Black Tattoo Art: Modern Expressions of the Tribal


BlackTattooArt_cover.jpg Edition Reuss recently released Black Tattoo Art: Modern Expressions of the Tribal, a photographic homage to a particular genre of skin art. The book is curated by Marisa Kakoulas (lawyer, writer, circus lady, and blogger.) Above and after the jump, Boing Boing's exclusive peek at some of the hundreds of striking, full-page images you'll find inside.

The 536-page hardcover includes work by tattoo artists from Borneo, Argentina, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Europe and North America. The book weighs nearly ten pounds, and the binding is stitched with silver embossing. It's fat, heavy, and gorgeous.

"There has never before been a book on this style of tattooing in English," Marisa told Boing Boing over email. "The style is called 'blackwork,' where the artists are limited to one color and so they have to stretch their imagination in terms of design elements to create original works, rather than having a palette of colors and shading techniques to chose from as in other styles of tattooing."

Some of the photos we selected to share on Boing Boing also include the use of a single additional color.

Black Tattoo Art examines how indigenous tattooing has evolved over the years, beginning with a history section, then each of the styles that originate in tribal arts.

Lots more photos from the book after the jump. NSFW-ish warning: one of them is a human hiney.

I've seen a lot of black tats on friends' bodies in my time, but the 'Art Brut' chapter was new to me. "Popularized in France and Belgium, this style takes street art and harmonizes those aesthetics with the body -- a key element in tribal tattooing," explained Marisa. "It's a completely new tattoo style that has never been curated into any volume before until now."

Interviews in the book include Leo Zulueta, the "godfather of tribal tattooing," who popularized the NeoTribal tattoo movement. Another interesting profile in this book: Peter Schachner, who was imprisoned in Thailand in the early 1990s. There, he learned the hand-craft of Thai tattooing from fellow inmates during four years spent at Lard Yao prison.

The book also devotes an entire chapter to the use of stippling techniques, which resemble pointillism.

If you have tats like this, or know and love someone who does, I can think of no finer holiday gift. Except maybe more tats.

Amazon Link / Publisher's Link. Photographers include Sean Toussaint, Lars Krutak and Craig Burton (Images courtesy Edition Reuss)












    1. Yeah, I kinda asked Marisa for “tech” or “pop culture” themed tat images that I thought might resonate with Boing Boing, but there are MANY more traditional designs in the book.

  1. for those of us who scroll from bottom to top to look at the pictures first, the warning comes kind of late. “bottoms up.”

  2. “The style is called ‘blackwork,’ where the artists are limited to one color

    Except for the last two, none of the examples shown above fit that definition (although they are quite wonderful).

  3. Starsky & Hutch would look most recognizable from a distance, so I wonder if that guy is a nudist or somehow naked in public a lot. Otherwise the best damn cop duo ever are trapped in darkness for most of their existence.

  4. Well, the nice thing is that since the tattoos are monochrome, they won’t lose much on the Kindle.

    At $130, that’s about the only way I’ll be able to afford it.


  5. What’s with the BoingBoing watermark plugs? Do you guys really need to claim ownership on sharing something that isn’t yours to begin with?

    1. We don’t claim ownership of the images. I thought it might be good to try an experiment of watermarking some of the large-format images we post here, to deter hotlinking and encourage a breadcrumb trail back to the sources involved. Images hosted on our servers are used without attribution, and in ways that do violate the CC license we use and the rights of the owners/creators, all the time.

      1. I said claiming ownership on sharing the images, not claiming ownership of the photos themselves. I also can’t find where the publisher, authors or photographers permit derivatives under CC, as the website states a full copyright protection to the respective parties.

        1. Boing Boing received the images directly from the publisher, with permission to publish them here in the context of a review. I did not say that the publisher released them under a license that explicitly allows for derivative or adaptive works by readers. I shared the past examples of people abusing *our* license as an explanation of why I thought it would be helpful to try watermarking for a few galleries. This is starting to feel pedantic, I’ve stated my case, I may or may not watermark in the future, I’d rather discuss the book itself here.

      2. As a tattoo artist this is really frustrating. I had the same issue with BMEzine…. This argument is like stealing my car then spray-painting your name on it to make sure no one else steals it. These images were likely lifted from artists’ sites. It would be nice if the breadcrumb trail led back there.

  6. I would encourage you to not use watermarks on images. Network ID ‘bugs” have made television all but unwatchable for me. Google does a fine job of referring people to sources. No need to tattoo your images.

