Roger Ingerton – Part One

Posted: May 7, 2007 by Andreas Engel in Tattoo Artist Bios
Tags: , , ,

Roger Ingerton
By Roger Ingerton

My first tattoo was an accident. A jab from a sharp pencil into my palm left a mark – a tiny blue-black dot. I was only nine years old, but I came to realise it might be a permanent part of me, that it was an addition. It is still there and I’ve studied it often, pondering the potential ……….

When I was sixteen, a friend showed me how to prick dots into the skin using black ink and sewing needles wrapped with cotton. I was hooked. Immediately I tattooed a crude bird into the back of my left hand. Then a large dragon on my left biceps.
My tattoo journey had begun.
A few months later, I joined the merchant navy, signed on a cargo ship and left my home town of Wellington, bound for South Australia. From our first port of call, Lyttleton, I went to Christchurch, where I got my first professional tattoo. The artist was Emil MacSweeney, known as ‘Mac’. My main memory is of how much the tattoo hurt! At seventeen, the pain involved in being tattooed drove everything else from my mind. But I left Mac’s place with a beautiful dragon on the inside of my right arm.
It was vastly different from my own efforts. For one thing it had colour, which took longer to heal than black – the healing process took a week. At first the tattooed area felt hot and slightly swollen. By the next day, it was only a little tender and beginning to form a protective scab. As this started to flake off a few days later, tiny glimpses of the colours appeared. When the last scales fell off, revealing the glowing colours – iridescent green, the reddest red you could imagine, blue, brown, yellow, a work of art.
In February 1957 I moved to Sydney, Australia. I lived on the waterfront, made a local hotel my home and did some tattoos out in the beer garden, and a few more at various patrons’ homes. Stone terrace houses in the ‘Rocks’ area above Darling Harbour, boarding houses in Piermont, and rooms in Kings Cross – my home-made equipment and I ended up in some strange places.


As soon as I got a job and saved some money, I was ready to collect some more professional tattoos.
Alex Chater was known throughout the Pacific as a fine tattooist. I got several tattoos from him in his small shop in Paddington. Australia’s most tattooed man (at that time), was sitting in the tiny waiting area when I first went to the shop. He was like a being from another planet! His body was a mosaic of design and swirling, merging patterns, a riot of coloured skin. I squeezed in between him and a couple of sailors, and the atmosphere took me over. The buzz of the electric machine and the smells of cigarette smoke, sweat, antiseptic and beer, was an intoxicating mixture!


On my first visit, I selected a design of a geisha girl. Later, Alex tattooed a peacock, and a small dove for me; they are just as neat and tidy today as when they were first done.
Sailor Bill, the only other tattooist I knew of, worked from the verandah of a terrace house in Liverpool Street, in Paddington. When I first went to see him, he told me he was blind in one eye, and had a mosquito bite in the other! However, in spite of such afflictions, he did a good job covering a couple of my own left-handed attempts, on my right arm. Next time I went to see him, he drew a very neat dragon on my arm, without using a stencil. This impressed me. Over the next few months he did several repair jobs, along with some good new work for me.
I left Sydney and went to Melbourne where I visited Dickie Reynolds shop.
Dick ‘Dickie’ Reynolds was known throughout the seafaring community for his artistry and his distinctive style. His tattoos seemed to be simple line drawings with glowing colour and delicate shading. I asked him if he would do a small devil, on the inside of my right arm. ‘No trouble,’ he said. ‘Sit down son.’ Twenty minutes later, I had a marvellous little devil. Dick didn’t use a stencil, nor did he draw it on first – he just started up his machine and tattooed it on!


Next stop Port Adelaide.
In between ships, I did a lot of tattooing and made some extra income, usually in the form of gifts of food or alcohol, but occasionally cash – my first ‘professional’ work!
In 1958 I joined a Norwegian ship that spent the next year on a run between south and east Australia, the Pacific Islands, and N.Z. My Scandinavian fellow crew members asked me to decorate their arms and legs, and other bits dragons and birds were popular then.
A couple of years later I ended up back home in Wellington… I met Kevin Gray, who was just getting established in Wellington as a professional tattooist. I got a couple of tattoos done in his shop, some cover-up work on my chest, and some new work on my arms.

