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OK. Due to the Jonathan Shaw topic (here) I thought I will get some conversation going on about blackwork. I will just call everything that has spawned from Tribal style work blackwork. My favorites are Jun Matsui (3 pic), Thomas Hopeer (4 pic) and the likes. Too many to name. Marisa Kakoulas has a great info piece in the article relating to her book Black Tattoo Art: Modern Expressions of the Tribal.

I will quote it here.

It was inspired by Ed Hardy's TattooTime premier issue entitled New Tribalism. In it, the legendary Cliff Raven said one of my favorite quotes:

"The perfect tattoo -- the one I believe we are all struggling toward -- is the one that turned the jackass into the zebra."

Raven, one of the pioneers of the fine art tattoo movement, wrote that after 20 years of tattooing, he found "decorative art" was the tattoo style that best fit the human canvas. He explained that creating two-dimensional elaborations on a three-dimensional object is akin to "pin striping an auto as opposed to copying Frazetta paintings onto the sides of vans." It was a bold statement, but one perfectly suited to the tattoo movement it trumpeted.

He called this style "Pre-Technological Tattooing." Hardy called it "New Tribalism." Most have used the term "Neo-tribal" to define the tattooing of Leo Zulueta, one of the first contemporary tattooists to fully dedicate his body of work to interpreting the arts of indigenous cultures (also featured in Black Tattoo Art).

More recently, many tattooists have been defining their portfolios as "Blackwork," taking their tribal interpretations even farther but still adhering to the decorative arts tenets. Indeed, there is a rainbow of terms to describe this monochromatic art form.

For this book, we kept it simple with the title "Black Tattoo Art: Modern Expressions of the Tribal" to encompass the various designs and aesthetics that have sprung from the Neo-Tribal movement; a movement which took root in the late sixties, flourished in the eighties and nineties, and pollenized the beautiful offshoots of today.

The title is deceptively simple, however, because what really is "modern black" tattoo art?

It's not a book on traditional tribal tattooing. There is a chapter that looks at a few artists today reviving their ancestral tattoo arts, but this is a very small part of this monster volume.

It is a book that looks at how today's tattooists have taken the tenets of tribal arts -- the soulfulness and harmony with the body -- and applied it in contemporary, imaginative ways.

Needles and Sins Tattoo Blog | Black Tattoo Art Book Release

I really love the part where mister Raven said

after 20 years of tattooing, he found "decorative art" was the tattoo style that best fit the human canvas. He explained that creating two-dimensional elaborations on a three-dimensional object is akin to "pin striping an auto as opposed to copying Frazetta paintings onto the sides of vans."

And I think that is what really draws me to this style aswell. How a great black work backpiece for example makes the human seem like something else. A myth perhaps. Some type of otherworldly hero. And it doesn't just have to link the wearer to something old. Like for example the Leo Zulueta backpiece (1 pic, Rory is the one in the right) on Rory Keating conveys a feeling similar to Queequeg from Moby Dick (Queequeg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) when for example the one by Volker (2 pic) is a futuristic anti goverment operative who bears the mark of the resistance. It's his armor of choise. But both have a strong romantic feel to them. The chosen ones.

It fits (when done right) the wearer perfectly. Perhaps better than any other style of tattooing.

Do you agree or disagree?

edit. The title should be Blackwork, not black work

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Petri, great topic with a lot to think about. That's a really good Cliff Raven quote, too! It's strange, too, because I've been thinking a little bit about blackwork tattooing lately as I've been reading up on plains Indians (this is a really fantastic book on the Blackfeet, by the way if anyone has any interest) and learning about some basic things, especially how artwork reflected their beliefs and what was important in their lives.. seeing some old photos of the men and women, and gathering little tidbits about the importance of tattoos across different groups. Which also ties in to the sun dance that the Blackfeet participated in, incorporating some serious piercing… Anyway.

