Tattoo by Alan Oversby; 1970s. Scanned from the original print.
A few weeks ago I was tagged by multiple friends in a Facebook post from a tattooer who’s been doing male pin-ups; archetypal poses gender swapped with big bearded beefcake. The comments ranged from amused to aggrieved with almost everyone agreeing that it was ‘about time’ that someone was doing them.
Of course, there’s really nothing new under the sun. Male pin-ups, particularly homoerotic ones, have been around for a lot longer than social media. Cliff Raven, Sailor Sid, Phil Sparrow, Alan Oversby… anyone who was tattooing a clientele that appreciated the sexuality of tattoo culture was likely to have done one.
Though they weren’t always as explicit as this amazing piece by Sebastian. It dates back to the late 70s and still packs a punch.
Sacred Debris Sandbox members should check out the FB group for a much raunchier part of the design!
“Alan Oversby, better known by his professional alias of Mr Sebastian (chosen, naturally, after the famously pierced Saint…) was born in Liverpool in 1933 and became enamoured with body piercing in the 1950s whilst working on a sugar plantation in British Guiana. He had seen nipple piercings on some field hands, and persuaded one of them, over a few glasses of rum, to pierce him. Returning to Britain, he trained as an art teacher in the Midlands, and became increasingly enamoured with modifying his own body, first by re-piercing his own nipples, then (imitating an illustration of an African man he had seen in an anthropology book) inserting a ring into his foreskin. Eventually, he got tattooed. Indeed, he first shows up in the press in the mid-1970s, as a customer of long-standing London tattoo artist George Bone, cited precisely to demonstrate the practices middle class credentials. ‘He is a teacher’, the article tells us, ‘ and as such one of the professional minority who frequents tattoo shops:
‘I thought about it all very carefully before I began. If you don’t you end up looking a mess.’ Alan is tattooed solidly from the tops of his arms down the front of his body to his legs with the designs placed in such a way that he can wear a short-sleeved, open-necked shirt without any of them being visible. This is not to avoid incurring opposition in the school where he teaches, but ‘to make sure my mother doesn’t find out. She would be terribly upset if she knew about it’ Continue reading
Excerpt from Painless Steel featuring Mr. Sebastian (Alan Oversby) performing an Ampallang piercing on Genesis P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle/TOPY/Psychic TV.
Last year I wrote an article for a magazine called Best Intentions that, among other things, discussed the ephemeral nature of magnetic video tape; it’s limitations and my constant surprise when a VHS cassette that’s been stored in a rubbermaid bin for a few decades still has a little bit of life left in it.
Charles Gatewood’s FLASH VIDEOS never made it into the digital age and during the last conversation we had, Charles told me that some of the volumes in the Flash collection had production runs as low as 50 units. It’s incredibly humbling when you realize the impact his documentaries had on the Body Modification community despite the relative difficulty of getting those tapes out in the days before uploads and shares and likes.
My Flash collection is far from complete and some of the tapes have, regrettably, become unwatchable, but I’m making progress converting and archiving as much footage as possible. This clip, while short, features influential UK body piercer/tattooist Alan Oversby (Mr. Sebastian) performing an ampallang piercing on cultural engineer Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. Alan’s voice appeared on the song Message from the Temple on the 1982 Psychic TV album Force the Hand of Chance.
Flash Video Content © Charles Gatewood.
It’s been interesting to see how the archetypes popular in the 1960s/1970s Gay Leather scene have been appropriated and assimilated into modern pop culture- from the in your face aesthetics of Oslo’s Turbonegro (“We aren’t really gay but we like that people might think we are. And if it helps some gay kid come out of the closet, then that’s cool. Or if it helps some guy that hates queer rethink his position, then that’s great too.” 1) to the tragically hip “flagging” hankies 2 in their back pockets and wearing leather armbands and a Muir cap, the classic look of a still present subculture has, like it or not, lost some of it’s cultural exclusivity.
Still, for my money, I like living in a world where we all borrow from each other.
This photo from Sailor Sid Diller’s 1978 trip to London features Sid (left) and Alan ‘Mr. Sebastian’ Oversby (right) looking very much the part of 1970s body piercers.
I’ve almost completed archiving the 1978 Sailor Sid London album; some of the highlights have been posted here on Sacred with others in queue for future updates- but this one caught my eye so I bumped it to the head of the line. Sid (left), unknown (middle) and Alan Oversby (right) standing under a sign reading ‘where the action is’ connected via nipple and genital piercings.
Take note of the pubic wing tattoos on Alan and client- In ancient Roman culture the fascinus (winged phallus) was an avatar of the divine penis. it was no wonder that the early T&P Community, which was primarily (but not exclusively) made up of gay males, adopted the symbol as a popular tattoo design. Visually it exoticized the pubic area, and when designed correctly made the wearers penis to appear longer. Typically it was brightly colored bird wings, but as the wings got more popular variations such as bat and dragon wings would occasionally show up. Alan was a driving force in the upswing in Fascinus tattoos.
I’ve been talking a lot lately with friends about how to make Sacred Debris appeal to a broader audience. As a non-profit enterprise that finds clickbait abhorrent, we stand nothing to gain from new viewers aside from the satisfaction of uniting a bunch of nerdy piercing, tattooing and body modification fans with access to things that most folks wouldn’t really care about.
We would probably get more viewer engagement if I posted fancy septum clickers every few hours instead of 40 year old mailing labels, but… tell me.. how COOL is this?
Peeled from a letter from Mr. Sebastian (Alan Oversby) to Sailor Sid Diller it’s history in your hands!
Legendary photographer/anthropologist Charles Gatewood, under his FLASH VIDEO label, had a successful line of VHS documentaries called Erotic Tattooing & Body Piercing. It used to be taken for granted that people who were into heavy body piercing were more likely to be involved in alternative sexual lifestyles- the roots of the piercing scene were firmly embedded in the gay leather scene and was popular with straight/bi S/M players who used their bodies to display their kinks.
Since tattoos were usually kept hidden in the early years of the scene they provided an avenue to take that concept- using the body to display kinks- quite literally. If simply being tattooed could arouse an erotic response it would only make sense that sometimes the tattoos themselves would be erotic, like the mermen on piercer/tattooer Sailor Sid Diller’s legs.
This photo, scanned from a 3×5 print dated 1978, features Alan Oversby tattooing a Tom of Finland styled Leather Man on Sid’s leg. Sid’s legendary tattooed/pierced penis and scrotum are also on display.
Borrowing from our Tattoo site Occult Vibrations, this 1978 photo features Alan Oversby at his London studio doing a small flower tattoo on a client’s posterior. Before his career as a tattoo artist and body piercer Alan was an art teacher, leaving the secure world of higher learning to follow his passion for body art. Alan passed away in 1996.