Almost three years ago, we posted an artist spotlight on Russia-born tattooer George Bardadim at the time when he was doing his very first guest spot in the US at Tattoo Culture in Brooklyn. Today, George has made NYC his home, working as a guest artist at Tattoo Culture, along with residents Gene Coffey and Brian Wren, and also tattooing in Pennsylvania at Sink the Ink in Doylestown. A great reason to toast with some vodka!
What I particularly love about George's portfolio is the incredible versatility he has in rocking a hyper-realistic black & grey piece one day and then creating a vibrant and harmonious Japanese-inspired work the next. It's not easy to find an artist who truly excels in so many different tattoo genres.
I just saw on the Tattoo Culture Facebook page that George is now taking new consultations, so this post isn't just a tease for an artist whose work you can't get for another few years.
See more of George's tattoos on his site, Facebook, and Instagram.
Today, we have fascinating guest blog post from Pamela Shaw, who shares her experience receiving traditional Japanese hand-tattooing -- tebori -- from renowned artist Shinji Horizakura. Here is Pamela's story in her own words:
By Pamela Shaw
Being very green to the tattoo world, having only one other tattoo, it seemed to me that getting this tattoo was a mix of a boon and not quite deserved; though I feel that way about my first tattoo experience, and expect to feel that way with each of the artists whose work I have the pleasure and honor to have on my body. Still, Shinji Horizakura's work had been in that category of "one day maybe I'll get lucky enough to have work from him." This "one day" thought slowly turned into a lust of sorts.
I became more and more enthralled with tebori after reading the Munewari Minutes blog, the plethora of information and photos generously posted by tattoo artists and collectors online, and Takahiro Kitamura's "Tattoos of the Floating World: Ukiyo-e Motifs in the Japanese Tattoo" book, to name but a few sources. I love the dedication to maintaining tradition, the influence from all forms of art (literature, mythology, theatre, fine art, music, religious iconography) and keeping things handmade in this ever machine and technologically influenced world. At this rate, how could I not not get a tattoo from Shinji Horizakura? I adore his bold use of color, there is such solidity and strength within the aesthetic.
Knowing full well that I most likely was not going to get a tattoo from Shinji Horizakura any time soon, I called NY Adorned to put my name on his list. Shortly thereafter, I found myself happily, surprisingly, feeling like I won the lottery: making a consultation appointment. I cannot find any other rational explanation given the "bird with plant
matter/branch/flower on my left thigh" subject matter description and Horizakura's long wait-list as to how this happened. From what I imagine, this is not what Shinji usually does with his time, though I could be wrong since I picture him working tirelessly on much larger tattoos, day in and day out. I feel very lucky and grateful to Shinji, the folks at NY Adorned, and to the tattoo gods who have been smiling on me for giving me this opportunity.
I asked Shinji for a dark-eyed Oregon junco, a bird I first saw in Northern California on a trip with my herbalist school program and a bird I have seen since here in New York with slightly different coloring. On the day of our consultation, I had a few color photos of the bird in question, and a couple of other examples of art prints with
birds as well. We discussed placement, and plant material. I had my heart set on a pine branch, but Shinji advised against it and said that he'd come up with something else. I got a rough marker sketch on my leg, and booked my appointments.
When the first appointment finally rolled around, he had a beautiful stencil drawn for me. The peony was a lovely surprise, and I have to say, it is gorgeous. After giving the okay, we got our first session started. I loathe having line-work done, and that last half hour of tebori felt like bliss by comparison. I also am a rather huge wimp, and take an herbal tincture to get myself through measly two-hour sessions on my thigh so I could be relaxed and not twitchy and tensed up. During my last session, I almost fell asleep; though that could have been the herbs talking.
Tebori is obviously quieter than the machine, and to me, it is less jarring and painful -- dare I say, enjoyable. Now, my long-term tattoo plans are being reconsidered, so as to incorporate more of Shinji's fine tattooing.
I absolutely love my junco and peony and cannot thank Horizakura-san enough. Every time I look at this tattoo, I am reminded that I am indeed a lucky woman!
Tattoos on the Instagram square: the woman is tattooed by Horikiku, and the man by Yebis. In the full portrait, tattoos are by Shige, Yellowblaze. All photos by Kip Fulbeck.
