Thursday, April 22, 2010

On duty

Photographed at the Coney Island Sideshow by Dan Nicoletta

Monday, April 12, 2010

From Maya

Maya Ventura from Third Eye Tattoo has scanned and posted a number of beautiful photos of her and Mike, shot in 1993 by Danny Clinch.
I have put those photos in the 1993 section of this blog.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

"And he's blowing / perfect smoke rings / up into the air"

Dan Nicoletta's photographs in 'Modern Primitives' were my first introduction to Mike.
This is another shot from his archive, posted with his permission :

You can find more of Dan's photographs of Mike by clicking here.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Moving on

The fantastic Efrain Gonzalez kindly sent in the following photographs and note :

"These were taken at the party
Tattoo Love Child
in NOHO on Layfitte Street"


Click on photos to see them in full size.

You can see more of Efrain's work at

Friday, March 12, 2010

Videos from Fredini's vaults

Fred Kahl (A.K.A. The Great Fredini) has uploaded a deal of old Coney Island-related clips on YouTube. The first one (above) is a Channel 2 news piece on John Bradshaw's Circus of World Curiosities circa 1989. Mike appears at 2:20.

The other one is from 1994.
Take a look :

Sunday, August 18, 1996

Not Just Another Freak Show: Farewell to the Illustrated Man

By Jesse McKinley
''Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children and elders, welcome to the show!''

The time was midnight, the house was half-filled, and the barker's call sounded the same as it has for decades at Coney Island. To the uninitiated, the scene last Thursday night at the Coney Island Sideshow by the Seashore had all the trappings of just another freak show. The escape artist hung out near the emergency exit, and Koko the Killer Clown, all 48 inches of him, mingled with Todd Robbins, an ''inside talker,'' who lures passersby into the show. They gabbed about life and death.

Up on stage, between the electric chair and the ''DANGER! LIVE SNAKES!'' box, was a magician's coffin. Empty, it symbolized the reason for this particular spectacle -- a memorial for Michael Wilson, better known as the Illustrated Man, who died in his Chelsea apartment on July 29, after suffering an apparent diabetic seizure. Mr. Wilson, who claimed to have had some 35,000 tattoos, had been a regular Sideshow performer since 1986. His death, at 44, touched many members of the tight-knit carny community.

''Michael was the symbolic modern primitive,'' said Dick Zigun, the Sideshow owner. ''Before every 14-year-old girl in the nation had her tongue pierced, Michael was out there.''

The memorial drew 60 or so people. Many spoke of a kind, quiet professional whose ability to draw passersby rivaled that of any freak in the business. ''He could entice a crowd by just showing an arm,'' said Tera Ball, 33, a musician. ''Sometimes just a finger.''

Mr. Wilson's routine included displaying his tattoos -- his head hidden under a black hood until the end -- followed by a stomach-turning encore: nailing his tongue to a board.

Friends spoke of his love for tattoos -- he got his first at age 13 -- and his distaste for other parts of the job. ''Man, he hated that bed of nails,'' said Indio, the escape artist. Still, he said, Mr. Wilson could withstand more than 400 pounds on his chest while lying on the nails, more by far than any company member.

Roughly 90 percent of Mr. Wilson's body was inked, said Mr. Zigun, including extensive designs on his head and face. ''He moved to New York because he couldn't find anyone on the West Coast who would tattoo his face,'' he said.

As some friends recalled the mystic and mundane of Mr. Wilson's life -- ''He said in his dreams, he had no tattoos.'' ''He snored.'' -- others milled past photos of him with The Original Blockhead and The Human Cigarette Factory. A Russian newspaper clipping read, ''Picture person dies of diabetes.''
Inside the theater, the troupe's shrine to Mr. Wilson included his cutoff jeans shorts (for showing off those delicate designs), and his show stopper: a hammer, a nail and a stubby piece of two-by-four.
Mr. Zigun said Mr. Wilson's ashes were scattered, though not over Coney Island. ''Michael is gone,'' he said, remembering a performer whose act was a part of him. ''He was the ultimate. He could never take it off.''


The original article contained a photograph but it wasn't included in the online version.
Here's a link to the N.Y.Times website.

