Since it’s 1989 release, RE/Search Publications’ seminal issue #12 – Modern Primitives – has become one of, if not the most, nodally significant cultural studies of western body modification ever printed. The pantheon of influential body art figures interviewed includes Fakir Musafar, Jim Ward, Ed Hardy, Raelyn Gallina, Lyle Tuttle, Hanky Panky, Leo Zulueta – you could easily get lost following the ripples of influence from any one of them. But Modern Primitives also featured some younger personalities just getting their start in the world of body art; mostly notably Greg Kulz (a pioneer of black graphic industrial tattooing) and Bay Area piercer/tattooist Vaughn, who at the time of publication was trying to make a name in the industry. Thirty years later, and Vaughn’s legacy – the opening of Body Manipulations and the shift to a more diverse clientele – is easily worthy of inclusion with the best of the industry.
In honor of his birthday, BSTA’s Ari Pimsler interviewed Vaughn, along with friends, former employees, and clients for the new issue of our print project NODAL POINTS. The supporting interviews – Melissa & Joey from Body Ms, Greg Kulz, Duncan Van Luyt, and Blake Perlingieri – are available exclusively in the zine, which can be ordered here:
(special thanks to Bobby Neel Adams for the amazing outtake photos from his Modern Primitives shoot with Vaughn! http://bobbyneeladams.com)
Ari – For an introduction let’s start with where you started piercing, be it business or just experimentation
Vaughn – Probably about 1985. I moved to San Francisco in 1984. What I wanted to do was pierce my lip and I couldn’t find any outlet to do that. I had been pierced down in LA by Jim Ward at The Gauntlet originally because I was living down there. When I got up to San Francisco there was really no one there doing anything. I wanted to pierce my lip, couldn’t find anybody to do it, so eventually I did it myself. But as far as taking on clients I would say, 1986? I just printed up business cards that said, “Vaughn” and had my phone number on it. That was it. If I saw people who had their own piercings I’d approach them like, “hey I can do noses, I can do navels, I can do this kinda deal.” I would have people over to my apartment and pierce them there. I also would set up a little portable kit and go over to peoples houses pierce people in their homes or businesses or wherever. I did that for a couple of years. I can’t remember exactly when I met Esther but she was a big influence as far as pushing me to make it happen as a business. One of the driving forces behind that was we had heard a rumor that Gauntlet was going to try and open up in San Francisco and I wanted to break away from the stigma that Gauntlet had. That stigma was very much in the West Hollywood gay community. I wanted to see piercing move out more into the underground, like the punk scene and the music scenes. That was my main drive. Esther was kind of in the same mindset that drove me – she wasn’t really oriented on the sexual aspect of it but rather the aesthetic orientation. For about three or four years I just pierced privately and did in-home visits and portable visits. In 1989 I ended up getting a little bit of inheritance. I opened Body Manipulations with seven thousand dollars. Rent on the space was like $300 a month – it was super cheap. That all worked out because I knew the tattoo people who were in the space originally – Erno tattoo. They moved upstairs and then I rented from Erno because he still had a lease on the space for a short time. We just sublet it from Erno and turned it into a piercing studio.