Interview by Nicki Kasper
Nicki Kasper: Do you explore other mediums, like paint? If so, how do you approach that? Do you market and sell them?
Horiken: Yes, I like to paint very much. I usually paint with acrylics on paper. I like wooden panels as well. I do try to do different things from my tattooing, I may use the same motifs, but I lay paintings out differently. And, I guess I use different shading and coloring techniques; some that may not work in a tattoo. And… yeah, I do sell paintings, I don’t really make a huge effort to sell them, but if someone wants one, I do sell them. When I was in art school, I studied art history. I am trying to study this more and I have the thought that maybe I can paint and draw, a bit separate from tattooing and make something new…
NK: Tell me about tebori, how is it different from machine work?
HK: I learned tebori from studying with Horiyoshi III. Up till then it was all machine. I figured that if I wanted to do traditional tattooing it was an inseparable part of it. It was very difficult at first. Like with hon-bokashi (solid black shading) I think tebori comes out looking much cleaner. It has more depth. I think the look of tebori has a strength to it. And there is a roughness to it. I guess a machine is better for precision and “neat” tattooing but I think tebori has more soul and flavor to it. The pain is different depending on where you get it- some places hurt more by machine, some places hurt more with tebori. I do think color looks better with tebori, like I said, more depth. When I do tebori, I always use sumi for black. Ink just looks different and I guess using sumi just fits in with the tebori tradition.
NK: Do you feel a responsibility to upholding the tradition?
HK: I do not think I am there yet. I still have much to study.
NK: What makes the traditional Japanese tattoo a traditional Japanese tattoo?
HK: There are a lot of things, like for example; you can’t put too much shadow. This is very difficult to explain. You have to bring out dimension with the lines, much like woodblock prints. If you look at Hokusai, he brings out dimension with the kimono patterns. Also the stories, meanings and seasons are important. You have to take into account the era of the story as well. This is very difficult to convey, but this is something I learned from Horitomo: the meanings and accuracy are important. Also the connection of the motifs… Consistency. And you really have to be careful with the addition of shading, as Horitomo says: you should only shade where it is necessary- not where dimension would dictate and also in most cases you do NOT put shading on faces- this alone makes it non-Japanese.
NK: Do you tattoo different motifs based on the personality of the client?
HK: I don’t think so, not for me. Sometimes for me my ideas are different for men and women as well. Also, I think differently if someone has tattoos already or if they are just beginning to get tattooed.
NK: What is the best reference for traditional Japanese tattooing?
HK: There are lots of things to look at, Hokusai, Kuniyoshi, Yoshitoshi but also Yamaguchi Shokichiro and Ito Hikozo. I like people from the Meiji Koki era (end of the Meiji era), it’s a little modern but it is right when Japanese art was changing with outside influences. People were paying attention to European art so even the skilled Japanese artists weren’t recognized. Even Kyosai, he has only become really popular recently. There are still many artists like that who are still unknown.
Horiken can be found at State of Grace Tattoo in San Francisco, CA.