BME Book Review: Black & Grey Tattoo


I was thrilled to find out I would have the opportunity to review the newest tattoo book on the market, Black and Grey Tattoo: From Street Art to Fine Art by our old friend Marisa Kakoulas (who wrote Legal Link for BME) and co-authored with Edgar Hoill. I’ll admit, I was also a little nervous, after all, Marisa is a friend and what would I say if the book wasn’t up to snuff? All those worries went out the window when I finally got my hands on it.


This is actually a three volume set and to my knowledge the first multi-volume set featuring the work of some of the world’s greatest tattoo artists. From street art to fine art indeed, the range and diversity of the work is amazing and the talent is unquestionable.

Read on for my review!

Marisa called this book mammoth and she wasn’t joking, it is mammoth in both scope and weight! Make sure you lift with your knees when you pick this thing up! Marisa says it weighs around 22 lbs but it felt more like 50 to me!
Ok, enough joking around; let’s talk about what’s inside. The first thing that strikes you are the covers. The work adorning each front is simply breathtaking and with the embossed title running along the front of this hardcover set, this is the kind of book you’ll want to keep on display. Volume one is dedicated to traditional black and grey tattoo work (336 pages), volume two is dark and horror (400 pages) and volume three is photorealism (272 pages).

black-and-grey-tattoo1 black-and-grey-tattoo2 black-and-grey-tattoo3

Flipping it open you’ll find that the included text comes in not only English but German and Spanish as well. There are portraits of the artists as you are introduced to their work so you can see the man (or woman) behind the art. Not only are you treated to some of the most incredible tattoo work I have ever seen; there are also drawings and paintings by the artists showing you they are unquestionably fine artists ranging from across the globe.

Tatu Will

Tatu Will

Interviews with some of the greats are included but this set is heavy on the photos and light on the text putting the focus exactly where it belongs, on the art. Sometimes books about tattoos become more about the authors opinions than the artwork but you won’t find any of that here. Marisa and Edgar keep their voices to a minimum, letting the artists’ work speak for itself. How refreshing! This set is first and foremost, a celebration of the art of tattoo, but don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to be a tattoo enthusiast to enjoy this. The striking photography and incredible work make this book a must for anyone with an appreciation of art and photography. This book would feel just as at home next to other fine art books as it would in a tattoo studio.

Edward "Chuco" Caballero

Edward "Chuco" Caballero

The tattoos range from full body suits to knuckles. The work, as I mentioned, is breathtaking. Volume One includes interviews with Jack Rudy, an icon with over 35 years of experience and Jesus “Chuey” Quintanar, a man whose work speaks for itself. In Volume Two, you’ll find interviews with the master of the dark tattoo, Paul Booth, and Xu Zhicheng, out of Beijing whose bold work has earned him international respect. Finally, in Volume Three, Bavarian Andy Engel, who specializes in realism and well-known portrait artist Bob Tyrrell round out the stellar cast of interviewees. In addition to these fine artists you’ll also find work by renowned artists such as Freddy Negrete, Brian Everett, Mark Mahoney, Dan Henk, Kari Barba, Tim Kern, and Tim Hendricks to name a few.

I won’t give anything away, you need to read these interviews for yourself when you pick up your own copy. Each artist has something unique to say and their interviews are coupled with some quotes from other artists and clients to round out the set but it’s by far the photos that make this set so desirable. I wanted to pick out a favourite from each volume but found that I couldn’t. There were so many photos and the work was so top notch that it is impossible for me to say any one photo is a favourite over the others.

Bob Tyrrell

Bob Tyrrell

Dan Marshall

Dan Marshall

While many of the names were familiar to me, most of the work was not and with each turn of the page I was blown away. I admit, part of me was envious, both of the talent that these artists possess and also of their clients who are fortunate enough to carry this art on their skin. I’m a fan of portraiture and expected the Photorealism volume to be my favourite but found myself admiring each volume equally.

