Tattoo art is no longer confined to the body as “living” art. Tattoos that used to be a signature of outcasts, criminals, and sailors are now becoming appreciated as expressions of intricate visual design. This new appreciation was showcased for the first time last weekend at New York-based auction house, Guernsey’s, during the first-ever auction of original tattoo art. The collection contained over 1,000 pieces of tattoo art ranging from $500-$30,000, many of which Arlan Ettinger – president of Guernsey’s – expects to double in value within a year.
For those who’ve never heard of the world-renowned auction house, Guernsey’s is famous for its eccentric, high-profile offerings and historically significant auction events. These landmark events include their “40 Years of Rock and Roll” auction and their auction of almost 200,000 pre-Castro cuban cigars, for which Guernsey’s had to petition the US government to temporarily lift the embargo that would have prevented the collection from entering the country. Badass!
Guernsey’s pioneer auction of tattoo art was made possible courtesy of Peter Mui’s collection, a highly respected fashion designer who passed in 2009. Mui curated the collection during 15 years of extensive travels in search of the world’s most extraordinary Tattoo Masters. “It’s a who’s who of artists whose names resonate to people who follow this slice of global culture,” explains Ettinger to the Daily Beast.
So, who are the artists featured in Mui’s astounding and groundbreaking collection? To give these Masters the full appreciation they deserve, we’ve outlined each of the artists and their styles below:
Horiyoshi III (real name Yoshihito Nakano)
This beloved Japanese Master is a living legend known for his stunningly intricate full-body tattoo suits created in the true manner of shisei, which embodies the concept of “balanced balance”. He earned the title Horiyoshi, a title given to a master tattooist in Japan, after completing an apprenticeship with the legendary Yoshitsugu Muramatsu (aka Horiyoshi I). Horiyoshi III stresses the life lessons that can be learned from perfecting the shisei method, and also advises, “To evolve, you must break away from what you’ve learned” (check out this interview).
Part-way through a career in single-needle westernized tattooing, Horitomo experienced a rebirth of pride for Japanese traditional culture and began an apprenticeship with Horiyoshi III. Since then, he has devoted his life to studying traditional Japanese tattooing, particularly tebori (Japanese hand-tattooing). These days, Horitomo sits at the forefront of cosmopolitan tattooing with his initiative to spread knowledge of traditional tattoos and technique. He is commonly known for his tattooed cat art, which is featured in his published book Monmon Cats.
“Horitomo’s Work” by Asian Art Museum is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Proud of his ancestry’s technique, Horitoyo is known for strictly using the tebori hand-tattooing method even for his most intricate shisei works. He is also known for his unique style of incorporating modern new-school design into Japanese traditional motif, inspiring an evolution of Japanese tattooing.
Swiss-born Filip Leu began working as a full-time tattoo artist under his parents at the age of 15, later becoming a pioneer of larger needle configurations in his style of Japanese traditional tattoos. Leu is also co-founder of the Art Fusion Experiment, an association presenting tattoo artists as fine artists.
With almost half a century of tattooing under his needle, Roberts – founder of LA’s famous Spotlight Tattoo – has earned an international reputation as a legendary underground tattoo artist and painter. Robert’s tattoo work features traditional styles with bright color-work and his paintings are renowned for their watercolor composition.
Another European Master, Hernandez is a renowned realistic tattoo artist from Spain specializing mostly in black-and-grey works with a dark, sinister style. He got his start at Mao y Cathy, the first-ever tattoo studio in Madrid, before opening his own studio called Vittamin Tattoo.
An American artist from the Midwest, Aitchison is known for mastering the tricks of depth and lighting to bring out a highly-dynamic visual experience. He is praised for his efforts in the advancement of tattoo education, a practice that was previously coated in suspicion and jealousy due to the narrowness of the industry.
Aaron Cain-Cain is legendary for his popularization of biomechanical tattoos, which was inspired by his interests in science fiction and fascination with the tools of tattooing. Similarly, you have likely heard of or used one of his exquisitely sculpted tattoo machines, of which the majority of his career is now dedicated to crafting.
Leo Zulueta-As the founder of LA studio Blue Wave (original home of the modern tribal tattoo), Zulueta is well-known for popularizing the style of tribal tattoos in the United States.
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