Tattoo Art at Somerset House

Kazuaki ‘Horitomo’ KitamuraLet’s get one thing clear to start with – the artworks in Tattoo Art aren’t tattoos. They’re works in other media by artists who normally specialise in tattooing. It’s a very mixed bag, and some of the works were pretty horrible (deliberately so), but there were others which definitely earned their place on the Somerset House Embankment Gallery walls. 

Among the huge range of different styles on show, there were a few by Japanese artists and western artists working in the Japanese tradition. As you would expect, that’s what I’m going to focus on. And I’ve left out anything with a skull in it – which cuts out about a quarter of the works on show for a start.

There’s a traditional pair of silk hanging scrolls from Horiyoshi III, featuring a pair of ghosts, Okiku-san and Oiwa-san. These ghosts feature among the ghosts of Hiroshige, the famous woodblock print artists, though Horiyoshi III has made them look rather more attractive than Hiroshige did.

Oiwa is the lantern ghost, whose face appears to her wicked husband who poisoned her in a lantern.

Tattoo Art - Horiyoshi III

Okiku was thrown down a well by her wicked employer when she spurned his advances.

Tattoo Art - Horiyoshi III

More modern in style is this work by Ichibay, titled Where is the shop?

Tattoo Art - Ichibay

I always enjoy the mixing of traditional style with modern technology; here the work has all the characteristics  of a traditional print, but with the addition of earphones and a satnav.

Tattoo Art - Ichibay

And a feature which occurs in a number of the works in the show – tattooing has been sneaked in.

Tattoo Art - Ichibay

This work, Mark of Identity, by Ami James, plays similar tricks, mixing traditional and modern.

Tattoo Art - Ami James

There is an echo of Japanese legends in the half-hidden fox which has disguised itself as a woman (a common trick of foxes).

Tattoo Art - Ami James

And a jokey mixing in of modern elements as the frog, covered in tattoos, uses a mobile phone.

Tattoo Art - Ami James

This next work, by Kazuaki ‘Horitomo’ Kitamura, is my favourite. Horitomo specialises in cats in his tattoos and has published a book of them. Here we have a heavily tattooed cat attended by two wonderful mice, full of life and character. (I’ve put one at the top of this post.)

Tattoo Art - Kazuaki 'Horitomo'  Kitamura

Tattoo Art - Kazuaki 'Horitomo'  Kitamura

I have to include this work by Mick from Zurich, not just because it echoes the Japanese artistic tradition of painting sinuous carp, but because of its title: Time wounds all eels (groan).

Tattoo Art - Mick from Zurich

And indeed, the poor eel has a bandage round its middle.

Tattoo Art - Mick from Zurich

A rather different work is this one from Jeff Srsic titled Harvest. The Japanese letter chi appears in the corner – I’m not quite sure why.

Tattoo Art - Jeff Srsic

There’s plenty more to see in an entertaining exhibition, which runs until 5th October at the Embankment Gallery, Somerset House. It’s open 10 am to 6 pm and it’s free.

8 thoughts on “Tattoo Art at Somerset House

  1. Its actually the symbol for Saturn rather than the japanese character for Chi. I can totally see the resemblance though… they are very similar in appearance but very different meanings.


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