Horinao Highlark


Tokyo-based artist Horinao, a member of the slowly emerging class of traditional tattooers in Japan, keeps the flame lit under an art form steeped in cultural significance and perfectionism. Working mostly in large-scale format, he composes back pieces and bodysuits with the mind of a mythologist and the hand of a craftsman. His work is, before anything else, classic, eternalizing the technique and devotion to detail of Irezumi masters of the past. Through careful pairings and keen visual storytelling, Horinao’s scenes touch on various layers of the human experience and the relationship between man and world that Japanese artwork so often makes tangible.

In terms of content, the majority Horinao’s imagery is action shots, giving his work a highly mobile, anticipatory feeling. His characters are always on the verge, leading to a delicious tension within the scene. Unlike many other comtemporary Irezumi artists, Horinao’s portfolio seems to carry a higher concentration of tattoos featuring human figures as opposed to flora and fauna- the samurai and the geisha appear consistently throughout his work. This gives the tattoos a highly humanistic element, especially when bridging the mortal world with the supernatural sphere that influences Japanese legend and custom.

I think what strikes a viewer most about Horinao’s tattoos is their genuineness, both on a technical level and a conceptual one. They look almost like ink on parchment; his black and grey designs, in particular, are patterned and hypnotic. There’s even a slight resemblance to Polynesian tribal work, a testament to the sizable niche Irezumi occupies in the industry and the natural way influences merge in a global tattooing context. Juxtaposed with the profundity and sometimes austere aura of Horinao’s work is his underlying eye for color and pure visual joy- his koi, for example, peer out from soulful eyes and bright crimson coats, as do his lobsters. As a tattoo artist, he swears by Japanese technique and motif, but is also able to put a part of himself into what he does. This crucial ability is what then allows him to extend the inner glow of the customer into a tattoo, translating their thoughts in ancient terms.

Horinao and other Irezumi artists preserve the art form and the spiritual element behind the style in a culture that still does not fully accept the tattooed or those who tattoo them. With a steadily increasing global fanbase, though, Irezumi has become a phenomenon in the Western world, which, like any modern craze, has opened it up to exploitation. Artists like Horinao, however, have pinpointed the fine line between promoting an art form and respecting the stories and secrets that come with it. This devotion and deep comprehension of the themes within comes through in the carefully etched tattoos that fill Horinao’s body of work with battle scenes, harmony, and depictions of heaven, all at once.


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