Hori Benny Tattoos: Vivid, Delicate, Hentai

Into Manga since he was a kid (“I was very young – at least 10 years old – in the 80s, like those kids from Stranger Things”), Hori Benny has turned this love into a profession, thanks to tattoo and his innate wanderlust. Once he arrived in Japan, his life changed… Read all about his wonderful story in this interview full of anecdotes and fascinating details.

Hi Hori, let me begin by asking you how you got your name…would you like to tell us something about it? Where did it come from and why did you choose it? Does it say something about you?
My name is typical of Japanese tattooers. “Hori”(彫) is an honorific prefix for tattooers (much like Japanese names are sometimes suffixed with “san” or “chan.” Benny (紅) These names are generally given to the tattooer by their teacher once their initiation into a tattoo family is complete and they begin their career in earnest.

Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan
Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan

It is perfectly obvious from your work that you have a great love of manga: how did it begin?
Yes, ever since I was very young – at least 10 years old – in the 80s like those kids from Stranger Things. The Internet as we know it today did not exist, so at the time, all we had were American super hero comics and Disney princesses. Eventually I discovered an old blurry VHS tape at a sci-fi convention that my mother took me to. It was a mix full of random “Japanese cartoons” taped off of television. The detailed art and mature subject matter blew my pre-pubescent mind – I had to get my hands on more! I would hunt for anything I could find at comic shops, swap meets, random basements… but it was very difficult to come by in those days! Eventually I got onto Internet BBSes and Usenet and found that there was a whole subculture of otaku devoted to this stuff! Eventually as I grew up a bit, more and more comic shops began to carry actual manga and I was, of course, totally hooked and began to try to emulate the Japanese manga style of drawing in my sketchbooks.

Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan
Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan

So when did you get involved in tattoo? How did you come to realise that you would be able to unite the two things and how did you turn tattooing into your profession?
Well to be honest, I had no interest at all in tattooing when I was younger. I was more obsessed with escaping the USA and seeing the world. I heard of an opportunity to go teach abroad in Japan, so I jumped on it. Once I came over here, I was free to work on my language skills and dive deeper into the world of Japanese otaku…

But I began to realize that the world of Japanese art ran much deeper. I discovered woodblock prints, flower arranging, kimono, and or course, Irezumi.

It became my new obsession. I wanted to understand Japanese “balance”, meanings of motifs, colour usage, and concepts like “wabisabi” which were so different from classical European disciplines. It was thus that I entered into an apprenticeship in Osaka shortly after and began my career. But as the years went by, I began to miss otaku culture. The idea of tattooing it on a person was very novel to me, and Osakans have a great sense of humor, so I did a few pieces on my clients. I was overwhelmed with positive response and before I knew it, it began to take center stage in my portfolio. Mixing Otaku and Tattoo into the “Otattoo” (ヲタトゥー) was not a purposeful act so much as a natural progression of my artist journey.

Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan
Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan

I guess it must have been your love of manga that brought you to Japan. Am I right?
Most American high schools require that a foreign language be studied and (though it was very rare at the time) I started studying Japanese in order to read more manga. No Internet, No fan-scan-translations existed yet, so it was a necessity. Eventually I decided to major in Japanese Language at my University and make a move to Japan – so I suppose manga, anime, and otaku culture were the catalysts!

Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan

I suppose that moving there meant a big upheaval in your life. Would you like to give us an idea of the main events in your life and career?
It was 2001, the year of 9-11. It is difficult to describe the atmosphere of the time, but it seemed as if the USA was plunging headforward into insanity… I was young and politically jaded. I had never seen the world with my own two eyes, but I knew that my picture of the world was incomplete. I had to escape! I had to see what was on the other side of the mountain and across the oceans! Fortunately as newly minted and poor student, I had very few possessions and it was very easy for me to make an international move. I packed one suitcase and left the door open on my apartment with a sign out front that said “Everything inside, FREE!”

Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan
Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan

I spent 2 years on a small island teaching Art and English to junior high school children in the south of Japan. These were very care-free days and full of adventure. I used the time to study, make friends, and travel… but something was missing – I wasn’t doing anything creative… my artistic journey had stalled.

During an excursion to Hiroshima in 2002, I met with an old friend who worked in Tattooing there. Seeing his studio was incredible. It was covered in figures of anime girls, kaiju toys, rock/art posters and had a monitor playing movies. He was drawing every day, creating fresh original motifs, and getting paid for it! It was unreal to me that this could be somebodie’s real life – their real career. I started salivating – I knew immediately that this was what I wanted.

I knew of a famous studio in Osaka and moved there to begin my apprenticeship in 2004. It was by far the most difficult thing I had ever done in my life. It was a far bigger upheaval then the trans-Pacific move. It meant giving up everything, my time, my pride, and any previous accomplishment I had ever held. The Japanese have a very rigorous social structure in their society as well as in the work place. It it very Spartan in nature and certainly not compatible with the free-spirited American way of thinking. Of course this is over 20 years ago and many things have changed but cultural differences like this definitely blindsided me despite my having studied the culture.

Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan
Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan

I worked for ten years with my Shisho (teacher) and eventually decided to make the leap and open my own studio in 2014. It was the proudest moment in my career – and the moment of profound realization. That we never “make it” but are on a constant journey of growth. With each milestone, it only ever feels as if the journey is always beginning.

