Kazuaki Horitomo’s Monmon Cats combine a couple of global (and personal) obsessions – cats and body art. Tattooist Horitomo’s work looks, at first glance, as though it has existed for centuries, thanks to his traditional style and ink wash technique, and that’s what makes this work so intriguing – there’s a timelessness about it that is both (and neiher) modern and ancient, influenced by his use of the tebori tattoing technique, which eschews machinery to instead apply the art by hand, using wooden and metal needles – a slow, painful and dramatic looking style of creating body art that is only now practised by a handful of artists.
Horitomo’s cats are not only artistic creations in their own right, but proud owners of tebori tattoos – in his work, we see them both being tattooed and then displaying their new body art in works that evoke a Japan of the past while still containing nods to the present. There’s drama and humour in the imagery, as the cats become musicians, samurai, or simply remain playful and contrarian creatures. He’s also branched out to do paintings of dogs and even mice in a similar style.
Making things more meta, much of Horitomo’s Monmon art has itself become tattoos – though not, we should say, on cats – taking on a living, breathing reality as they become part of someone’s body.