Curators have selected 10 contemporary artists to highlight in our upcoming exhibition Tattoo Honolulu. One of them is the highly sought after Mike Ledger, who has a two-year waiting list. He came to the museum this morning to be photographed by our staff photographer Shuzo Uemoto.

Ledger is a gregarious New Yorker (Brooklyn born!)—with Italian and Blackfoot blood running through his veins—and has made Honolulu his home since 2000. As I escorted him to the photo studio, he divulged that two weeks ago he started his first tattoo in 10 years—a pe‘a by Aisea Toetuu. Once in the studio, he showed me and Shuzo the pe‘a—on his lower back, blending seamlessly with a giant skull he had done by Filip Lue in Lausanne. Ledger was a sort of tattoo wunderkind—he started tattooing at the age of 15, and by the time he was 18, he already had bookings a year in advance. In the 1990s, “a handful of us were taking the Japanese tattoo tradition, but putting a twist on it—less background, bigger subject matter,” said Ledger. Then in 1996, he was one of 20 foreign artists invited to the first tattoo convention in Japan.

What do tattoos signify to Ledger? “For an artist, it is first a way to learn. As a person, tattoos are memories of your life,” said Ledger. The act of getting a tattoo is “how you truly learn,” he explained. “You seek an artist that you love, and get tattooed by that person. Then each one you remember—where you were, who did it—it’s a life story. So when I’m old, I can look back at my life through my tattoos.”