“His role model was P.T. Barnum,” Ms. Sprinkle, who for several years let him use her New York apartment to give illegal tattoos, said in a phone interview. “He loved to put on a show. He was definitely a provocateur.”
Although Spider did not win the court battle, he and others ultimately won the war. In 1997 the city dropped its ban, which by then was being widely flouted anyway. (Police officers were said to be some of the best customers of the illegal tattoo parlors.) And Spider, who had maintained a parlor in Mount Vernon, N.Y., just outside the city limits, and later in Woodstock, N.Y., and Connecticut, had tattooed thousands of people, as well as published influential books, including “Pushing Ink: The Fine Art of Tattooing,” in 1979.
In 2017, when the New-York Historical Society mounted an exhibition called “Tattooed New York,” it took note of his role. Spider, it said in accompanying text, had “brought modern tattooing into art galleries and auction houses, combining tattooing with conceptual art in works such as ‘X-1000,’ in which he inked a small X on 1,000 people, and then 1,000 Xs on one person.”
Ms. Sprinkle said that Spider had often been the life of the party at her “Sprinkle Salon” gatherings, and that he had worn many other hats, including frontman for a band called the Electric Crutch, in which he wielded a guitar made out of a crutch.
“He couldn’t really play the guitar,” she said, “but it made some sounds.” She was often one of the band’s backup dancers, the Webbolettes.