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Kokoro: The Art of Horiyoshi III

March 12, 2012

Free exhibition at Somerset House            
21 March – 1 July 2012

Internationally renowned tattoo artist Horiyoshi III exhibits for the first time ever in the UK, showcasing a diverse collection of art and designs with never-seen-before masterpieces at Somerset House

Horiyoshi IIIDescribed as a “living legend” by The New York Times, Horiyoshi III is the undisputed master of Japan’s ancient art of tattooing in our generation.  In this landmark exhibition, Kokoro: The Art of Horiyoshi III, Somerset House hosts a display of the master’s work for the first time ever in the UK, bringing together stunning photography of his traditional full body tattoo ‘suits’ with beautiful, brand new silk and paper paintings, which have never been seen before by the public.  Visitors will also have the rare chance to purchase the original artwork by the master.

Meaning ‘heart, mind and spirit’ in Japanese, the concept of Kokoro underpins the Japanese culture and defines its people’s approach to all aspects of life.  It is what makes Japan quintessentially Japanese and is always present in the work of Horiyoshi III.  Though best known for his tattooing, the master is also a prolific artist and has created an extensive catalogue of compositions on silk and paper, including sumi (ink wash) paintings and Zen calligraphy, which is considered to be sacred in Buddhist culture by encouraging the mind towards enlightenment.  He has also designed a number of netsuke pieces and jewellery, elaborately carved miniature sculptures suspended from the sashes of kimonos.

Depicting a range of mythical creatures and characters, each of Horiyoshi III’s masterpieces interprets a traditional Japanese folklore story, which gives glimpses into the morals and values of Japanese society.  Usually using only shadings of black in his paintings, the master has experimented in the last year with colour compositions, which have never been seen before by the public.  Taking up to 40 hours to produce at a time, the delicate techniques of his work are best admired up close. 

Kokoro Daruma by Horiyoshi IIIA selection of these artworks, handpicked by Horiyoshi III for the exhibition at Somerset House, will be on display alongside photography taken by the master’s only international apprentice, Alex ‘Kofuu’ Reinke, and Matti ‘Senju’ Sedholm, inside his Yokohama tattoo studio, highlighting the motifs in both his art and tattooing.     

Horiyoshi III said: “I am absolutely thrilled to now be exhibiting in the UK and particularly at Somerset House.  I have always felt an affinity with the UK; I think our countries have a lot in common since the history and culture of the UK is as old and vast as the one of Japan.  There are so many incredible and inspirational artists there too that I feel extremely honoured to be joining them at a venue in the heart of the country’s artistic scene.”

Born Yoshihito Nakano in 1946, Horiyoshi III is part of a proud tattoo art tradition in Japan, which was outlawed until as recently as 1948 for its ‘barbaric’ practices.  He was bestowed with his honorific title in 1971 by his master, the respected tattoo artist Yoshitsugu Muramatsu, known as Shodai Horiyoshi of Yokohama (the second Horiyoshi title was given to Muramatsu’s son).  ‘Hori’ means ‘to carve’ since the traditional tattooing tool is sharpened bamboo which is pushed continually into the skin to create gradations, similar to brush strokes on a painting.  After meeting the American tattoo artist Ed Hardy and becoming close friends, Horiyoshi III adopted electric needles alongside the traditional techniques, pioneering a new style of Japanese tattoo art in the process.  

Having “vowed to never be lazy until the day I die”, he still tattoos six days a week after thirty years of practice and has a long waiting list of clients. See a video of Horiyoshi III at work here

Orchestrated by London based Italian tattoo artist Claudia de Sabe, the exhibition gets to the core of a country with a beguiling cultural tradition and aspires to leave visitors with their own sense of ‘kokoro’.  

Opening hours: 21 March – 1 July 2012, daily from 10.00 to 18.00
Address: Somerset House, Courtyard Rooms, Strand, London WC2R 1LA
Admission: Free
Transport: Nearest Underground Stations are: Temple, Covent Garden, Charing Cross and Embankment

JNTO Partners