By Katherine Brooks
Oh, the tattoo. From an innocuous badge inked ever so carefully on one’s back to a blanket of color flowing from the shoulders to the ankles, the world has proven the tradition of permanently adorning the body with artwork is here to stay. Hidden from sight or paraded in public, designed by professionals or picked and poked by amateurs, humans just can’t get enough of this particular brand of body modification. Take, for example, a Harris poll from 2012, which declared that in the U.S. alone, one in five individuals had chosen to bring needle to flesh. That’s 20% of the adults surveyed, for those bad with fractions.
Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World
MARCH 8 – SEPTEMBER 14, 2014
About the Exhibition
Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World explores the artistry of traditional Japanese tattoos along with its rich history and influence on modern tattoo practices in this groundbreaking photographic exhibition.
As Japanese tattoos have moved into the mainstream, the artistry and legacy of Japanese tattooing remain both enigmatic and misunderstood. Often copied by practitioners and aficionados in the West without regard to its rich history, symbolism, or tradition, the art form is commonly reduced to a visual or exotic caricature. Conversely, mainstream Japanese culture still dismisses the subject itself as underground, associating it more with some of its clientele than with the artists practicing it. Both of these mindsets ignore the vast artistry and rich history of the practice.
Although tattooing is largely seen as an underground activity in Japan, Japanese tattoo artists have pursued their passions, applied their skills, and have risen to become internationally acclaimed artists. Through the endurance and dedication of these tattoo artists, Japanese tattooing has also persevered and is now internationally renowned for its artistry, lineage, historical symbolism, and skill.
Curated by Takahiro Kitamura and photographed and designed by Kip Fulbeck, Perseverance is a groundbreaking exhibition and the first of its kind. Perseverance will explore Japanese tattooing as an art form by acknowledging its roots in ukiyo-e prints. This exhibition will also examine current practices and offshoots of Japanese tattooing in the U.S. and Japan.
Perseverance features the work of seven internationally acclaimed tattoo artists, Horitaka, Horitomo, Chris Horishiki Brand, Miyazo, Shige, Junii, and Yokohama Horiken, along with tattoo works by selected others. Through the display of a variety of photographs, including life-sized pictures of full body tattoos, these artists will cover a broad spectrum of the current world of Japanese tattooing.
Mariko Gordon and Hugh Cosman
UCSB Academic Senate
UCSB Department of Art
The Japan Foundation, Los Angeles
Los Angeles County Arts Commission
Atsuhiko and Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation
By Liz Ohanesian
On Saturday afternoon, four tattoo artists went to work inside Little Tokyo’s Japanese American National Museum for the opening of “Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in the Modern World.” They spent hours taking ink and needles to flesh, adding to the large, detailed illustrations that already marked their client’s bodies. Crowds gathered and dispersed throughout the day, watching with interest.
Most seemed unfazed by the buzz of tattoo machines. Many of the onlookers here have gone through a similar process. Some had tattooed sleeves that crawled out from under t-shirts. Others had art that peeked out above collar lines or below hems.
Instead, it was two of those tattoo artists working in silence at their stations who could provoke a wince from the crowd. They were practicing tebori. That’s the traditional Japanese way of applying tattoos. In other words, they were using equipment that wasn’t motorized. The artists dipped their instruments into ink before poking repeatedly at patches of skin on their clients. One lay on his back, an arm crossed over his eyes. His stomach moved with breaths that grew deeper as the prodding persisted. Another remained still on his stomach. From certain angles, you could catch the tension creases form on his face.
Tebori is an old-fashioned way of tattooing, but it’s not antiquated. Takahiro Kitamura, known as Horitaka in tattoo circles, is the curator of “Perseverance.” He notes that there are still plenty of tebori practitioners at work. Many of them choose to use machines to outline the tattoos, he says, but they’ll still use their hands for shading. It’s more than an adherence to tradition. He notes that some believe working by hand makes for a better, longer-lasting tattoo.
“Perseverance” is an unusual show in that it both documents and celebrates the art of Japanese tattoos, as well as the impact this style of body art has had globally. Tattoos date back to Japan’s ancient history, but flourished during the Edo period. Despite an extensive history, tattoos in Japan aren’t mainstream. In fact, many who have traveled to the country have reported of signs that ban people with tattoos from certain institutions. Even in the U.S., where body art is relatively commonplace, the Japanese style is extreme in comparison to everyday tattoos. These are not your typical daisy on the ankle. Some people invest in full bodysuits. Others may stick with the trunk of the body or limbs.
According to Horitaka, one of the major misconceptions about Japanese tattoos is that they aren’t “fine art.” Tattoos have some similarities with other traditional Japanese art forms that have found homes in museums. Take the names of the artists as an example. A number of the tattoo artists here are known by names that use the prefix “hori.” Horitaka explains that this word means “to dig or carve” and notes that woodblock prints are often signed by artists whose names also begin with “hori.” It is, he says, something that tattoo artists adopted from wood carvers.