I think this topic is pretty huge but I'll try keep it short. In my opinion, with tattoos, we're all struggling to apply ten million things to our bodies, most of which we’ll never fully understand. Aside from our struggle to reconcile our own mind and spirit with our physical world, we obviously latch on to art that we can identify with, be it music, tattoos, or the argument could even be made for clothing. And so much of it is ingrained in our culture and subconscious, it's tough to step outside those parameters, tattoo or otherwise. I do love blackwork tattoos and I do appreciate what those (growing) few have done and are doing by exploring different styles of the artwork. I do think it suits a lot of people but I think there's a certain... not problem, but maybe an uncertainty, when it comes to co-opting various styles and designs from other cultures. It's powerful and striking and instantly more "meaningful" or "exotic" than traditional western tattoos, but sometimes what happens is just a bunch of borrowing from other cultures. Now -- there's not necessarily anything wrong with it and, in fact, there's something very American -- and very human -- about that. We consume and incorporate and for the most part it's to understand and gain knowledge. And in that way, we create a new tattoo language, which is really exciting and maybe even necessary.

All of this is to say, I’ve had a real, growing interest in blackwork/native tattooing as I’ve gotten older. And I think it’s because I’ve made myself think about things a bit more, try to understand the whys of tattooing and expression; whys that probably won’t ever be fully answered. I think folks that exploded the possibilities for our modern times, like Leo Zulueta, and those that are building on that foundation, like Thomas Hooper, have the right idea. When I mentioned “co-opting” and “borrowing” I didn’t mean it in the negative, I think that’s just our nature because we’re all trying to understand something we can’t put our finger on. Who knows – maybe as I get older I’ll get really into black-only tattoos. I identify a lot with both Celtic and American Indian designs but maybe that’s my own subconscious connecting slivers of my ancestry to my geography to my own search for meaning. I’m glad for the renewed interest in tribal tattoos, I just keep my fingers crossed people will treat it with respect.

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Great reply Patrick! About the "borrowing". It's funny. For me it is also about the fact that the designs are so simplistic that I am actually more able to be myself (this is in thinking and in thought) when the design just IS. I don't have to think about the deeper connection (like the Rory and Leo backpieces represent whales tale and that has a meaning. If I remember correctly) because it just enhances my body. It's the same reason I want to get the Ensō circle tattooed on me, because it represents nothing but the moment. Breathing in, breathing out. And here is the kicker. At the same time I sort of CREATE my own deep tribal desing, or what ever you want to call it. I give the tattooing life. As did all the old tribes and such.

Modern Primitives

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Interesting point -- one I hadn't thought of and one I certainly wouldn't argue. And it seems to go hand-in-hand with the idea of expanding on or interpreting the "tattoo lexicon" in a new way. I like when you said, "I give the tattooing life," because with as much as people are searching for meaning in their lives in one way or another, it seems very few are taking the time to look inward.

Do you think the designs immediately spark something internal in us, as part of a collective unconscious, or do you think people just automatically associate them with something primal and primitive and therefore more significant?

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do you think there are many younger 'up and coming' tattooers concentrating on doing tribal/blackwork? i'd be interested in seeing their work if so....it's something i always associate with more established tattooers like leo zulueta

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"tribal" is the ultimate traditional style. I have had the great pleasure of tattooing many of our local Native Americas, with their imagery. It's a real honor to make these tattoos. While these tattoos have a fashion aspect to them, they seem about as "real" as it gets to me. Whenever I work on these folks, it makes me think of the rest of what I do as kind of corny.

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Do you think the designs immediately spark something internal in us, as part of a collective unconscious, or do you think people just automatically associate them with something primal and primitive and therefore more significant?

Fuck! I wrote a long ass reply then pushed the wrong button!

Well.

It depends on the person. I see us humans as primal beings, so I can associate any tattoo style to something "deeper". But it is the most prominent when we are dealing with blackwork.