"Perseverance - The Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World" is a photographic exhibition by Kip Fulbeck, which explores the artistry and master craftsmanship of traditional Japanese tattooing. The exhibit, curated by Takahiro Kitamura, will showcase works of over 30 of the world's leading contemporary tattoo artists. It will be on view from March 8 to September 14, 2014 at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in Los Angeles, and will include a number of special events.
I asked Takahiro (Taki) about his experience curating "Perseverance" and his goals for the show. Here's what he said:
This is my first time curating an exhibit at a national museum, and with all the talented artists around, the selection of artists was very difficult. I had decided that I wanted to focus more on younger artists, even some that people may not be as familiar with, in order to show what the current generation is doing and how Japanese tattooing has both evolved and stayed the same. I am excited to show such a variety of regional styles from Yokohama to Tokyo to Osaka (of course!) to LA! There are magical things happening in the world of tattoo and I hope to exhibit some of the best modern Japanese tattoo work. Thankfully, Kip Fulbeck, the exhibition designer, has had amazing ideas on presentation - what would an art exhibit be without great presentation?Read more on the museum's exhibit page and on the Perseverance Facebook page.
Tattoo above by Horitomo.
In November, we posted on Manami Okazaki's Wall Street Journal article entitled Japanese Tattoos: From Yakuza to Artisans, Aesthetes, in which she explored how traditional Japanese bodysuit tattoos -- wabori -- were losing favor among Japan's criminal underworld, the Yakuza, and gaining popularity among young people who are interested in them on an artistic level. You can read Manami's full WSJ article here.Horikazu, photo by Michael Rubenstein.
The article, however, was just a peak into the tradition, artistry, mythology, and magic of Japanese tattooing. For a more in-depth exploration of the art and culture, Manami has published, through Kingyo Books, "Wabori, Traditional Japanese Tattoo" -- a gorgeous 256-page coffee table book, that is not only beautiful to look at, but also provides insightful context in which to view the works. That context is an extensive and exceptional collection of oral histories and interviews with Japanese tattoo artists, compiled in English over a 6-year period.
As noted in the foreword, the goal of these oral histories was not only to showcase the artwork, but also offer the reader a glimpse into the psychology of the artists as well as their personalities. Manami achieves this goal in her discussions with masters who include Horiyoshi III, Horihide, Horitoku, Tokai Horihiro, Horiyasu, Horimitsu, Horinami, Horicho II, Nakamura, Horitoshi, Horihisa, Horihito, Horimasa, Horikazuwaka, Horitsuna, and Horiren. Manami also interviewed Motoharu Asaka, master artisan of woodblock prints, and Shoko Tendo, author of Yakuza Moon, a memoir on life as the daughter of a Yakuza boss.
Horihito, photo by Irwin Wong.
The oral histories are particularly engaging as they paint very vivid pictures of the artists' experiences in this underground art. For example, in his interview, Horiyoshi III muses on first time he saw a tattoo, as a child, at a public bath. He also talks about the meanings and rules in tattooing, working with the Yakuza, and how it was luck that brought him his 10-year apprenticeship under Horiyoshi I. He says, "90 percent of life is timing and luck, and people with bad timing and bad luck are basically fucked." Accompanying that Q & A are wonderful photos of Horiyoshi I, II and III, as well as Horiyoshi III's work from the seventies through today.
For stories harkening to the early relationships formed between Japanese and American tattooers, Horihide's interview is a must-read. Horihide shares stories on how he was "astonished" when he first witnessed tattoos with color on American servicemen in Japan; he learned that they had been tattooed by Sailor Jerry, and so he began corresponding with Jerry in English for 4 years. They later met, exchanging American color inks for Japanese tattoo motifs. There's also a great photo of Horihide tattooing Sailor Jerry in Hawaii.
Moreover, Manami does an excellent job of offering a history lesson on Japanese tattooing in her introduction. She also highlights stunning images, from various photographers, of the Matsuri festivals -- one of the rare occasions when people with traditional Japanese tattoos can be seen in their full glory.
In all, Wabori is a wonderfully curated collection of art and stories, offering unique insight into traditional Japanese tattooing and also inspiration for further masterful works.
You can purchase Wabori on the Kingyo website as well as Amazon.com.
Horimitsu, photo by Irwin Wong.