Abey Alvarez

Abey Alvarez

Tim Kern

Tim Kern

It is so nice to see a tattoo book that is exactly what it should be, a celebration of the art and the individuals who make it possible. I have a small collection of tattoo related books and I’ve seen many others that for one reason or another I don’t own. Black and Grey Tattoo stands out among those books, it sets the bar high and makes its home comfortably among the massive tomes of classic art and photography, matching them in quality and class.
With over 1000 pages and coming in its own beautiful box, this would make a perfect gift for the holidays or a birthday, or buy it for yourself, because you deserve it! This stunning coffee table book is something you’ll be proud to display whether you’re tattooed or not.

If you want your very own copy (you know you do), you can find it on Amazon, currently retailing for $414 USD, or $422.83 CDN. In Europe you can get the book from Hermansky Books for $248 EU.

Also, if you act quickly, Marisa is selling some of her author copies at a reduced rate, so you can contact her for a copy. She only has a limited number so don’t wait.

Black Grey Tattoo
Hardcover: 1008 pages
Publisher: Gazelle Distribution
Languages: English, Spanish, German
ISBN: 3934020852
Dimensions: 15.1 x 11.8 x 5.4 inches
Weight: 22.5 pounds

Marisa Kakoulas is a New York lawyer and writer. She is currently blogging over at Needles and Sins.

edgar Edgar Hoill is a photographer and editor of Lowrider Arte Magazine. You can visit his website: OSOK

23 thoughts on “BME Book Review: Black & Grey Tattoo

  1. $414?
    Yeah, I don’t know if you’re aware or not, but this country (U.S.A.) and pretty much the whole world is in a recession…
    Good luck selling your ridiculously priced book.

  2. This is 3 art books. The price is normal. Books of this type normally go for over $100 individually. This is a box set, packaged in a beautiful box. They’re oversized. The covers are embossed. I think anyone who has bought an art book (a collector’s volume) knows there is nothing ridiculous about the price and that the value on these sorts of books tends to increase as long as you keep it well.

    Check out the art and photography section of a bookstore sometime. I know several of the books on my wishlist, along with several on my shelf, sell for over $100 individually.

  3. Oh man, I want. Jen’s right, the price is spot on, but at the same time, (mostly) everybody -is- broke… Worth the money, but poor timing perhaps?

  4. I don’t know about timing. I mean the price is comparable and I think it’s worth pointing out, Marisa didn’t self-publish this. This isn’t some dinky self-published book. It’s a book put out by a publishing company. It just so happens that we’re familiar with the author but last I checked, publishing houses set prices. Some will be able to afford it and some won’t, unfortunately but like I mentioned in the review, Marisa does have some author copies she’s selling at a discounted price so if you got some pennies saved up and want to grab it for a lower price, hit her up but please don’t be rude! She’s very nice.

    I was just looking at a Helmut Newton book that I wanted and I see the price has gone down from $196 to $98 on it. I think the David LaChapelle one I want is in the same range.

    That’s neither here nor there though, did you those amazing tattoos?! And that portrait at the top?!

    In the glossy pages of the book that Dan Marshall tattoo actually looks wet. I was amazed by it and I just kept staring at it. I’d love to see these pieces in person.

  5. Jen, I think you’re right about the publishing houses setting prices. The Abey Alvarez piece is by far my favorite of the examples. Now, if only I could find a book like this on Russian prison tattoos! Saw the link posted earlier, but an archive three books large would be -awesome-!

  6. I saw a set of books once, they may be the same ones since I haven’t seen what was posted earlier. Anyway, they weren’t nearly the quality of book this is, sadly, they were more like trade paperback books.

    It’s so nice to see high quality books devoted to tattoos. I mean the cheap paper covered ones are nice and affordable but there’s such a huge difference between those and an actual art book. The art books I own are mostly photography books and any of the tattoo related books I have don’t come near to matching the quality of these. The book in and of itself is art. Check out the case!

