MUTZINE looks into the work of Dogy, Horu, and Hail, who represent a rising class of tattoo artists in South Korea. Their work is technically illegal, but rising in demand, as inked skin has reached mainstream visibility. The artists tell us about their respective inking styles and how the industry is changing.
Words Cessi Treñas & Gissella Ramirez-Valle, Interpretation Juyeon Lee & Shinyoung Park
In South Korea, the tattoo industry hasn’t been able to flourish due to a law that prohibits artists from inking skin without a medical license. Persisting negative connotations, where tatted skin indexes criminal activity, hasn’t really helped overturn the rule either. Artists are forced to work in the shadows in order to evade heavy fines and even jail sentences. Changes are afoot however, as there are now an estimated 20,000 artists and 1,000,000 inked individuals in South Korea.
Strength can definitely be found in numbers, as there are dozens of tattoo artists currently showcasing their work on Instagram with tens of thousands of followers. The pivotal power of social media, as well as the numerous celebrities who openly flaunt their tattoos are creating a generation where inked skin and bare skin are achieving equal footing.
With all the makings of a fashion statement, the minimalist tattoo seems to be the most popular choice. These small, almost ornamental tattoos with characteristic basic lines are set apart by a polished look that resonates with the clean, minimalist aesthetic that Korean fashion always seems to return to. These tattoos remind us that sometimes less is better than excess, and that even the simplest things can deliver us rapture all the same.
MUTZINE looks into the work of tattoo artists Dogy, and Horu and Hail of Heru Ink, who have talent and Instagram followings worthy of envy. They explain their distinct aesthetic, the gradual shifting stance towards tattoos in Korea, and just what tattoos mean to them.
Based in: Hongdae, Seoul
Dogy’s designs reside in the precise intersection of understated and quirky. Who would have guessed that his distinct style stems from a past fear of tattoo-sporting folk? He shares, “I used to be scared when I saw people with tattoos, so I wanted to design tattoos that are unique but not scary, so everybody can get them without burden.”
While many of Dogy’s creations are inspired by everyday sights and feature eccentric objects, his work also captures love in various forms, from people hugging and kissing to two-dimensional illustrations of pets captured in simple silhouettes and minimal detail. An air of seduction also comes into play in his signature designs of women: bare-backed, underwear-clad, and undeniably mysterious. While creating and branding these figures on to skin is his job as an artist, Dogy shares that it is something that truly delivers him a sense of happiness.
When asked about the implications the existing law, banning tattooing without a medical permit, has on the craft, he explains, “The fact that it’s illegal itself, affects the recognition of tattoos. It’s getting better, but the general view of tattoo culture in Korea still isn’t very positive.” However, it’s not all bad, he lists social networking and the media as factors that have helped in gaining the public’s attention and growing understanding towards tattoos.
"I PERSONALLY THINK THAT ACCESSORIES ARE THINGS THAT YOU SIMPLY USE WHEN DRESSING UP, BUT WITH TATTOOS YOU CAN PUT IN DEEPER PERSONAL MEANINGS. I DON'T THINK TATTOOS ARE SIMPLY FOR ACCESSORIZING." — DOGY
Age: 27 & 28
Based in: Heru Ink, Busan
With two and a half years of experience under their belts, couple artists Horu and Hail have inked their dainty mini-tattoos into people’s hearts. Refreshing color splashes and delicate line work come together in their custom-made designs, which cover a large scope of cursive lettering, pastel-toned flowers, and realistic animal portraits.
Apart from their attention to detail and refined tattoos, it may be the genuine love for sharing their art that attracts clients to Horu and Hail. For the soon-to-be parents who are in their ninth month of pregnancy, tattoos are a symbol of joy. When asked about their most common sources of inspiration for their art, Horu shares, “I get inspiration mostly from photos that customers send me, flowers and plants, stuff I think about in my daily life, or things I draw and design in my diary or notebook.”
Regarding the increasing popularity of tattoos in the mainstream, Horu also recognizes the vital contribution of social networking sites in garnering public attention. She also explains, “In my opinion, it’s because of female tattooists who work with details and many artists who actually draw professionally that the tattoo industry has improved. There’s a larger variety in terms of style and kinds of drawings, which makes customers happy.”