Today's Wall Street Journal Asia features an article by Manami Okazaki entitled Japanese Tattoos: From Yakuza to Artisans, Aesthetes. It's an interesting read, particularly for its focus on traditional Japanese bodysuit tattoos -- Wabori -- and how their popularity has increased among young people who are interested in them on an artistic level, and how they are losing favor among the Japan's criminal underworld, the Yakuza, for whom Wabori was an integral part of their culture.
As Manami writes:
[...] Tattoos are on the decline among yakuza. Master tattooists including Horihiro and Horinami attribute the decline to the economic downturn, while others point to arrests and authorities clamping down on organized crime. Some also suggest yakuza today want to be less conspicuous, whereas in the past, tattoos were a means of distinguishing themselves from the rest of society.
Manami does point out in the article that, despite tattooing's popularity beyond the Yakuza,"the country is as strict as ever when it comes to accepting them as part of mainstream society." She also notes that this strict regard of the art form may have to change as the country will welcome visitors (including those who are tattooed) for the 2020 Olympics. [We noted this in our post on a Maori woman banned from a bathhouse for her Moko.]
Onna yu ("Bathhouse Women") by Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815) via Wikipedia.
Last week, a bunch of new outlets worldwide picked up the story that a bathhouse in Hokkaido, Japan refused entry to a Maori woman because of her Moko. As MaoriTelevsion.com notes, the woman, Erana Te Haeata Brewerton, was in Japan to attend an indigenous language conference, "staying with a group of Ainu people indigenous to Japan whose ancestors wore tattoos similar to the traditional chin tattoo."
The tattoo bans at bathhouses throughout Japan are nothing new and not really news to many in our community -- it's almost become a joke to pack a long-sleeved wetsuit when traveling to the country if you want to take a soak. The bans are based on the association of tattoos with the Yakuza crime syndicates, and designed to keep the bad guys out. Indeed, Yakuza are heavily tattooed (and often beautifully so). But so are a lot of people who aren't in the Japanese mafia.
The reason this incident is getting media traction is because Japan was just awarded the right to host the 2020 Olympics, which means a lot more tourists, including the tattooed. At the press conference for the Olympics announcement, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stated that "it is important to respect the cultures of foreign countries, considering we will host the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and expect many visitors ... to come to Japan."
Perhaps, we won't have to pack our wetsuits after all.
Editor's note: As I'm away on vacation now, we have the wonderful tattoo historian Anna Felicity Friedman back to guest blog. Her post has some invaluable info on important texts that you want to seek out for your own tattoo education.
RIP Donald Richie
By Anna Felicity Friedman
The news of Donald Richie's death on February 19 prompted me to dig out my copies of his works on Japanese tattooing and brought back a flood of memories of being a budding tattoo scholar back in the early 1990s, when library catalogs consisted of index cards organized in tiny drawers and the only real way to find out about then-obscure works on tattoo history and culture was via word of mouth (Ed Hardy, who was incredibly generous and supportive of my early tattoo history efforts, tipped me off to Richie's work as well as others').
It occurred to me that Needles and Sins readers might enjoy a round-up of some of these earlier works on Japanese tattooing--all but one of which are out of print today. You can find them in certain libraries (and a few via interlibrary loan), for purchase (albeit in limited quantities and often for a considerable price tag), or, in one case, online.
Sandi Fellman, The Japanese Tattoo (New York : Abbeville, 1986, 1987): In 1990, when I found a copy--on clearance--at the RISD bookstore of Fellman's incredible coffee-table book of photography of Japanese tattoos, I had just started getting tattooed and knew I would be sleeved (or more) someday. But these photos astounded me and still fuel tattoo desires today. The sleeve I commissioned in 1993 when I was just 21 years old was directly inspired by the images in this book. A photograph of a shishi tattoo by Horikin on his wife lingered in my memory until I had it inscribed in 2000 on one side of my torso--ten years of image persistence speaks volumes, I think, as to the power of the photographs in this book (as does how wrinkled and worn my copy is from incessantly paging through it). When I looked to find out how rare this book might be today, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the second edition is still in print! And for a very reasonable price (it's even Amazon prime eligible). So go buy it!
W. R. van Gulik, Irezumi: The Pattern of Dermatography in Japan (Leiden: Brill, 1982): Another of the books that Ed Hardy recommended to me in 1992, van Gulik's book impressed me with its incredible level of scholarship--it was perhaps the first volume I had read that made me realize tattoo history could be a serious academic pursuit, complete with nerdy footnotes and scouring of archives. Van Gulik's book introduced me to the phenomenally striking Ainu tattooing as well as the concept of a prehistoric tattoo history that might be recovered from incised figurines. I have absolutely no idea where the School of the Art Institute librarians found a copy of this for me to borrow via Interlibrary loan, given that the book was, and still is, fairly rare (with fewer than 100 copies listed in Worldcat today). I was excited to discover recently that the book is now available via Google Books!
