Long before becoming the last Emperor of the Russian Empire the young prince Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov took a tour around the countries of the Far East. The main goal of the trip which took place between 1890 an 1891 was to find out more about the region and get acquainted with the specifics of local government systems.
The tour is mostly remembered for its unpleasant incident which happened in Otsu. The matter is that while being in Japan Nicholas II was attacked by a policeman Tsuda Sandzo. He was going back to Kyoto after visiting Lake Biwa together with the Prince George of Greece and the Japanese Prince Arisugawa. Tsuda jumped at Nicholas’ carriage and managed to inflict several wounds on him with a sabre.
However there was another memorable point of trip. The Russian prince showed a keen interest towards traditional Japanese arts and crafts. So unusually for the time he made himself a tattoo – a flying dragon on the right forearm.
Yale University archives have kept photos confirming this fact, you can make out his tattoo through the images below.
Sandi Fellman’s intense crops of Irezumi tattooed skin appear as neither portraits of tattooed people or of the work of the tattoo artists in her famed book The Japanese Tattoo but seem like endlessly beautiful paintings of prints. Deciphering which part of the body Fellman’s lense captures is not always instantly recognisable in these truly beautiful photographs of living pieces of art. Parts of the body intertwine with one another page after page with hardly any of the skin untouched. Taken with a rare large scale Polaroid camera the enormity of these original images are almost life-size meaning the details that are captured in these images are completely exceptional.The starkness and intensity of colour paired again the black background exaggerate these tattoos to another level. First published in 1987 the book has sort of cult following in its insight to the super secretive lives of these tattooed people. Although it doesn’t expand too much on the history, meaning or tradition it does provide an insightful look into the skill behind these wonderful tattoos.
This fantastic blog exhibits exquisite examples from the history of tattooing based on the archival research and/or personal collection of the interdisciplinary scholar Anna Felicity Friedman.
Tattooed Marquesan from Shillibeer, 1817
(from private-collection Biehler flash, c. 1930s)
One of 4 locksmith’s tattoos in the “occupational” section of Riecke’s 1925 study of tattoos in “Today’s Europe”
All images courtesy of www.tattoohistorian.tumblr.com
An Excerpt from an interview with Alex Reinke a.k.a Horikitsune, apprentice of Master Horiyoshi III, for Sang Bleu 6. SB: How do you feel about the spiritual value in the act of getting tattooed in the West? I think it’s interesting how much energy; emotional and sometimes spiritual or symbolic people hope to put in their tattoos. Do you feel the process of getting a tattoo can or should be a spiritual experience, and have such a value? HK: Well a tattoo is a very powerful thing it can even make or break your life. It needs to have a special place and a value – it deserves that. Seriously looking at it -Tattooing is not to be taken very lightly. Its serious business for tattooer and customer both, and not just economically. I mean just for its lasting nature alone. Most tattoos produced in the very ancient past are believed to have been shamanic, ritual designs for magical purposes, or protection and they even believed they had healing qualities.
Kokoro: The Art of Horiyoshi III
Courtyard Rooms, South Wing, Somerset House, London
Horiyoshi III, the internationally renowned tattoo artist currently has his first exhibition in London at the esteemed Somerset House.
Horiyoshi belongs to a royal line of horishi tattoo artists: those specialising in the traditional full-body tattoo called Irezumi. This exhibition studies his paintings on silk as well as displaying tattoo instruments and paint brushes.
Kokoro means ‘heart‘ and ‘feeling‘ in Japanese and through the paintings exhibited Horiyoshi III preserves traditional Japanese culture and mythology through incredibly beautiful silk paintings. Each painting shows typical Japanese images such as dragons, koi’s and white phoenix’s, but each one is depicted is varying sensitivity, intricacy and harshness depending on the story told. The diverse nature of each painting gives the exhibition an eclectic feel considering that most of the paintings are all the same size and repetitively placed beside one another. The varying brush strokes and colours used also add to this fantastic effect.
Having “vowed to never be lazy until the day I die”, he still tattoos six days a week after thirty years of practice. You can see a video of Horiyoshi III at work here which The Guardian recently made.
After meeting Ed Hardy (the exhibition opens with a quote from Hardy about Horiyoshi’s pioneering impact on tattoo culture and history) and becoming close friends, Horiyoshi started to use the electric needle alongside using traditional techniques and pioneered a new form of Japanese tattooing.
The exhibition is free and runs from now until until the 1st of June, it is open every day from 10.00-18.00. More information can be found here
“Butoh” is the collective name for a diverse range of activities, techniques and motivations for dance, performance, or movement inspired by the Ankoku-Butoh movement. It typically involves playful and grotesque imagery, taboo topics, extreme or absurd environments, and is traditionally “performed” in white-body makeup with slow hyper-controlled motion, with or without an audience. But there is no set style, and it may be purely conceptual with no movement at all. Its origins have been attributed to Japanese dance legends Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno.
“A Girl” is a 1973 performance. It lasts 91 minutes.