In curating this exhibition, Horitaka is challenging the misconceptions about tattoos. Artist and professor Kip Fulbeck photographed numerous human canvases bearing the work of the best artists in the field. Horitaka selected photos that zoomed in on the art, juxtaposing those with full-sized portraits of the people who wear the tattoos. The goal was to explore the diversity within the Japanese tattoo tradition, while making the show as much about the people as it is about the art. It’s a massive collaboration between the curator, the photographer/designer, the tattoo artists and their clients. For the opening day festivities, many of the clients turned up – some traveling to L.A. from Japan – to model work that can take months, even years, to complete.
Shawn McHenry and Chad Sachman, both from Rancho Cucamonga, are both clients of Inland Empire tattoo artist Espi. They were amongst the models at the exhibition’s opening event. McHenry has a full back tattoo. It took about a year to get that done. He also has work on his leg that’s been in progress for two-and-a-half years. His tattoos tell the story of Kintaro, a folklore hero, and his encounter with a large carp. It’s a tale that relates to McHenry’s work. He owns a koi fish shop and got into the business when he was barely an adult. “If you’re foolish and blind and just want to do it,” he says of the story’s message, “you can succeed.”
Horitaka says that tattoos almost always tell a story. Those may be based in folklore, religion or history. You’ll see narratives unfold down the back, below the buttocks and onto the upper thighs. They might scroll down arms or across the chest.
As Japanese tattoos have increased in popularity, the stories they tell have changed as well. “We’re in a world of fusion now,” says Kitamura. Time-honored tales aren’t the only ones told on skin. Chris “Horishiki” Brand is an artist at Good Time Charlie’s in Anaheim. He’s also part of the L.A.-based art collective UGLAR. For this exhibition, he presented 108 Heroes of Los Angeles. It’s a retelling of Shui Hu Zhuan, a Chinese novel that later made its way to Japan, where it’s known as Suikoden. In this series of tattoos, Brand merges Japanese and Chicano art in a story of rebellion. Photos of the tattoo piece are exhibited in the museum.
Undoubtedly, with narrative-based pieces as involved as these, getting a Japanese-style tattoo requires a serious commitment. Shawn McHenry once went through three days in a row of tattoo sessions, with each one clocking in at about 12 hours. “It got to the point where we would have to stop because of the smell of flesh,” he says.
He says that there is an endorphin rush that comes with being tattooed. That, however, can wear off when you’re in the lengthy sessions that occur with large pieces. He says that, at a certain point, the pain stays in a specific part of the body. It doesn’t move with the needle. Chad Sachman agrees with that sentiment. Last week, he had work done on his lower back, over the spine. “I was actually feeling the pain in my knee,” he says.
As for the artists, their work requires constant study. Horitaka, who owns a tattoo shop in San Jose, spent several years as an apprentice in the U.S. and another decade studying under a Japanese tattoo master. Although he works solo now, he’s not done learning. He says, “I think I’m always going to be a student of the Japanese tattoo.”
Photos and interview by Ino Mei
Alex “Kofuu” Reinke Horikitsune, the only apprentice of Horiyoshi III apart from his son Souryou Kazuyoshi and part of Horiyoshi III family, spoke exclusively to HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine about the path in tattooing, the “Shu Ha Ri” learning system, the highly importance of the design and the “limits” of tradition.
How were you first introduced to tattoo?
When I was twelve years old I started Martial Arts. As a kid, from a really young age I was constantly drawing. So when the Martial Arts came into the picture, I started drawing Asian themes and especially Japanese; like dragons and all sorts of stuff. When I was fourteen, we were on a trip with my family to San Francisco and by chance I walked into “Tattoo City” which is Ed Hardy’s tattoo shop. Of course I had absolutely no idea about it. I bought Ed Hardy’s yellow “Tattoo Time” and Sandi Fellman’s “Japanese Tattoo” book and then I was drawing out of those books all the time. I was crazy for them. At that age, I had many older friends and when we returned to Germany after San Francisco, they asked me to design some tattoos for them because they liked my drawings and they couldn’t draw themselves. So I drew some designs for them and they went and got them tattooed.
I kept drawing and drawing tattoos until I finished high-school and went for my A – levels. At that time I started tattooing. It was 1995 and I was twenty-one. I bought a starter kit and I began teaching myself; I am self-taught. Pretty hideous, but what can you do? Then I went straight to the army, where I was also tattooing. Afterwards I met Horiyoshi III in Bologna at a convention in 1997. A few months later, in 1998, I went to Japan to start my body-suit. There I saw and realized that I could make a decent living from tattooing. Back then things were different and therefore I took a huge risk; in many people’s eyes it seemed “crazy” that I became a tattooist. It was socially “unacceptable” and perceived as “a step down” from my family; although they offered me the freedom to decide what I wanted to become. My dad is a surgeon and told me “you have to decide yourself about what you want to do for a living. When I am dead, you’ll still have your job and I don’t want to be responsible for you not being happy with your job”. He knew I was into tattooing, but he thought that tattoo was a phase. Like all kids go through phases. But this one stuck (laughs)!
