Traditional Tattooing is the Rock of Ages
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is nice to have the opportunity to speak with you again! I have been away from the typewriter as I have been quite busy behind the tattoo machine. The Japanese Tattoo Work, or Irezumi, has been in heavy focus this week in my studio. I had the honor of starting a classic Japanese 7/10’s sleeve this week; also, today, I had the blessing of outlining a half sleeve with a traditional Japanese chest panel.
Often, in my equal love for both the American Traditional and traditional Japanese tattoo styles, I have confided in my customers that I could not give up either one for the other. Lately, though, I have been increasingly entrenched in Irezumi, also known as Horimono- a “carved thing.” I think it is because I have turned a corner in my understanding of this great work.
My customer said today that I had mastered the Japanese style. I emphatically stated that I had not. And pointed out that I probably never will. The more you learn, the less you know, goes the old saying. You just get deeper into the mysteries, the subtleties, the intrigue of your area of study. You get more carried away with it.
The Background of Horimono
Anyhow it is the background of Horimono which just endlessly fascinates me. Sure, I love dragons, the warriors, the strange flora of Irezumi, but the background- the billowing clouds, the crashing waves, the spiraling wind- all these evoke in me the true spirit of the work. The tones of black, fading into grey. The authentic tone of the Japanese ink, as it looks when under the skin, both when freshly applied, and when healed.
Specifically, it is the way that this background connects the body parts all together into a single suit of tattoos that really has me hooked right now. Every time I extend a half sleeve to a full sleeve, connect a set of sleeves to a backpiece, or connect the rib tattoos to the chest tattoos with this sprawling background I just get enthralled in the connection. I become a tailor more than a tattooist at this point- it is the suit I am creating. It must first neatly. It must be crisp and staunch.
It must glorify the body which it adorns. And it must flow, flow on like the river, the river of time, the river of ink, the river of tattooed skin that goes back only a few generations.
Music Legends and Traditional Tattoos
And that is a thought that intrigues me greatly as well- that we are living smack dab in the middle of history. In layman’s terms- think of it- the Rolling Stones are still around. Paul McCartney is still around. Willie Nelson, he’s still there. Bob Dylan, man, he’s alive. We are not too removed from the beginnings of country music, folk music, rock music. Many of the stalwarts of these forms are still with us.
It is the same in tattooing. Bob Roberts and Yoshihito Nakano are here- born in 1946 and still here to guide us, to show us what tattooing and art can be. Kazuo Oguri is here. He was the first Japanese Hiroshi, or tattoo master, to share designs with the west. Who did he share with? Hmmm, a little known guy none other than the great American himself, Sailor Jerry Collins. And to whom did Jerry introduce Oguri? A slightly important whirlwind force in tattooing- Don Ed Hardy himself. Hardy is still here! These masters walk and breathe among us. Long live these masters! And God bless us- this is what I mean when I say that we are living smack dab in the middle of history.
The Evolution of Tattoos in America
Of course, we have lost many a great man, and woman. But the point is not who all we have left. It is the short cord that binds us to the beginning of tattoo history. 1891 the American electric tattoo machine was invented. The Edo period of Japan started just a couple hundred years before that. You could throw a rock and hit our tattoo ancestors. They are not that far removed from us. We are their grandchildren. Their great-great-grandchildren. Cap didn’t pass until 1973. I was born in 73! Paul was there through the ’80s. Most recently, the tattoo world lost Rick Walters. He taught me how to put on the traditional navy tattoo “pig and rooster”. We are closer to these legends than we think. We should all make the most of it. And honor them while they are here.
People talk about the present like it is such a big deal. Ah man, Instagram, the internet. This new type of machine. These kid artists get good so fast. Ah, my iPad is the best drawing tool, who needs pencils? People talk, boast or complain about all this new junk, me included. But man, that’s not where it’s at, not at all. That stuff is like the Ariana Grande of tattooing man. Give me the Hank Williams, give me the Billie Holiday, man. I want the real deal. And it’s there! The big thing is not the cutting edge, it’s the edge that has been sharpened endlessly by these living legends that are still with us. Or that have recently passed. Or whose ghosts still haunt and control us- those founding fathers who have not been gone all that long at all- take a walk late at night, in a quiet place, and you will feel them. It is they that are still in power. It is their spirit that still has dominion over the sacred art of tattooing. Pop tattooing cannot compromise it. It cannot be added to or taken away. It is established. It is the rock of ages. Traditional Tattooing.