The smooth bokashi (shading) with infinite tones, the homogenous suji (line) without irregularity or roughness, confront the viewer. The conventional perception of hand poking in its primitive roughness is challenged with the precision by which Horiken’s hand can produce. The fact that he doesn’t only hand poke the bokashi but also suji, is a defining fact that separates Horiken into a different category of Japanese tattooer and a protector of the important art and culture.
It has been nearly 30 years since Horiken first entered the tattoo industry, and in all that time, he has never once reached for a tattoo machine. Although machine tattooing is now the mainstream, machines are still relatively new in the history of Japanese traditional irezumi. The history reaches back to the beginning of the 17th century, and his commitment to the original technique is a manifestation of his determination and respect for the tradition.
Needless to be said, he was not just blindly wielding a nomi (hand poking tool). At that time, there were still many experts in hand tattooing scattered throughout Japan, and Horiken had examined firsthand the master craftsmanship of the predecessors kept on the bodies of clients who came to him. The impeccable horimono of one master in particular, had a great influence on him, guiding him late into his career. He says he was shocked to see how much could be done by hand poking.
Horiken’s handwork is the ultimate in exquisiteness. For the suji, the direction of the needle is adjusted with each stroke along the flow of the image to maintain uniform fineness, while for bokashi, hanebari (poking technique employing a scooping motion) and imoduki (poking technique employing a straight thrusting motion), as well as in-between poking, are properly and instantly used to create an infinite variety of shades. The technique, which he performs in rapid succession without hesitation, can be described as divine art, but he does not seem to show it off, saying, “It’s just something I’ve acquired.”
Horiken does not possess a bloated ego about his skills, and takes the time and effort to prepare his tools. He grinds a Nara-sumi ink-cake, and blends independently, all colors from pigments. In addition, although it is rare nowadays for a tattooer to be so concerned about needles, surprisingly he still continues to sharpen them by hand.
It is obvious that sharpening increases the cutting quality of the needle and makes it much easier to enter the skin. This means less damage to skin tissue, which in turn leads to better ink retention and coloration under the skin. Sharpening needles is a time-consuming task, but as Horiken laughs, “In the world of a craftsman, it’s said that 80 percent is in the preparation and 20 percent is in the work; you have never heard of a chef who doesn’t sharpen his knives.”
As mentioned earlier, Horiken’s works are completely hand poked including the suji, which inevitably calls for simplicity in his drawings. It is essential to determine which lines to keep and which to omit, and this process he believes, is the first priority in strengthening his images for the viewer to be able to appreciate them from a distance.
In order to grasp the subtleties of such renderings, he has expanded his exploration to include omocha-e as well as general nishiki-e. Omocha-e are small ukiyo-e paintings on children’s playthings such as sugoroku and karuta. Although intended for children, creators including such great masters as Hokusai and Kuniyoshi, painted these images in sizes usually no more than a few square centimeters, and filled them with the secrets of deformation.
Horiken always hones his skills, does not neglect his tools, and has an unceasing inquisitive mind. He creates flawless work, but explains, “90 percent of my work is done by me. The remaining 10 percent will be finished by time.” These are the words that can be mentioned only by a man who, in his nearly 30 years of tattooing, has seen his own work aged over lengthy periods of time.
Changes over time, such as the thickening of suji and fading of color, are inevitable as long as the canvas, the human body, is alive. However, having accumulated knowledge over many years of “how to poke and how it would change over time,” he has practiced a tattoo method that does not result in “deterioration”. For Horiken, the moment he finishes the last poke is not the completion. It takes the passing of a couple of decades for him to consider his work finally complete, with the passage of time bringing forth even more flavor in it.
The works shown here are all recent works by Horiken, and all of them have an atmospheric feel that is reminiscent of the classics, and can be, without question, already called masterpieces. However, just like a fine wine that has been carefully prepared and is waiting to mature, these works will gain a more mellow flavor with the passage of time. And when they become vintage, they will make us more intoxicated with their beauty.
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