Lupo Horiokami

Artists - Studios - Issue 27

The talented Italian tattoo artist, Lupo Horiokami, gave an exclusive interview to HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine. Deeply dedicated and committed to tattoo, he highlights the importance of knowing and respecting tradition, while his exquisite work balances beautifully between Japanese tattoo style and his personal touch. A lover of the arts, design and fashion, Horiokami spoke about his innovative vision of tattoo world, his love for tradition, black ink, electric tattooing and tebori, technical progress vs artistic level, and of course the story behind his name.

Interview by Ino Mei.
How did you move from graffiti to tattoo? 

When I was very young I became interested in graffiti, for their dynamism and for the visual impact they had on surfaces. I appreciated them because they transform a "normal" surface into a different vision.

When did you start tattooing and how did you get into it?

I started tattooing in 1999, but my passion for the tattoo world dates back to a couple of years earlier. At the time I was listening to hardcore punk music, and I was usually attending many concerts, during which I was noticing the tattoos of the various bands. I became very curious of this form of expression; to draw and create on one's body. That period the underground scene had influenced me in my vision of tattooing, more as a form of personal expression than as an exclusively aesthetic way to be.

Did you do an apprenticeship or are you self-taught?  

Back then there was no real apprenticeship, and it was very difficult to get someone to teach me the craft. My only “apprenticeship” was to steal from the older tattoo artists all the information I could about the tattoo world, to get a lot of tattoos done and to observe the technique, as well as to elaborate all the information and skills to have my own personal method, while drawing on paper and studying all the important aspects of tattooing.

How would you define your tattoo style?

I don't like categorizing tattoo styles, except for the original and fundamental styles of the history of tattoo art. So my style is nothing but the evolution of the continuous study path of dedication and commitment that I have had in these career years. I have always appreciated the Japanese style, to which I am very attached. I only try to give a personal touch to the Japanese tradition, always remaining respectful of the tradition. I try to combine the old with the contemporary, I think they can coexist, by respecting each other. It is a very difficult game, but it is not impossible.

How has your tattoo style evolved throughout the years?

I think that every ten years, there is a change in one's work; an evolution of tastes and technique. In the beginning it took me several years of study to understand the fundamental bases and the technique of the art of tattooing, after which I was able to begin to give vent to my personal expression; having the cultural basis to have a more personal vision of the tattoo. In recent years I have been inspired not only by the art of tattoo, but by everything related to art and design, taking a cue from all the forms of art that interest me, and that I see.

It appears that you prefer mainly black ink. Why is that?

My choice in recent years in working more in black and white than in colour, which has been influenced by the fact of what I wanted to express in the tattoo and by the aesthetic vision that I wanted to express. Initially I thought that black and white was much more elegant and minimal. Then I wanted to give more simplicity and impact to the tattoo, and black and white would have been the most suitable choice. In addition, my works have a very accentuated contrast, although they are built using many shades, but all this in black and white, because I find that colour is a mid-tone, so it would only have diminished the contrast and impact on my work.

Being Italian, what was it that attracted you towards Traditional Japanese tattoo style, and Irezumi in particular?

Many years ago I bought one of the first tattoo books by Luisa Gnecchi Fercioni, which impressed me a lot. In this book, they talked about the work of Horiyoshi III, and it was the only book I knew, and therefore I studied it very carefully, while getting passionate about the world of Irezumi and obviously about the work of Master Horiyoshi III. It is thanks to him that I got passionate about the world of Japanese tattoo. I am still attached to him, who over the years has become a great friend to me.

Do you prefer electric tattooing or tebori?

We say that the choice is difficult while the work done with these two techniques has a very different result. Each tactic leads to a different result. It depends on the artist to push one aspect more than another. With the machine you can give more space to the technique of the details and more detailed works, while by hand the result is simpler but much more impactful and acquires an intense and greater historicity in the world of traditional tattooing.

What is the story behind the Japanese name “Horiokami”?

I previously talked about the name of Horiyoshi lll. When I decided to devote myself to Japanese tattooing, I flew to Japan and asked for an appointment for my back. I introduced myself and I got tattooed for many years. After having established a friendship and having shown them my works, I asked to be able to use the name Horiokami and to have a title of a traditional tattoo artist. It was a great honour to receive a title from a person who remains a point of reference for my story in the tattoo world.

