Zeke Owen, or, as he is better known, “Tattoo Zeke”, was born in 1940 and was the first person to re-open tattooing in Guam, since his uncle, Ernie Sutton, opened his shop there in the 1950s. Zeke Owen started tat- tooing on the Pike in 1957.
The Pike is considered one of the West Coast’s historical tattoo sites thanks to Bert Grimm & Bob Shaw, two legends of tattooing. Zeke was part of that crew till, a few years later, he opened his own shop in Rachael and Punchy’s Terminal Café in Agana.
Zeke moved to Joe Blas Tavern towards Tamuniing and later back to Hawaii. He started Ed Hardy in the business, in San Diego, many years ago. When he worked at 1033 Hotel St. in Hawaii, on military paydays, Zeke would work nights with Sailor Jerry Collins, around the corner on Smith St., after Jonny Walker left Jerry’s. Mike Malone worked at Zeke’s shop in San Diego, when it was called “The Ace Tattooing Company“. Hardy and Owen had a shop together in San Diego, for a few years. He has worked at many of the older shops in the US, with Kazuo Oguri (aka Hori Hide), in Gifu City, Japan and with almost everyone in New York City, including Jonathan Shaw. This is just a hint as to the provenance of Zeke Owen, one of the tattoo industry’s bona fide heroes.
Zeke was on one of the forerunners of early Japanese Style tattooing in America. He has spent decades on the road doing guest spots at tattoo shops from Georgia to Alaska, tattooing collectors, spinning yarns, and selling antique tattoo art & stencils. Owen’s charisma, wit, lifestyle and encyclopedic memory of tattoo legends and lore was captured in his popular “Ask Zeke“, columns in Skin&Ink magazine, some of which are reprinted on the website tattooroadtrip.com blog.
His influence on the tattoo community is immeasurable. Others have tried to follow and failed, because when they made Zeke Owen, they broke the mold. The stories about him are endless. Back in the day, he was what tattooing was all about: being a tough survivor in an outlaw business based on art. Sadly, one of the most common issues plaguing tattoo artists from every generation is the serious lack of medical coverage and retirement options available to independent, blue collar craftsmen & women in the profession. From basic medical coverage to disability, these are real-world concerns for tens of thousands of professional tattoo artists, all across the world.
Recently, the tattoo community was made aware of Zeke Owen‘s medical situation, and came together to help raise more than $25,000 to help pay for this amazing man’s Alzheimer’s treatment and his nursing home. We love you, Tattoo Zeke!