  7. It’s funny, I guess, how the purpose of so-called ‘tribal’ tatoos is to evoque the strictly personal, single identity of the tatooed. It sure is catchy and fashion-victimey though…

    Disclaimer: yes, I do believe tattoo overdose is this decade’s mullet.

  8. potential tattoo seekers: be intelligent about your body. if you want something trendy PUT ON A TEMPORARY ART – SOMETHING YOU CAN REMOVE!!!!! its an intelligent decision.

  9. I pine for the old days when a tattoo could guarantee social ostracism, when one would seriously weigh the decision.

    These days, every second person has some ugly rubbish branded onto their flesh. When criminals and bikers start to look like models of fashionable restraint in comparison you know that something is deeply wrong.

    Don’t get me wrong, the right tattoo on the right person can be striking. However, much like clothing, some designs will flatter and some will mock, unlike clothing, they must look good for many long years (unless you like expanses of scarred flesh better).

  10. Awesome! Marisa rules. The book is so insane. At the release party someone kept picking it up and dropping it on the table, it sounded like gun fire. People were jumping!

  11. I’m probably biased because this is my craft, but to me, blackwork is one of the most exciting innovations in tattooing going on today… and yet the concept is as old as the craft itself.

    Sure, not everybody is going to appreciate it (hey there BB trollsters!), but if you’re getting tattooed for the right reason, yourself, then it hardly matters.

    The practice of increasing the complexity of patterns using the aid of computer software combined with a keen eye and a steady hand really pushes the envelope of what tattooing can be.

    I for one am psyched to see an entire book devoted to blackwork.

    (Little Swastika from Germany, and Yann Traville (France/Canada) are a couple great ones to google if you’re a fan of this style!)

    Thanks for the heads up Xeni.

  12. I’m genuinely curious about something – this is not a troll. Are “professional” cultures outside the US more tolerant of visible tattoos? Because as much as I’d love to get something like the first picture, I’d never be able to find a white-collar job in the US again. Hell, I’ve been hesitant to get an upper arm tattoo just in case it peeks out my shirt sleeves on a warm day.

    1. “Are “professional” cultures outside the US more tolerant of visible tattoos?”

      I’d like to say that many cultures would be tolerant in the US about a lot of things. I think as a psychologist I could probably get away with a partially visible tattoo (upper arm maybe, I live in NZ). My partner is a psychologist and has a nape piercing. He wears shirts though so it is covered, and his supervisor had him take an ear piercing out – which really bugged me.

      1. I work at a research institute at a university, and a good portion of the graduate students (myself included) have visible tattoos — including those who are hitting their PhDs. It’s never really an issue.

        1. @28 Davin, don’t take this the wrong way, but the university culture and the commercial business culture are two totally different things. I think it’s a reasonable question and concern if one is considering a professional career, since (for right or wrong) people’s lives and livelihoods are often affected by other’s judgement of completely irrelevant factors (such as body modification).

          I personally am not a tattoo aficionado (I’ve never found something which I want permanently applied to my body) I agree with Anonymous #16 in that the right tat on the right person can be exceptional but have no real objections to tats on others (other than poor and excessive work is usually not attractive). If you’re getting it done for your own consumption, more power to you but it doesn’t mean I’m going to appreciate your taste.

  13. You can’t see the Belgian guy’s work because the gallery of it is still under construction which is hilarious in the context of the way-overdone graphics to get there.

  14. That isn’t Carl Sagan. It’s Starsky and Hutch…even more irrelevant. Ha Ha. At least Sagan made a contribution to the world.

    “Don’t give up on us, baby.”

  15. First: “Photographers include Sean Toussaint, Lars Krutak and Craig Burton.” Who’s included on the *artist* roster?

    Second: insert my usual hobbyhorse ‘dialog’ here about good work, bad work, and how no one, including Anonymous #16, can actually tell someone what to do with his or her body; ancillary points to include that folks get the tattoos they deserve.

    And with that, funnily enough, I’m off to Brooklyn Adorned to get started on some really big, really black (no, really, just black, no red or anything) custom work from another God Of Blackwork, Thomas Hooper.

    1. I don’t think anonymous #16 was telling anyone what to do with their bodies. I believe he was stating his opinion.

  16. I’m no stranger to blackwork – got a full back of necrobadgers, as you do – but I’m smitten with the use of faux printing-process stipple dots in some of this stuff. Damn, another prettybook in my wish list.