Donald Richie and Ian Buruma, The Japanese Tattoo (New York: Weatherhill, 1980, 1982, 1989, 1991, 1995, 1996): This collaboration between Richie and Buruma features some incredible photographs of older Japanese tattoos, when the style was what I would call more of a folk-art and less of a fine-art aesthetic--not as polished, rougher, more raw. It also has some phenomenal photos of tattoos in progress and amazing candids. The foreword is by Horibun II who offered Richie and Buruma what appears to be then-unprecedented access to his studio and process. For those of you who read Japanese, the bibliography gives an impressive listing of earlier texts about Japanese tattooing to track down. The later 1989-1996 paperback reprints can be found secondhand fairly easily (and for a not-too-terrible price) via Amazon and Abebooks. But the hardcover version is worth seeking out for those of you with the funds to add it to your book collection (it also features a much more compelling cover design than the paperback).
In a city teeming with many of the world's stellar tattooists, David Sena has consistently stood out as one of NYC's finest for his exceptionally strong and vivid Japanese tattoos as well as bold and beautiful blackwork -- some of the best in the US.
I met David over a decade ago at a tattoo convention in New Jersey. Actually, I first met his client with a blackwork aquatic-themed bodysuit, whom I accosted to find out who did the work. He then took me to David, who seemed a bit confused by this short redhead spewing all kinds of questions at him in the usual hyper state I'm in when I excited by exceptional tattoos. Thankfully, I didn't scare him off and we became friends.
As his friend, I've gotten a front row seat to watch the transformation of his large-scale tattoo projects as well as his fire art; however, David describes his work best:
My fine artwork is created with a technique of drawing by burning marks on paper with fireworks and other volatile materials. These techniques are rooted in one of humankind's earliest technologies: fire, and as such they speak to something elemental in the human condition. Inspired by cosmology and the interconnection between terrestrial and celestial fires, my drawings become a record of their creation, a map pointing to the reason for human existence, or rather the outer limits, the infinite, the space not yet grasped. These two means of creating - tattooing and burning-- have a unique synergy, as they both entail physical and ritualistic processes of mark-making while transforming matter/people.David now has a new space to create his tattoos and fine art: Senaspace in NYC's Little Italy. And he's inviting all of you to its grand opening on 12.12.12, from 6-10pm (afterparty to follow). At the opening, there will be an exhibition of his latest works and live fire drawing demo.
David says of the space: "This gallery and tattoo studio is a reflection of my lifelong interest in diverse modes of artistic expression, and my conviction that art is not a luxury but a sublime human need. I hope this space speaks to you on an aesthetic, visceral, and personal level."
I've already visited the studio and it's a gorgeous space. He plans to regularly feature expositions, projects and guest spots by local and international artists in all mediums. So you'll be hearing more from David here.
SENASPACE, 229 Centre St. NY NY 10013, 212-966-5151, senaspace.com
Dana Helmuth makes beautiful Japanese tattooing that follows the long standing traditions of the art form -- more conservatively than the modern genre mash-ups -- but still with its own distinctiveness. They are just as striking from a distance as they are up-close, and they are built to look good to the grave.
How Dana has come to achieve these qualities in his work is no secret: homework, hard work, and a love for tattooing. You'll hear many great artists say the same thing. But for a more in-depth understanding into his approach -- and to get an up-close look at how he works -- check out the live tattoo webcast on TattooNow TV, next Sunday, November 4th. Dana will be doing an interview as well; for a preview on that talk, you can read this Q&A with the artist TattooNow.com.
You'll also get to see another side of Dana on November 8th -- as a musician. He'll be playing live next Thursday. To get a taste of his music and tattooing, here's a video below (put to Dan's own music) in which he does a custom black and grey dragon backpiece in one day.
While at the Paradise Tattoo Gathering, I ran into my friend and tattooist Andre Malcolm. It had been a while since we last saw each other as Dre had moved from NY out to California with his family in 2010, and over the past year he's been busy working as part of the esteemed Analog Tattoo crew in San Jose.