Saturday, August 3, 1996

Coney Island's Tattoo Man was living work of art

By Judie Glave

   A sideshow performer who fascinated Coney Island audiences with his tattoo-covered body - and the occasional nail through his tongue - was found dead in his apartment in New York.
 Michael Wilson, known as the Tattoo Man, apparently had been dead for a couple of days when he was found Wednesday. An autopsy was inconclusive, but Wilson, 44, was a severe diabetic who needed daily insulin shots and had frequent seizures.
   The circular swirls, star bursts, skulls and daggers that covered 90 percent of Wilson's body, including his face and hands, were of his own creation, Dick Zigun, his friend and sometime employer, said Friday.
   "There were no stupid biker tattoos for Michael," Zigun said. "He never went into a tattoo artist's shop and said, 'Gimme that one.' He would create each design and say, 'This is what I want."
   Zigun said it appeared Wilson had fallen - perhaps from a seizure - and never woke up: "He clearly had a bad injury on his head."
   Wilson - tall, bald and covered in blue, black, red and green art - moved to New York from San Francsico in 1986 because he could not find a tattoo artist who would ink his face.
   "Michael made a real commitment to this," Zigun said. "He couldn't go home at the end of the day and change his clothes and change the way he looked; that was his commitment, his artwork, his life."
   He had worked on and off at the Coney Island USA sideshow for the past 10 years, Zigun said.
   Dressed in a tuxedo, gloves and hood, Wilson wouls slowly strip down to his undershorts during sideshow performances, Zigun said. He also worked the sideshow's bed of nails, often encouraging members of the audience - the larger, the better - to stand on top of him.
   One of Wilson's favorite acts was actually an illusion.
   "He would hammer nails through his tongue," Zigun said, "but what the audience didn't know was that he already had his tongue pierced".
   He also appeared recently in a few music videos and modeling layouts.


Article found here.

Saturday, December 31, 1994

A Boardwalk Snap

From the Journal of Bison Jack

Thursday, December 2, 1993

Maya & Mike, Coney Island

Photographed by Danny Clinch.
Some of these shots were featured in Tattoo Ink magazine.

Extra special thanks to Maya Ventura !

Wednesday, December 1, 1993

No Age, New York (1993)

No Age, New York is a documentary about NYC underground filmmakers (Alyce Wittenstein, Beth B., Chris Krauss, Nick Zedd and Richard Kern, with additional commentary from Henry Rollins and Lydia Lunch) and their work circa 1978-1992.
It features interviews and film clips and Mike appears in a non-speaking role, undressing and displaying his tattoos.

Co-director Nick Abrahams said in an interview:
"We met Michael Wilson, the tattooed man, at a party with Beth B, and he said he'd like to be in our little film (a lovely, shy man, he died in 1996, at the age of 44)."


-You can watch No Age, New York for free at the LUX website
-Visit the Nick Abrahams Website

Here's a few screen shots of Mike from the film:

Saturday, May 15, 1993

Outlaw Art Show in New York

Mike Wilson took part in this show.
Does anyone have any photographs from the show, were any of you there, do you know what sort of work/s he submitted to the exhibition ?


The picture of the original exhibition invitation +  information from Clayton Patterson's website.

Thursday, December 31, 1992

Film : War Is Menstrual Envy

The film, directed by Nick Zedd was released in 1992.
It consists of short segments, Mike appears in one of those.
The film can be viewed at Ubuweb in its' entity.
It does contain footage that is not suitable for everyone, so for those looking only to see Mike, skip to about 30:00 in the video.

 Here's a short gif animation I made, as a preview :

The link to the film is HERE.

Tuesday, January 1, 1991

Sunday, December 31, 1989

Through Bern Boyle's eyes

Bern Boyle (1951-1992) took these three pictures, but I can't seem to find a precise date.

From what I know, these two are from 1988 :

and this one from 1989 :

They do look like they were taken on the same sitting but who knows?
Great shots.


Photographs from The Body : Visual AIDS Web Gallery

Saturday, December 30, 1989

Photograph by Chris Wroblewski

Photo scanned from a tattoo book that I once borrowed from a teacher.
The caption ran something along the lines of :
Michael Wilson - Coney Island, New York

Friday, December 29, 1989

Mike with Carmel, at Pink Tarantula

Mike photographed with Carmel at her Pink Tarantula salon in San Francisco by Dan Nicoletta

Saturday, October 17, 1987

Bruce Springsteen's Tunnel of Love video

Meiert Avis directed the video and it features a number of sideshow performers, but sadly only in all-too-short flashes.
You can watch the entire video over here.

Thursday, March 19, 1987

Homage to Diane Arbus' portrait of Jack Dracula

March 19, 1987
Photographed by Dan Nicoletta

Jack Dracula, The Marked Man, 1961
Photographed by Diane Arbus

Friday, December 31, 1976

Silver bangles

Circa 1976, San Francisco CA

Photographed by  Dan Nicoletta