I think it maybe in someways makes us look more inward as you also pointed. Because the desings themself are in a way closer to us, as a philosophical thing where you can create the meaning based on your own self and also as a physical thing, where the image it self is about enhancing the bodys curviture. It uses the body maybe more than other styles where the image itself conveys something (ship, monkey, crack addict). They have a set visual meaning. Like words. Car, tattoo of a car. When blackwork can work -maybe even more than other styles- with the human figure and do just that with out having a set image. But of course blackwork/trbal tattoos HAVE meanings, but as I said, it can be easier to make the tattoo alive yourself than get a image that is alive allready.

So, it depends.

Relating to this. To me, even a bad tattoo is a good one if the person likes it. That is why I rarely take part in discussions about visualy or techinically bad tattoos. Because there is the person behind the tattoo. I try to look past the image and see the whole spectrum.

Of course a bad tattoo is a bad tattoo. I just try not be snobish in a way. Tattooing is about more than just the images. Is about the people wearing them.

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I have to add (relating to the bad/good tattoos) that of course it is easier for me, a customer, to take such a lofty stance when compared to you tattoo artists, who have to do (and WANT to do) good tattoos. It is different and I understand it :)

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do you think there are many younger 'up and coming' tattooers concentrating on doing tribal/blackwork? i'd be interested in seeing their work if so....it's something i always associate with more established tattooers like leo zulueta

Good question Sarah. I tried to think about it but I think all the artists work that I am familiar with it are well over 30 and 40.

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(ship, monkey, crack addict).

Obviously the cool new things in 2011.

Back to the discussion.. I really like the idea of making the tattoo alive yourself. Well said. But I wanted to come back to the idea that tattoos of an image having a "set visual meaning" -- because in the same way, so do, for example, polynesian designs. X, y and z could very easily and concretely mean "sea, turtle and warrior" to the culture in which it originated. It reminds me of what's happening with a lot of other symbols lately, of the esoteric variety. People slapping on numbers or planetary symbols or images associated with different sects or secret societies. Designs which are deeply routed in belief systems or schools of thought that are often very difficult to understand.

So. More questions up for discussion. Do you think incorporating the use of tribal designs into new designs (or using straight traditional tribal designs) is a.) at all similar to that? And b.) as we create this new visual vocabulary, what do you think our responsibilities are, as far as both the tattooer and wearer are concerned?

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Obviously the cool new things in 2011.

Back to the discussion.. I really like the idea of making the tattoo alive yourself. Well said. But I wanted to come back to the idea that tattoos of an image having a "set visual meaning" -- because in the same way, so do, for example, polynesian designs. X, y and z could very easily and concretely mean "sea, turtle and warrior" to the culture in which it originated. It reminds me of what's happening with a lot of other symbols lately, of the esoteric variety. People slapping on numbers or planetary symbols or images associated with different sects or secret societies. Designs which are deeply routed in belief systems or schools of thought that are often very difficult to understand.

So. More questions up for discussion. Do you think incorporating the use of tribal designs into new designs (or using straight traditional tribal designs) is a.) at all similar to that? And b.) as we create this new visual vocabulary, what do you think our responsibilities are, as far as both the tattooer and wearer are concerned?

This reminds me of the people who think they're getting some deep meaning kanji symbol that really just means "picnic table" or "laundry basket" or "fuck tard".

I definitely believe it is the responsibility of the customer to be sure of their meaning. The tattoo artist is already quite busy with the layout/application/creation of the tattoo and shouldn't have to worry about whether the customer did their research or not. The exemption would be if the artist was putting a personal spin on it that the customer did not specifically request- then the artist should full well be aware of the implications of the design.

Petri brought up a great point of the fact that in traditional Western culture we do not have immediate resonation with many of these designs so we are free to create our own meaning. Perhaps the goal for both clients and artists should be to explore the creation of a visual vocabulary in this realm that is unique, esthetically pleasing, and free to interpretation. A big goal yes, but definitely worthwhile when you see proper execution.

