In Memoriam: Bill Salmon
February 22, 2019
Words by Nick Schonberger and Stephanie Tamez
Source: the private collection of Stephanie Tamez (@stephanietamez)
Bill Salmon passed away on January 18, 2019. He was 68.
Born in Troy, New York, Salmon moved to San Francisco in his twenties and took up tattooing within the vibrant milieu led by Don Ed Hardy. In 1991, Salmon opened his own private studio, The Diamond Club, which together with his wife and studio co-owner, Junii, was made fully public in 2004. It still occupies the same space on Van Ness Avenue.
As the shop motto suggests, Salmon aimed to provide “folk art tattoos by tattooed folk.” The line, simple in its essence, underscores Salmon’s belief in the power of tattooing and the camaraderie it can create. He was concerned with the wellbeing of the art, and he was mentor to many — including Filip and Tintine Leu, and Lal Hardy — who held similar beliefs, setting in motion the cultural shift in tattooing that has inspired TTTism.
Salmon’s relationship with the Leus also connected him to Stephanie Tamez, owner of Brooklyn’s “Saved Tattoo.” Here, Tamez shares her memories of Salmon:
When I met Bill, I had only just started tattooing. I was underground, working out of my house, and had been helped by Filip and Titine, both of whom I’d known before deciding to tattoo, who helped me in all their kindness.
The two of them would sometimes stay at my house when they were in San Francisco, but they always worked at Diamond Club. I myself was inexperienced, very shy of going into established shops. Yet I was going to Bill and Junii’s house with Filip and Titine when they would be in town. We got stoned and hung out. I saw the artwork and was amazed at what these people were doing and this crazy alternative life that I had never experienced or seen. I come from Texas, I come from a country kind of mentality and I was living in San Francisco and that was already mind blowing for me politically, sexuality-wise and everything. But then I met this group of really crazy hippy artists and I thought, “they are living the dream.”
There was an opportunity to work with Bill, and Filip threw my name into the hat. I was already in my 30s and at the time when I started working there I was still freelancing because that was how I was supporting myself — I didn’t have a big tattoo following.
Bill was really against me doing that, and he said, “tattooing is not a part time thing. This is your life, this is a way of life.” I was still under the guise of “hey, I have to survive.” But it was Bill that instilled in me that to do this, I had to take a leap of faith. It wasn’t easy, and he and I did have conflict about it, but in the end it was his message that eventually landed. I understood that once I gave my full attention, tattooing would provide art, joy, friendship, travel, and more. His wisdom is what allowed tattooing to become my life.
Bill and Junii were pioneers. They were into tattooing when it was underground and they were really metamorphosing their bodies into real works of art. They were really living it, and they made me realize that this is a community: these are people I relate to and people I can relate to, and we are all just trying to make art and be our authentic selves in the process. They made me realize what a rad job we have.
I find myself sharing those lessons to other young tattooers who come talk to me. I’m now saying things like “just keep plugging away and give it all your heart and it will resonate with your clients and it will resonate with your life.”