Did you ever have a master or mentor? Did anyone help or guide you along the way?
Yes, I was taught to tattoo by my mentor here in Osaka, Wataru. He is an amazing guy and it was with his guidance that I was able to delve even deeper into the cultural nuances of Japanese tattooing and of course, everyday life in Japan. It is not only the stylistic conventions of an art form that give it form, but the cultural context in which it is created. There is more to tattooing then just holding a machine. He was a kind and patient teacher, but also strict and I will always treasure the things he taught me.

Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan
Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan

Give me three adjectives to describe you and three to describe your tattoos…
Vivid. Delicate. Hentai.

How does one of your tattoos evolve: from the first contact with the client to the study of the composition, the choice of colours, execution? What sort of approach do you have?
It depends on what the client brings to the table. If they bring a list of requests, I generally consider those to be my parameters. If they bring very little, I fill in the gaps with whatever I feel when I sit down to work on the piece. Sometimes I will add in my own parameters, or perhaps a flow/colour scheme that I am fond of. The nice thing about tattooing is that placement, flow, and size are largely decided upon from the beginning. I feel much of this frees me up to focus on the story of the piece… choosing elements to emphasize something about the character and the like.

I try to break the “concepting” phase and the “execution” phase into separate chunks sometimes.

Then I subdivide those phases… for example, I work out flow and layout before I am even thinking about the colour scheme. Of course, Sometimes phases overlap and lead to new discoveries – that’s what keeps your mind elastic and makes the job journey interesting day to day!

Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan
Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan

When, in your opinion, is a tattoo technically “perfect”? Are you interested in perfection and what do you understand by it?
This is an excellent question but difficult to answer. The substrate of the tattoo is living tissue and ,as such, it is dynamic by its nature. So the piece will necessarily change and degrade with age. I typically aim for my pieces to be high contrast for longevity, but full of details so hopefully they are intriguing from the day they are inked. I like to scaffold my pieces very strongly and work out a rigorous colour reference before I begin – but with the simultaneous understanding that everything is up for grabs. In other words, I want to free up as much of my concentration as possible to be aware of opportunities that may present themselves once the tattooing process has begun. Does the client’s skin, the conversation, the lighting, the music, inspire some sort of impromptu change? I want to be open for that. It is why I don’t really view the under drawings as finished pieces, no matter how high their level of detail. I only see them as due diligence for what will be the final execution. The mojo on the appointment day is very important to me. It doesn’t really translate but I love the Japanese cultural idiom “Ichi-go ichi-e.” The concept of treasuring the unrepeatable nature of a particular moment. Being present, fully engaged.

This is my understanding of perfection in so far as I am able to strive for it.

Is there any piece you have done that you will never forget?
Many pieces are memorable for different reasons. I tend to look at my body of work much more broadly. Usually, it is a reflection of both my client’s wishes and what concepts I was exploring during that period of my journey. I really love the pieces that have cemented friendships. The hand of my apprentice which was from a time when I largely free handed most of my organic work. It is so full of spontaneity. We shut out the world that day, and closed the shop, put on relaxing music, and expanded our consciousness. It was a transcendental and shamanistic moment in my career and would not have been possible without her trust. I will always treasure it.

Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan
Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan

What is it like living in Osaka and can you describe a typical day in your life?
Osaka is a unique city within Japan and defies the typical notion of a quiet, reserved, polite, traditional Japan. Native Japanese who want to move from a small town to the big city in search of success almost invariably move to Tokyo. It is the political and economic centre of the country. But people in Osaka live there because they want to. People here love good food and have a good sense of humour. It is a town that really suits me – or the other way around – has changed me over the years! I typically tattoo 5 days a week, one piece a day. The other two days are for work and play. One day is to prepare and concept my pieces for the week, do studio administrative work and the like without distraction. It’s a good day for solitude. The other day is my goof off day (which sometimes ends up with me working anyway!) On a tattoo day I wake up early before the other staff and come in by myself. I typically polish my drawing for the day for a few hours. Then when the client comes in I usually go start to finish for about 6-8 hours… then I usually go out around town. I like going out and socializing, so I try to have a little bit of that to cap off each day! I also enjoy taking around visitors when I can because it gives me a chance to experience my city with fresh eyes!

Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan
Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan

Do you travel, do conventions? Have you got any other great loves and hobbies apart from tattoo?
I have been travelling more and more as I now have staff I can trust with the studio. But honestly, I prefer guest work to cons. I dislike time restrictions and distractions. A studio is a more forgiving environment so I can focus on my clients and getting to know the other artists, staff, and friends in the studio more intimately. Don’t get me wrong, the energy of cons can be exhilarating too! I guess I just prefer to go at my own pace! Drawing is my main hobby even outside of working, but I am an otaku at heart, so of course I also enjoy watching anime, reading manga and video games. But I also really love music events like Ultra, Tomorrowland, Boiler Room, etc. I really wanna go see a Cercle event some day as well! PLUR! 💚

Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan
Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan

What plans do you have for the future?
I’m always working on new projects, but I’ll definitely be working on making more clothing, toys, and of course artwork. I’m also planning on taking more trips as well, as I never tire of travel! Anyone who wants to keep up with whatever insane things we have going on at the studio or around the world can find out first on our social media: @horibenny and @invasionclubjp

Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan
Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan
Hori Benny, Invasion Club, Osaka, Japan
Follow Hori Benny on Instagram: @horibenny

The post Hori Benny Tattoos: Vivid, Delicate, Hentai appeared first on Tattoo Life.

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