Watching him tattoo at the show, I was reminded how dynamic, bold work can also embody an elegance and a cool. Strength comes from the subtleties as well as the more intense elements. Dre's got that balance and flow down. He's been tattooing for twelve years and knows what he's doing. I asked him for a quick and dirty Q&A and here's how it went down:
How do you approach projects -- esp large scale work -- and create something that is customized to the client?
There's a lot of studying of the body, so I sketch on the main subject matter then I take a tracing of the body.
What references do you generally look to?
I look at a lot of nature, rocks, water, trees, flowers if need be. Japanese prints and paintings. I watch a lot of anime.
What has been the greatest lesson you've learned in your years tattooing?
Any conventions/guest spots coming up?
Whenever I'm in NYC, I guest spot at Saved Tattoo. In 2013, I'm planning to guest at RedLetter1-- I've been telling Phil [Holt] that for the last few years so that's going to happen real soon. Also at Artwork Rebels, and Bolder Ink -- Joel Long's shop. And I've been promising Brad Fink [Iron Age, Fun City and Daredevil] too, so I'm trying to work that schedule out having a family and all.
What's the best way to make an appointment with you?
The best way to get in contact with me is to email me at andretattoos [at] gmail.com or call Analog tattoo 408-292-7766. It really isn't that hard to get in contact with me.
Ok, Shout out time ... Go!
Med, Ces, Yes2 at Tuff City tattoos BX NYC. José Soto, Eddie, Anderson Luna, Adrian Lee, Ron Earhart, Matt Shamah, Jim Miner, ATAK, Troy Denning, RG, Kiku, Marco Serio, Damian Rodriguez, Chis O'Donnell, Scott Campbell and everyone at Saved Tattoo. Michelle Myles, Brad Fink, Big Steve, Mina, Claire -- good folks at Daredevil Tattoo. Yoni Z, Brad Stevens, Horizakura, Kaz. Grimey for hooking me up with a book I lost moving out to the West with the family -- it really meant allot, thank you -- and all the guys at Skull & Sword. Jason Phillips and Sean Pertkinson at FTW Oakland, Phillip Millic at Old Crow in Oakland, Trevor Mcstay and everyone at Dynamic Tattoo in Australia -- super nice shop, super nice family, thank you for treating me so nice, can't wait to guest there again. Geordie Cole at Tattoo Magic in Australia, Owen Williams, Evan Griffith at Tama Tattoo in Australia. William Yoneyama also in Australia -- awesome people, good time. And everyone that has let me work on them: I give you thanks for the trust. If I've left anyone out, I'm sorry. Peace out.
Check more of Andre's work on the Analog site.
I'm excited to be working on the second volume of "Black Tattoo Art," finding artists around the world doing bold, black and badass work. One such artist Laszlo Kis of Windhorse Tattoo in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
What's particularly exciting about Laszlo, or Laci's, portfolio is how he can seamlessly move from heavy, tribal infused pieces to electric Americana to buttery black & grey to Japanese iconography. His artistic diversity is ever-present in his new book documenting his life in tattooing: "Windhorsetattoos by Kis Laszlo" available on Blurb.
Originally from Monor, a Hungarian city near Budapest, Laci began tattooing at sixteen years old in his hometown. He traveled throughout Hungary, working in Budapest, Balatonfured, and Sopron before moving to Sao Paulo, where Misi Karai, a long time friend from Hungary, invited him to work at his studio, Misi Tattoo. After three years, they decided to open up a new studio called Tattoo Tradition, where Kis worked for over five years until going out on his own in early 2010 and establishing Windhorse Tattoo.
When asked why he's chosen not to concentrate on one particular tattoo genre, Laci says he feels it is important not to limit himself to one style in order to fulfill the wishes of different clients: "I believe that, for some strange reason, people know what they will have on the body -- as if the tattoo has been there all along even before they enter the studio. Therefore, I cannot ignore their request, but must work with it."
I was hoping that he'll make a trip to the US soon, but with two young children, he's staying in Brazil for a while. Time to start planning a South America tattoo vacation.
See more of Laci's work on his blog and website.
Yesterday, the LA Times published "Horihide still practices the dying art of hand tattoo" -- Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore's article on the Japanese tebori master Oguri Kazuo aka Horihide. It's a fantastic read and one that I wish was ten times longer to get a greater sense of the rich tradition this master carries forth as he continues to tattoo at age 79.
