Tattoos and fashion have long been somewhat uncomfortable bedfellows – while both are methods of adornment and have enjoyed similar stigma as well as status over history their clientèle have largely been rather disparate. However while the punks, rockers and bikers were out in force at this weekends London Tattoo Convention 2010, they were joined by plenty who could have stumbled straight out of the pages of Dazed and Confused, the new wave of vintage loving Rockabilly and for want of a better word – civilians – straight of the high-street. It was the kind of inclusiveness that the team here at Tokyo Telephone love London for which made it the perfect location for such an international gathering of guests and artists. What struck me more than anything about the event more than any previous year was the real mix of people there who in turn mixed fashion alongside different mixes of tattoos – a more vibrant and exciting crowd you could not ask for and it was catered for by some of the finest artists to ever wield a gun.
Needless to say our preoccupation with all things Japanese drew us straight towards the booths occupied by Shige and Genko who to my mind are the best things in modern Japanese tattooing (but more on both of them later). But as it turns out we did not have to lift a finger to find quality Japanese tattoos, they were literally everywhere – to the point where if I had to identify a predominate style of the day it would be Japanese or more accurately a form of Neo Japanism where you could see the artists western background and culture reflected in the bold flowing colours of traditional Japanese. From Italian Catholic with Japanese crossovers to black work capturing calligraphy-esque flourishes, the dominant force of the convention was Japan which is hardly surprising when you consider the flyer for the event:
Continue reading to get up close and personal with some of the exhibits, artists and work from the convention and check back tomorrow for a closer look at the master of Yellow Blaze Yokohama – Shige.
The glorious Tobacco Docks in the shadow of the Tower of London was split nicely into glass walled rooms that made the venue seem open, but gave each area a peaceful feel removed from the blaring rock of the main shopping and drinking area. However, the buzz of electric tattoo guns did form a backdrop to every room bar the traditional hand-poked room. While it was disappointing that there was no-one representing hand-poked Japanese work when I was there, even the Horiyoshi family representatives were buzzing away when they were shading, the tribal representatives were out in force.
There is something very relaxing about hand tattooing, firstly you have the rhythmic tap of wood on wood and then constantly moving sticks that allow the tattooer to keep his tempo steady even when he is not touching the skin. Finally, the concentration of the two men (one to hold the lucky reciprocate’s skin still) lulls you into a vaguely hypnotic spell befitting of the supposed magical properties that the traditional designs claim to hold.
While some do claim that this kind of work does not hurt as much as electric work, there is no denying that it takes a lot longer, so all in all I admire the stamina of both the artist and the customer here. You forget sometimes the physical strain tattooing takes on the artist as well as the customer but it is very evident here when you are watching the tattooists stick constantly bobbing up and down.
Here you can just see the stick moving – it is such a feat to create such work using purely organic handmade materials orchestrated purely by the artists own strength.
It was great to see that the artists had enough space that they could work in a degree of privacy while being on “display” for all. While you do feel uncomfortable being privy to such a private and important occasion, everyone was really respectful and rarely disturbed the artists.
This was an exhibition by the British Tattoo History Museum recreating one of the most famous studios of Hong Kong that did much to bring Oriental and Japanese work back to the UK in the early colonial era.
It was wonderful to see some of the original tools that used to be used in the early days of mainstream tattooing. Check out the Gecko made of brass inlaid on the bamboo machine in the bottom right. Also you can see early flash designs of a dragon if you look very carefully – there designs were brought back to the UK from the East by traders and sailors and went on to be reproduced and adapted in the UK.
The master that is Genko hard at work. He was concentration on this phoenix back piece all day when I saw him although he did tell me his main piece of the convention was going to be a tin toy rocket piece, which hopefully he will post on his blog soon – I do love his retro Japonica inspired work.
On the subject of Genko this month’s Tattoo Burst Magazine (Japanese) is dedicated to Genko. So if I have tempted you to join the ranks of his fans and followers I would definitely check that out if you can.
His level of concentration was really something to behold and his colours were already starting to shine, although he still had one more pass on his shading to do at this point!
Samuel posing in his gorgeous Sukajyan by an old trading ship in front of the convention hall.
Overall it was a great event that delivered far more than was covered in this brief synopsis. There was a ton of great silver jewelery, alternative clothing and boozy entertainment to be had and as a Japanese focused site it was a joy to see that Japan played such a huge part in forming the backdrop to all that. Look out for our close-up on Shige tomorrow and Rebecca’s leg piece when it is finally finished!