By 1967 I was still travelling. Along the way, I’d become a ticketed rigger and scaffolder. After another spell in Sydney I accepted a position as a working supervisor, on a power station construction site in Jamaica. I lived in a small town called Mandeville and my tattoos intrigued the locals. They called me ‘the white Rasta’ – a title I appreciated as the Rastafarians were a creative group in their society.
When the job finished, I returned to Australia. On the way I met up again with Kevin Gray in Wellington. One day he put an electric tattoo machine in my hand and said, ‘Have a go!’ I did a bit of colouring in and enjoyed the experience…

About this time I met Margaret, who was to become my wife and partner. We flew to Sydney a few days before Christmas, 1969. Early in the New Year Kevin visited us in Sydney, and he introduced me to Wally Hammond who had opened a tattoo shop in Darlinghurst Road in King’s Cross.
Wally asked me to do some drawing for him, and then suggested that I fill in some work he had outlined.
I started doing complete works, and became a full-time tattooist in early 1970.

Ingerton Tattoo Design

Wally’s shop was on the first floor of an apartment building in the main street, with a balcony over the footpath of the most colourful area in the ‘Cross’. I am indebted to Wally who taught me how to make machines, make up needles and transfers, and mix colours. We worked together during the day and I ran the shop on my own in the evenings. Wally had taught himself about electrical machines, and about colour pigments. The inside of his left arm glowed with rainbow colours; hundreds of little dots and scars of every hue, indelible reminders of pigments he’d tested on himself – an idea that I adopted.
The Cross at that time was a rest and recreation area for the troops fighting in the Vietnam war. We tattooed soldiers, sailors, locals and travellers, almost anybody, anything, anywhere, anytime!
During quiet periods, I did a lot of drawing, mostly traditional designs. Some of these I still use today.
I started looking for new material and the first art books I got had the work of Escher and Dali amongst others. These images inspired me. I also discovered the art of Albrecht Durer, Van Gogh, and the surrealists. My job was becoming more and more fascinating. I liked drawing – on skin! I had always been good at drawing; it seemed to come naturally to me. I was becoming a freehand artist, that is, I was tending to draw the designs directly onto the skin instead of using transfers. Bill Furness of Melbourne, retired tattoo artist and a friend of all in the tattoo game made my first machines for me. I’m still using these machines.
I left Wally’s shop in 1971 and opened my own place at North Bondi.
At this time I also started painting. I did a number of small works and found myself engrossed by both painting and tattooing.

Ingerton Pirtates of the Caribbean Tattoo ShirtRoger Ingerton’s Pirates of the Caribbean Tattoo Shirt

Margaret and I returned to Wellington in February 1972 where I took over Kevin Gray’s shop in Vivian Street and began four years of fine art studies at Victoria University in painting drawing and printmaking.
I met Samoan tattooists, Paulo Suluape and Sefo Pasina, and watched them working in their traditional way. I also became interested in Maori art, including Moko. Appreciation in the art of Tattooing was growing. News media, film and video, and photographers; all contributed to a worldwide exchange of information. We became more aware of the work being done in Japan, America, Europe, and many other cultures. A Tattoo renaissance! I began to introduce new elements into my work. The biggest influences on me at this stage were Japanese and Maori tattooing…


Roger’s TatooArt
198 Cuba Street,
New Zealand.
Operating uninterrupted at this location since 1977

(04) 3845242
A call from the US in the evening will connect you to New Zealand mid day on the following day


PO Box 6407
Marion Square,
New Zealand.

  1. india flint says:

    i’ve only just discovered this page…looking forward to the Book!
    best wishes

  2. […] Zealand tattoo artist Roger Ingerton has been tattooing since nine years old, when he accidentally jabbed a pencil in his hand. His […]

  3. […] what Roger Ingerton has to say about himself in an archived article on this […]

  4. […] artist Roger Ingerton has produced numerous Maori-themed designs for YellowMan’s exclusive tattoo shirt […]

  5. vivian says:

    I love your work and would buy a lot more of your t-shirts if they were in a natural fabric like cotton or wool. Unfortunately can’t wear polyester.

  6. Matthew head says:

    very honoured to have my piece of Rogers work used in a story of Rogers life
    Much respect and condolences
    One love

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