In Search of Iceland's First Tattoo Artist Skip to content

In Search of Iceland’s First Tattoo Artist

Who was the first tattoo artist in Iceland? This is the question that Fjölnir Geir Bragason, himself a tattoo artist in Reykjavík, is trying to answer. RÚV reports that about ten years ago, Fjölnir came into possession of a number of items that clearly belonged to an artist who tattooed soldiers stationed in Iceland; Fjölnir is now hoping to finally figure out who this person was. He’s even offering a reward.

“We thought that Helgi Aðalsteinsson—the one and only “Helgi Tattú”—had been the first [tattooist in Iceland], but that’s since turned out to be wrong.” Among the items that Fjölnir obtained via a private estate are vintage tattoo guns and needles, as well as a number of wall signs advertising so-called “flash,” tattoos, i.e. simple, classic tattoo designs that customers can pick off the wall without any previous consultation or appointment.

One of the flash signs has a stamp on the back that reads “Indigo Base Command.” Indigo, Fjölnir has since learned, “…was a code word for Iceland,” he recalled. “This could have been for anywhere, but most likely, they were around Hvalfjörður,” a fjord not far from Reykjavík that was home to a British military base during World War II.

Fjölnir has consulted with Friðþór Eydal, the former archivist for the Iceland Defense Force, about his treasures. “He sent me an article from The White Falcon, which was a paper for servicemen on the base,” Fjölnir explained. The article attempted to talk soldiers out of the idea of getting tattoos, saying that they were tacky and even old-fashioned. But according to Fjölnir, this just goes to show how popular tattoos must have been at the time. “…[T]his guy must have had a lot to do, enough that they were trying to cut back on the number of soldiers getting tattoos.”

The vintage flash signs also seem to indicate that it wasn’t just foreign soldiers who were getting tattoos from the unknown tattooist: prices are listed in both krónur and American dollars. 10 krónur for a piece of flash with a skull and the number 13; $2.25 for a woman’s face in a red heart.

Fjölnir is hoping that it isn’t too late to find someone who still remembers something about the as-yet undocumented origins of tattooing in Iceland. And he has a fitting reward in mind for anyone who can offer any useful information: a piece of flash from the unknown tattooist’s collection, tattooed for free, by Fjölnir himself.

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