The article follows a Japanese-born American software manager, Motoyama Tetsuro, as he goes to Gifu, Japan to finish a tattoo that began decades ago. Here's a taste:
With old masters passing away and young apprentices lacking the patience to learn the painstaking craft of tebori (hand tattooing), many followers believe its days are numbered.
Software managers have not made up the bulk of Horihide's clientele. Yakuza and geisha wear much of the master's art. And while the popularity of tattooing expands beyond the underground in Japan today, it still holds deep social stigma -- as evidenced by Osaka's crazy right-wing mayor ordering government employees to reveal whether they are tattooed, then basing employment decisions on this. As the article notes, this stigma still keeps artists like Horihide "under a cloak of secrecy" -- or at least out of the spotlight for the large part, making profiles like this in a mainstream publication a rare treat.
Horihide also talks about his start in tattooing as an apprentice at the age of 19, where he suffered beatings to learn the craft. There are some great quotes, which left me wanting more. So I did a search and came up with this 1996 essay for Tattoos.com in which Horihide muses on his life as a teenage gang leader to becoming a tattoo artist and later meeting Sailor Jerry. Also a must read.
Great stories and a bit of history.
In our home there are two large tattoo works in progress, which means it's fully stocked with creams, painkillers, vodka, chocolate, and "tattoo sheets" (not the 1,500 thread count kind). Yesterday, I talked about adding to my tattoo collection with more rib work.
Today, Brian writes about his 11th tattoo sitting on his Bodysuit to Fit blog. Brian's got 38 hours already racked up with Mike Rubendall of Kings Avenue Tattoo. Check his post on how the backpiece is evolving ... and what it's like to score appointments with one of the most sought-after tattoo artists.
Dedicating his life to Japanese tattooing and educating others on the art, Kazuaki "Horitomo" Kitamura -- resident artist at State of Grace in San Jose -- not only keeps the tebori hand tattoo traditions alive but also the rich history of the art and the meanings behind its iconic motifs.
In "Immovable: Fudo Myo-o Tattoo Design By Horitomo," he shares this knowledge in a beautifully illustrated 9" by 13" softcover art book. Fudo Myo-o (also known as Acala, which translates into "immovable") is one of the Five Wisdom Kings in Buddhism. His role is to fight ignorance and delusions, and lead people to self-discipline and peace. He is shown sitting on a pedestal, surrounded by flames (among other representative elements), but of course there are many artistic ways to embody this Esoteric Buddhist icon. In these pages, Horitomo presents various interpretations of Fudo Myo-o, often with information on that particular composition.
What I particularly enjoy about this book is how he breaks down the elements of many of his drawings; for example, he highlights the different manifestations of weapons, hairstyles and garments. He even devotes pages to close-ups of postures. It's an excellent study for artists, but also a great resource for anyone fascinated by Buddhist art and stories.
"Immovable" is available at State of Grace Publishing for $120 (US orders) and $150 (outside US).
If you'd like to learn about Fudo Myo-o drawing and design from Horitomo himself, he'll be giving a seminar with Horitaka on July 29th at 10am at the Kings Avenue NYC location (188 Bowery 2nd floor at the corner of Spring St). The cost of the seminar is $200 ($220 by PayPal). Space is limited. More info on the Kings Ave blog.
I also recommend checking out Horitomo's spectacular portfolio, which includes the tattoos shown below.
Last Thursday, Brian and I attended Tokio Confidential, a musical that centers around Japanese culture and tattooing. Yes, a tattoo musical. How could we not see it?
Written and composed by Eric Schorr and directed by Johanna McKeon, Tokio Confidential takes place in Japan in 1879, a time when tattooing was outlawed and underground (although an exception was made for tourists wishing a permanent souvenir). One such visitor is Isabella Archer, a young widow who lost her husband in the American Civil War, and who travels to Japan to find the beauty and magic her husband so often spoke of and promised to show her. Upon arrival, she meets fellow American Ernest and his gay lover Akira who bring her to Tokyo's pleasure district and soon introduce her to Horiyoshi (sound familiar?), who becomes her tattoo artist and lover. Horiyoshi transforms her into a work of art, which leads to a dark end.
... an end I won't spoil for anyone who wants to see the play at the Atlantic Theater Stage 2 in Manhattan before it closes this weekend on February 19th.