When people from the West get a traditional themed tattoo from a different culture or tribe, do you feel that there should more into it, than just aesthetics? 

Based on my experience, even in Japan, I have noticed that the Japanese are very interested in the Japanese tattoo made by foreign tattoo artists. When they recognize that there is a study in the work you are doing and you can express their culture correctly, they are very happy to receive a piece done by you.
However, I think the first impact is aesthetics, but I believe that it is essential to know what you are wearing, especially if the tattoo is made by an artist who brings with him a cultural background of many years of study.

I find it to be a form of respect, to get informed and study before getting a tattoo of a different culture. The tattoo is not a dress that you see in a shop window and you want to wear. It is a set of elements that are created to measure. It is a path that you decide to take with your tattoo artist.

Apart from tattooing, are you engaged with other forms of art?

Tattooing takes up most of my working day. In recent years I have been expanding my view, and I am becoming interested in different forms of art, such as design and architecture. Always linked to the world of craftsmanship, I would like to draw inspiration from worlds that apparently do not centre with that of tattooing. I am working a lot as a designer and I'm working on a collection of furniture designed entirely by me, taking inspiration from the artistic currents that I appreciate most. I also love working with different materials, such as bronze, iron, wood and marble. I like to combine different materials, always looking for harmony in the final result. 

The world of tattooing has recently expanded on a technical and technological level, but on an artistic and artisan level it has a very limited vision, as technology has made it easier to search for an image, when in my time it was necessary to buy tons of books in order to find different references to be able to draw and tattoo. In addition, we drew a lot freehand, with pencils and paper, while now tattooers use almost exclusively iPads and graphic pens. I find that technology has greatly limited the vision and artistic interest of tattoo artists. Therefore, very often I see that it is difficult to take an interest in different visions, precisely because of the lack of them.

I find your tattoo work very “stylish”, as well as yourself. What is your relationship fashion?

Thank you very much. As well as design and architecture, fashion has also been a great passion of mine for several years. Being forty years old I thought that every moment of my day must be stimulating and interesting. In tattooing the side of the studio is very important and knowledge, from which the aesthetic side derives, can be well balanced and appreciated only after having ascertained personal knowledge and years of study. This form of hedonism is not only part of my work, but part of my life. I don't consider my work as a job: but the method I use to work is my point of view for my entire life. I like to feel good, in a nice outfit, just as it makes me feel good to have made a nice tattoo, which fits well on my client, which makes him happy and confident. Because a tattoo should enhance your values, but also your aesthetics. I have an innovative point of view regarding the world of tattooing. I believe in a classier and more elegant vision, a pleasant feeling.

How do you see the Italian and the European tattoo scene?

In recent years I may be seeing Europe as a little more stimulating place. Initially I went to work very often in the United States; New York, Los Angeles, San the time the tattoo scene was much more stimulating and competitive. They always tried to perfect the technique and style. Nowadays Europe has proved to be more stimulating, and very receptive in terms of artistic expression, even if with the arrival of social networks and technology, it has become more uniform all over the world.

With so many tattooists nowadays around the globe, how can someone’s work stand out, in your opinion?

I believe that healthy competition is now over; I am talking about something that makes you grow thanks to the comparison with the work of much more experienced tattoo artists. I believe that a true tattoo artist should not look for the best way to show off, but the best way to consolidate and refine his artistic knowledge. His work then lies in the individual person to appreciate and adapt to the tattoo artist's work. I am not a lover of the complete overturning of techniques, because I am a lover of tradition. I believe in tradition as an important basis on which to work, and not of tradition as an end in itself. You need to have a part of tradition, an awareness of contemporaneity, and an eye open to innovation and the future. Only in this way you can create a work that is personal. 

How do you see the future of tattoo during - after COVID-19?

I hope that people are more aware of the fact that to market something to the extreme means to ruin it. I hope that tattoo studios will once again become places of study and tranquillity, where the client and the tattoo artist can live a unique experience, an “intimate” moment dedicated to those who choose to live and undertake it with respect. I hope this will make tattoo artists more aware of their work, and make them appreciate more what they have, making the most of it and with commitment, without selling it off.

All photographs are courtesy of Lupo Horiokami & Mushin Tattoo Studio.