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We once had a guy in the shop who was of Japanese descent who picked out a number of Kanji . None of the symbols went together. They were chosen for their "look". I feel that symbols and images also function on innate feelings. Everything human is a continuation of activity. There is no start or finish in defining imagery. Certain groups, cultures, clubs, gangs, etc. claim images and restructure them from time to time. This usually takes place as a tool to maintain control over other humans. When a person chooses a tattoo, they have the right to allow that image to speak to themselves however they like. Meaning is personal and should remain so. Meaning is always evolving. However, If a person chooses to adorn themselves with tattoos that are earned within particular sub-cultures, it would be in their best interest to understand the implications of wearing said tattoo. Is this conversation about blackwork? oh yeah. that shit looks cool.

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Obviously the cool new things in 2011.

Back to the discussion.. I really like the idea of making the tattoo alive yourself. Well said. But I wanted to come back to the idea that tattoos of an image having a "set visual meaning" -- because in the same way, so do, for example, polynesian designs. X, y and z could very easily and concretely mean "sea, turtle and warrior" to the culture in which it originated. It reminds me of what's happening with a lot of other symbols lately, of the esoteric variety. People slapping on numbers or planetary symbols or images associated with different sects or secret societies. Designs which are deeply routed in belief systems or schools of thought that are often very difficult to understand.

So. More questions up for discussion. Do you think incorporating the use of tribal designs into new designs (or using straight traditional tribal designs) is a.) at all similar to that? And b.) as we create this new visual vocabulary, what do you think our responsibilities are, as far as both the tattooer and wearer are concerned?

I think it cames down to can a group of people copyright (for lack of a better word) a meaning of a symbol? Or should we automatically asume that if we as westeners use a symbol/design that means something (animal, plant, god, idea) to some people - and has meant it for hundreds, maybe thousands of years- that the people who have first gotten it tattooed would be offended? Maybe they would be happy. Or couldn't care?

I used to think that same aspect but I think it is a very westener type deal, how we are always concerned that if we use something differently than other people, then we would insult them. But I think it can also be a cool thing for them. Or not. Hard to say.

If there is a something in these tattoo designs that resonates, or as you said

Do you think the designs immediately spark something internal in us, as part of a collective unconscious, or do you think people just automatically associate them with something primal and primitive and therefore more significant?

Then it could very well be that they who have gotten blackwork/tirbal tattoos longer than america or finland has been around, might see it as this also. They also could find it something that brings US closer to them. And not just them to us.

So I think the responsibilites depend on the wearer. They should know that in some cases they might hurt some guy in New Zealand if they get a stylised moko tattooed. But also the people who want to raise concern about that the New Zealander might get hurt, should also consider the fact that they might think it is cool to them.

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www.xedtattoo.comSarah don't know if hes up and coming but Xed Le Head is youngish and awesome

How about that welcome page he has, ahha. I'm amazed at the attention to detail in these pieces (Xed), Hooper, Jondix, etc.. Just looking at them I get lost and can only imagine how "tweaker" like it must be to tattoo these tattoos.

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So cool to find my book quoted. Thanks, Petri. This thread is inspiring me to come up with an updated list of blackwork artists. There are so many brilliant tattooists in this genre but most are really located in Europe -- that is, those doing contemporary interpretations of indigenous tattooing or just taking an all black (not shading) approach. Ok, another thing for the To Do list.

This is a thread after my own heart.

PS: So happy to see mention of Xed's name (who is prominently featured in Black Tatto Art). Xed is a veteran of the dotwork/stippling school of blackwork. He's inspired generations in this style and is also a great person.

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Don't know if this comes under the mantle of "Black Work " but i guess it could .Mainly i liked it so freakin much i had to post it somewhere/anywhere !!New stuff by Jeff Zuck .

That is mind-blowingly cool.

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