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S.F. exhibition reveals Japanese origins of today’s popular tattoo art

By August 2, 2019 No Comments
The "Tattoos in Japanese Prints" exhibit looks at how a 19th century art form influenced the body art that is popular today. (Image courtesy of Asian Art Museum of San Francisco)

The latest featured exhibition at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco revisits 19th century Japan to explore how large-scale and densely composed tattoos that are fairly popular today first emerged in tandem with woodblock prints depicting tattooed heroes of history and myth.

The exhibition, titled “Tattoos in Japanese Prints,” was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts Boston with support of Lucy Sun, Warren Felson and the Ellen Bayard Weedon Foundation and will be available at the Asian Art Museum through Aug. 18.

“By putting the aesthetic genius of Japanese printmakers on full display, this exhibition underscores how the popular culture of late Edo-period Japan continues to influence how we express ourselves today,” said Jay Xu, Asian Art Museum director and CEO.

Takahiro Kitamura, the owner of a tattoo parlor in San Jose, says some of the art featured in the exhibition feels like it was drawn to become a tattoo.

Kitamura moderated a panel discussion on Japanese tattoos in June and was featured at a live tattooing event at the museum on July 13.

The body art industry has been rapidly growing in the last five years, showing 6.1 percent year-over-year growth nationwide, according to a market research report by IBISWorld.

Over the same period, number of licensed body art shops in Santa Clara County, where Kitamura’s business State of Grace Tatoo is located, nearly doubled from 89 in 2014 to 165 in 2019 and the number of practitioners jumped to 333 from 237, according to the county’s Open Data Portal.