  17. Anonymous | #19 | 05:42 on Sat, Dec.19 | Reply

    I’m genuinely curious about something – this is not a troll. Are “professional” cultures outside the US more tolerant of visible tattoos? Because as much as I’d love to get something like the first picture, I’d never be able to find a white-collar job in the US again. Hell, I’ve been hesitant to get an upper arm tattoo just in case it peeks out my shirt sleeves on a warm day.
    Anonymous @19, I can only speak with regards to Brussels, but the most I’ve seen in the way of tattoos have been s butterfly’s and roses done on a woman’s ankle or waist area. Having moved from t

  18. crap, I hit submit on accident and there is no edit facility here? Lame!

    Anyway… when I moved here from the US West coast the first thing I noticed was the complete lack of tattoos and piercings on people. It felt very strange. I’m rather surprised that Belgium would be some sort of forefront in the tattoo world. If people have them, they’re certainly hidden.

    1. Kraskland..

      Yeah, I think your problem is Belgium, rather than Europe. True or not, it definitely has a reputation as being quite middle-of-the-road.

  19. I never really understand what “tribal” is supposed to mean in this kind of context. What tribe are these people part of? The Barista tribe?

  20. Someone should get a bar-code tattoo of a very popular item, maybe a gallon of milk, on their wrist. Then, when they go through the self-checkout lane, they would have plausible deniability! “Hey I didn’t steal that – it accidentally scanned me!”

  21. Who gets these tattoos that isn’t independently wealthy or doesn’t want to be stuck doing construction the rest of their life?

    1. Who gets these tattoos that isn’t independently wealthy or doesn’t want to be stuck doing construction the rest of their life?

      Angelina Jolie. Any more questions?

  22. These designs are very creative and definitely enjoyable… as designs.
    As an aspiring tattooist, I would definitely ask the potential costumer what these designs meant to them and if they were absolutely aware that the art was permanent. A reason such as, “cuz it’s cool,” or anything like that would certainly turn me off to the idea of touching this person’s skin.

    I’m not saying that the above designs AREN’T meaningful – i’m sure some of them are – but if you show that you are serious about having indelible art scarred on you and are serious and passionate about what it is that you’re getting, your artist will take honest care in rendering your tattoo. i’ve yet to meet a tattoo artist who was materialistic and did not understand personal value. you tell them you want something because it’s, “totally cute,” or, “way bad ass,” and I can guarantee you that they’ll put about as much effort into stabbing it in you as you did into thinking it up.

    you get the tattoo you deserve.

    1. I completely disagree with you 100%. This is the kind of attitude born all too often out of tattoo-tv un-reality shows like Miami Ink.

      I feel “Because it looks cool” is a perfectly good reason to get body art done. Not every tattoo has to be in memory of one’s dead dad/sister/dolphin. (though those are perfectly valid reasons as well!)

      I’ve tattooed plenty of people with ‘bad ass’ and ‘cute’ designs. We’ve both been psyched to do the work and see the outcome.

      Keep aspiring Anonymous #40… and don’t forget to lighten up.

      1. benher,

        Well said!

        I hate the idea that tattoos have to bear some tragic significance, and Miami Ink is definitely cuplrit #1.

  23. I have to say that, before I read any of these comments, I thought the men on that guy’s butt were Seth Shostak and Carl Sagan.

  24. something important to remember about your opinions of tattoos – no matter who you are, your opinion is always wrong unless it is about your tattoo

  25. The fear of permanent woe is a funny one. It really marks the tattooed folks from the non-tattooed ones. Everything we do in life leaves a mark and every one of us will end up wrinkly and saggy. The way a tat ages and its little quirks become part of the greater story.

    It’s a happy mutant thang, dog. :)

  26. Do you really want a giant skateboard on your chest when you are 40? Or some crazy art to impress your friends who will be gone 20 years from now?

    Tats aren’t rebellious anymore, they are passe and just say that you are one of the herd.


  28. I, uh…Got kinda excited about the photos I was about to see…And then you picked these ones.

    ::gestures to some of the-coughHIPSTERBULLSHITTATTOOScough-selections in the previous article::

    A resounding “meh”.

    More representative cross section next time…Please?

    Unless that’s all they sent you, in which case, disregard my comment.

  29. Paraphrasing B.J. Honeycutt on M.A.S.H when Radar was thinking about getting a tattoo:

    “Why would I want forever on my body artwork I wouldn’t have hanging on my wall?”

    Ostracize me from the “tribe” if you must, but I’ve seen some really trashy books in some spectacular bindings.

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