Tokio Confidential is meticulously researched (research supported in part by The Asian Cultural Council) and you get the feeling that Schorr is covered in tattoos, although he says in The Huffington Post that he's just a "tattoo voyeur." The cast sing of ukiyo-e, Japanese woodblocks prints that inspired traditional tattoo designs, and of tebori, the hand tattooing method. The mostly grey-haired crowd got a full education on the art form. But we wondered if they'd retain it. Beautiful voices carry each lesson within lyrics like "lots of money, lots of pain" and "what have I done," but there are no real choruses to sing and remember once you leave the theater. Perhaps, it would be best if the academics are left in the dialog, and the tunes were catchier. It is musical theater after all.
Beyond tattooing and woodblock prints, Schorr explores other Japanese arts like Noh, which he describes as "one of the oldest forms of what we might call musical theater" that "artfully and seamlessly combine speech, song, and dance." It took me a while in the beginning to realize that the abstraction of the cast's movements were a nod to Noh, and it was a bit distracting; however, I did enjoy the choreography when placed in the context of a Noh performance within the story line.
The cast and orchestra are indeed fantastic, and Jill Paice who plays the lead Isabella has the luminescent skin that tattooists would die to work on. [And that's also noted in the dialogue.] Yet they are given the task to capture the soul of tattooing, to truly convey the experience of transformation, the raw desire to endure pain for art. And how does one do it in a two-hour musical?
It's a valiant effort but almost impossible to accomplish.
For more on Tokio Confidential, see the video below as well as interviews with Shorr and Mckeon, and bios of cast and crew. Tickets are still available for performances through Sunday.
The third and final episode of the "Tattoo Age" profile on Mike Rubendall of Kings Avenue is now online, and like the rest of the Vice TV video series, it is an intimate and interesting look into the personal and professional life of this master tattooer.
The video begins with a discussion of his art collection, which includes never before published prints by Horiyoshi III, and is followed by footage of another passion of Mike's: boxing. Then, the Vice crew flies out to Denmark to interview Henning Jorgensen of Royal Tattoo, a good friend and also a big influence on Mike's work. But the most fun for me was watching the whole Rubendall family playing around in their backyard, presenting the softer, family man side of the intensely driven artist.
And of course, there are great tattoo and fine art images. It all perfectly rounds out a this must-see three-part series. Check Part 1 and Part 2 as well.
Vice is offering prints by Mike as well as other "Tattoo Age" merchandise. Just follow them on Twitter and look out for their contests.
An interesting slideshow and videos on tattoos of the Yakuza, Japan's criminal underground, can be found on National Geographic's "Crime Lords of Tokyo" investigation. The short stories behind the tattoos discuss the transformation, pain and symbolism of the motifs; for example, this backpiece on the daughter of a Yakuza boss, shown above, is described as "Prostitute in Hell." The presentation also makes mention of Shoko Tendo's Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangster's Daughter, which is an excellent read.
Thanks, Niall, for the link!
Today's artist spotlight is on Shane Tan: tattoo artist and punk rock misfit currently killing it at Ink Tank Zurich and privately in Singapore. Singapore is Shane's birthplace, although he claims that he's a direct descendant of "one of those immortal flying ninjas from old Chinese films." I didn't argue with him on this point. Shane likes long walks on the beach, his aura color is pinkish blue, and his favorite meal is 13 magnum tubes from Good Luck Irons. He says they taste like steel chicken & go well with mayonnaise. Again, I didn't argue.
Here's some of Shane's work. More on Horinaka.com.
Our friend Yushi Takei just hit us up with some new work and also added 50 images of his traditional Japanese tattooing to his online gallery.
Yushi will be working at the London Tattoo Convention this upcoming weekend, then doing a guest spot at Frith Street Tattoo from Sept. 29 to Oct. 13. He'll then be at the wonderful Brussels Tattoo Convention Oct. 14-16.
In the August issue of Inked Magazine, on newsstands now, I interview the tattooer's tattooer, Mike Rubendall of Kings Avenue. In our Q&A, we discuss the new Kings Ave on the legendary Bowery in NYC (also posted here), his grueling apprenticeship when he was 17, and what it's like tattooing a dead body. Here's a taste:
What is the tattoo that you've done that sticks out most in your memory?
Read more in the "Icon" section of Inked.
You can also follow Brian's own experience getting tattooed by Mike here on N+S.