    Oh I’m such a dolt, I only just now took it in that the spines actually created an image of a tattoo. I guess I was too busy looking at what was in the books to notice the spines!

  7. Eat your hearts out… I got a set, plus a couple for friends (and I don’t even do Black & Grey) After Marisia’s first book “Black Tattoo Art” she again shows us her uncompromising, “Quality above Everything else” attitude. Don’t mess with a greek woman lawyer! Just due to the broad nature of the subject, this book could not have been done in less than a trilogy. The photos, most of them full page, means that a great portion of the images are LIFESIZE… so you get a chance to really see all the details that you’d never get from the back few gallery pages of Easy Rider :-) Having the box set also means that these books will only appreciate over the years and the images inside will probably outlast the images outside.
    Enjoy – Colin

  8. So true Colin. I wouldn’t say I collect books but I do have a small collection of art type books and I’ve seen a few of them soar in value. That is another wonderful thing about this type of book, it tends to increase in value, not decrease.

    I didn’t want to give away too much of the book but I sure did want to show everyone more photos of what’s inside. They were something!

  9. I would ask that people not shit on the book or the author based on the price. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to simply go off your rocker immediatey upon seeing the price of the book. C’mon, it’s published by an obscure publishing house (at least obscure in the mainstream market), and has probably been printed in a limited run. If you can’t save up the money for the book, but you can save up money for tattoo work, then you might want to rethink your priorities for a few months.

    I had tattoo work done once a week, or once every two weeks, for the whole of a year, but have had no tattooing done in the past year and a half because my priorities had to shift. I did a lot of different things with that money that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do, such as amassing another 500 odd books for my personal library! Spend the cash people, like a poster above said they’ll appreciate in time.

  10. “If you can’t save up the money for the book, but you can save up money for tattoo work, then you might want to rethink your priorities for a few months.”

    I would much rather have tattoos, than books about tattoos, maybe it’s YOU who should rethink your priorities.

    Or save up the money for some more EdHardy shirts… :P

  11. re: Mitch and sparrow, I would argue that an education in the cross-cultural and historical aspects of tattooing does not come from being tattooed alone. Nor does the act of being tattooed, or wearing tattoo-related merchandise, an expert make. ;)

    But if you’re perfectly fine with answering “Duh” to questions of an academic nature when it comes to tattooing, or quoting Wikipedia as your sole bibliographical reference, then I say go for gold.

  12. That looks like an amazing collection. Congratulations to the authors on a stunning accomplishment!

  13. you guys need to rethink your priorities if you think getting evicted is not worth it to own this fabulous 3 book set.

  14. I own Marisa’s other book, “Black Tattoo Art”, and it was worth every penny, in my opinion. The photos were huge, crisp, plentiful, and amazing, and the artists she chose were varied and all quite talented. The quality of the book itself is quite good, very thick paper, great ink, and a binding that hasn’t come apart with lots of abuse. I’ve even had friends over to my home just to look through this book rather than watch a movie!

  15. I actually had a chance to glance through all three while getting work done by one of the book’s many artists over the weekend. I really cant stress enough how well made the whole thing is. Fantastic, high res photos of artists, tattoos, and artwork. Hundreds and hundreds of full color pages with great articles in ENGLISH SPANISH AND GERMAN for each artist. The set truly is a work of art.

    I would totally consider getting my hands on the boxset if this current piece wasnt depleting all my funds :(

  16. OK so in South African rands, that is a lot of money BUT I hear you only need one kidney…

  17. Pingback: BME: Tattoo, Piercing and Body Modification News » Editorial ModBlog » Book Review: Color Tattoo Art

  18. The book looks to be a classic. I can’t wait to get my hands on a set. Got a few tattoos from Abey Alvarez – hope he has a few great pieces of his work in the collection. Well worth $300-400, hopefully the featured artist are getting a small royalty…

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