What happened when you went to Japan to get tattooed by Horiyoshi III?
I was totally into Japan, as I’ve previously mentioned, since I was a kid. I was also used to serving from being in the army; therefore I believe that the combination of those two resulted in me knowing my way around Japan quite well and I think that Horiyoshi III was taken by it, and we got along very well. At the end of 1998 Horiyoshi III came to Germany for the Berlin Tattoo Convention; he wrote me a letter asking to whether we could meet there and I took some time off in order to meet him. All of a sudden, I was the “organizer” for everything, because I could communicate with Horiyoshi III. It turned out really great. We had a great time together and we became friends.
How did your friendship “evolve” from this point onwards?
In the beginning of 1999 I went back to Japan to get tattooed again. I asked Horiyoshi III if he had a student, and he was like “no I don’t take any students”. Then, there was the Tokyo Tattoo Convention towards at the end of the same year and he said “you have to come again to Japan”. That is when I met the old-timers and many of the friends I have today like Lucky Bastard (Horiko), Mick from Zurich, Filip Leu, Luke Atkinson, Chris Garver, Marcus Paecheco; all super-great guys. It was a really important convention for all of us.
A couple of months after the convention, Horiyoshi III came to Germany again and I joined him on a trip to London to buy antiques. And Horiyoshi III asked me there, in London, in a black cab on the way to some antique shop, if I was still interested in being part of the Horiyoshi Family…
To read the full article, visit: http://heartbeatink.gr/en/columns-features/artists-studios-columns-features/horikitsune/#!prettyPhoto/0/
By Carroll Gardens
The brownstone-lined streets of Carroll Gardens may not seem like much of a tourist destination. But brand Brooklyn is ascendant these days, and foreigners come to idle at farm-to-table restaurants and browse in fanciful boutiques.And farther south, where affluence gives way to aluminum siding and Smith Street dead-ends under the din of the Gowanus Expressway, visitors come for a more permanent souvenir: authentic Brooklyn ink.
On a recent Thursday, Yossy Yoshino, 35, a tattoo artist from Japan, lay face down on a massage table at Smith Street Tattoo Parlour while Dan Santoro, 31, inscribed a pig in a bikini on his back (“three tops, one for each set of teats,” Mr. Santoro explained). The words “Weird World” floated above the pig’s head.
Mr. Yoshino, a teardrop tattoo dripping from his eye, said he had traveled thousands of miles from his home in Okinawa to get a “New York tattoo.”
Just what makes a New York tattoo can be a bit difficult to pin down. The shop’s owner, Bert Krak, 35, described the parlor’s style as traditional American, with a bit of Japanese thrown in.
Check out the IREZUMI art show at Space 15 Twenty in Hollywood, CA. The show is up until October 20th.
IREZUMI is a group art show featuring original Japanese Tattoo art works from around the world. Artists include: HORIYOSHI 3, BOB ROBERTS, HIROSHI HIRAKAWA, MUTSUO NAKABAYASHI, GANJI, NAMI CHANG, MIKE ROPER, MIYAZO, BRIAN KANEKO, SMALL PAUL & more!
The seventh in a series of films chronicling the travels of the gypsy gentleman. A travel documentary profiling the world’s greatest tattooers and the world’s most fascinating places. www.gypsygentleman.com live now!!
15th Street Studio in Boulder, Colorado is hosting an art show by Joel D Long on Friday, July 26th 6-9pm. The art is Asian inspired scrolls. If you’re in the area, stop by and check out the show!
By Crystal Morey
Horibenny is one of my favorite monsters. Odder than bacon with legs, he oozes with creative zealotry and possesses an indiscriminate passion for life that is contagious. Benny is one of the first round-eyes to be given and to complete a formal tattoo apprenticeship here in Japan, and by this I mean, he cooked, fetched and lived for his sempai for over four years… A far cry from the ‘two week a year drop in to study and pay money’ apprenticeship awarded to many gaijin deshi these days.
Benny is an accomplished painter, his tattoo work is delicate yet powerful, it often embodies the Japanese tenet that less is more, and his earnest demeanor only lends to his accomplishments as an artists. Ever the student, Ben works his ass of on a daily basis to learn more and push himself further and I’ve had the pleasure of watching him make significant artistic advancements over the past few years. He is not unlike one of those wind-up toys you point and they take off pointedly in one direction… only Ben’s nose is pointed at the moon and with his passion it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he got there… (Click here to read Part I)