Let’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.
Okiku was thrown down a well by her wicked employer when she spurned his advances.
More modern in style is this work by Ichibay, titled Where is the shop?
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.
And a feature which occurs in a number of the works in the show – tattooing has been sneaked in.
This work, Mark of Identity, by Ami James, plays similar tricks, mixing traditional and modern.
There is an echo of Japanese legends in the half-hidden fox which has disguised itself as a woman (a common trick of foxes).
And a jokey mixing in of modern elements as the frog, covered in tattoos, uses a mobile phone.
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.)
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).
And indeed, the poor eel has a bandage round its middle.
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.
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.