliff Raven was a legend among tattoo artists. Along with Don Nolan and Ed Hardy, Cliff Raven was hugely influential in the tattoo renaissance of the 70s. Collectively they pioneered adopting the Japanese tattoo aesthetic, which was influential in bringing large-scale custom Japanese tattooing to the masses in the US. Cliff was executing back-pieces and body-suits long before his peers.

After leaving State Street in the late 60s, he opened Cliff Raven studios--which later became Chicago Tattoo Company. Cliff left Chicago in the 70s to open Sunset Strip Tattoo in Hollywood, California where he tattooed for over a decade. In 1985 Cliff semi-retired from tattooing when he moved to 29 Palms, California.  While retired, he occasionally tattooed a select group of long-term clients who sought him out, but spent most of his time writing editorial cartoons and running Raven's Books, a used bookstore, until his death in 2001. He was buried at sea. 

The photos in this collection are taken from scans of negatives from the collection of tattoo history at Great Lakes Tattoo. The photos span from his early career in Chicago through larger scale work done one the Sunset Strip and in 29 palms.