November 21, 2009
B.Two & 25th Hoodlum recently caught up with Japanese tattoo legend Horiyoshi III, to talk about the art of Japanese tattoo, inspirations, clothing, customers, art and life…
When did you first learn the art of tattoo? Tell me about some of your first experiences?
I saw my first tattoo when I was about 4 years old at a public bath house. This man got up from the bath tub and he was covered in a full body suit. I was in shock and also scared but the image of the man with the full body suit was forever imprinted into my mind. I knew then that I wanted to recieve a full body suit tattoo one day.
You come from a long line of honorable artists, what are some of the key things you’ve learnt from Yoshitsugu Muramatsu?
Shodai Horiyoshi was the best tattoo artist of his generation and was always looking for new techniques and methods to advance his craft. He was a very strict and sometimes mean man on the outside but deep inside, he was kind and generous. Aside from the basics of making ink, needle, drawing and actually tattooing, he taught me that without the customer, tattoo artists will not exist and be able to do what we love to do. Horiyoshi I would wake me up at 4:30AM on several occasions to tell me that a customer drove all night to recieve a tattoo and we would have to start right now! I could not believe it at first but I got used to it. This was his way. I am thankful of the lessons he taught me and forever grateful to my Master.
Horiyoshi III is a name that is well respected in the tattoo industry, please explain your traditional art of tattoo?
The traditional art of the Japanese tattoo is to change and evolve while keeping the main rules intact. I started using the machine to outline in the 80′s as it was much superior to the tebori outline as it was much cleaner and more detailed. I continued to use the tebori for shading as this technique becomes more beautiful over time.
What inspires your creativity?
Everything inspires me from the Baroque period to the old woodblock printers of Japan, Kuniyoshi, Hokusai and the likes. I like to collect antiques from all cultures and I find inspiration in them as well.
What are your thoughts on young tattooists coming out of Japan, pushing the boundaries and creating new styles?
I am excited that younger Japanese tattoo artists are pushing boundries and creating new styles. However, it is very important to understand and study the Japanese history of tattooing and art before creating new styles. This way the line does not break. When one just creates new styles based on aesthetics, it is purely just for the look. The Japanese tattoo is much more than that. It has kokoro (heart).
You have had some very well respected customers walk into your studio, who would be your most memorable customer?
All of my customers are equally special as their pain, tolerance and time allow for me to create my artwork. My customers come from all walks of life to all ranks of the yakuza, businessmen, tattoo artists, etc. I tend to remember the full body suits and also the customers that have strong spirits and kind hearts.
You had an exhibition earlier this year at Vanilla Gallery called “Horiyoshi III – Exhibition of Original Artwork “, how did that go and are you planning on having another one soon?
The exhibition in Ginza was a great success and I thank everyone for their support. Thirty years ago it would’ve have been unthinkable that a tattoo artist would be able to display his works at an art gallery in Ginza. Times do change. I will also be exhibiting the 108 Heroes paintings in the beginning of 2010 at the Vanilla Gallery.
You’ve published over 10 books featuring your artwork, whats next on your plate?
My apprentice Horikitsune (Alex Reinke of Europe) will be publishing a book next year titled Kokoro about me. It will be a photobook and very different from the other books in the past. I am very excited to show this to the public and share many aspects of my life not seen before.
I see you’ve created your own merchandise (Tees, bags, caps, and etc), would you ever venture into producing a Horiyoshi Clothing label?
Yes, in the past I’ve created various merchandise to sell at my museum and also the studios as souveniers for my guests and customers. I also licensed some of my artworks to various clothing companies in the past but was dissapointed at the outcome and integrety of their business dealings. Therefore, in late 2008, I partnered with a long time friend and customer of mine who is now a member of my family to produce a clothing label Horiyoshi the Third. The new clothing and accessories line Horiyoshi the Third is a very high quality line that is currently being sold at many of the top boutiques in the world. My partner and I both agreed that tattoos should be worn on the body and tattoo art should be placed tastefully with class on clothing. This is currently my bigges project that I am working on and it keeps me inspired to create.
Horiyoshi the Third is currently being sold at the top boutiques in the world.
“Real beauty is often hidden”, what are your thoughts?
Yes indeed. i think the beauty last much longer when it is somewhat concealed and hidden rather than flaunted all the time for all to see. The Japanese tattoo is meant for the wearer and maybe a few close loved ones.
You’ve mentioned all tattoos walk and talk, what do yours say?
This is a very difficult question but I think mine would talk about my life thus far. When Iaugh it laughs and when I cry it crys. It is an extension of my soul.
If there was one thing that you would trade tattooing for, what would it be?
Being key contributor to the japanese tattoo movement, you’ve seen it all and guided its evolution, so where to from here?
The tattoo culture is becoming evermore mainstream. Although there is nothing we can do of that, i think it is very important that we stay responsible for our actions in art and life. I really do not know where it will go from here.
Words by Benny Teh
Clothing Label Website: www.horiyoshi-thethird.com
Check out some pieces from Horiyoshi’s clothing label in the following gallery…