Alex Binnie’s stunning art book — The Woodcut Portraits — illustrates the way tattooists bond while working alongside each other. The title features a collection of prints modeled on artists that Binnie has befriended throughout the course of his long career. By carving their likenesses into blocks of wood, he has created depictions of his peers that reflect their personalities. You can see the importance friendship holds in his life through the way he renders his subjects; each of the woodcuts shows signs of being a labor of love.
“Printmaking has many parallels with tattooing, some most definite, some more tenuous, and this project has, in my mind at least, tied the two together,” Binnie explains in the introduction to his book. “I have come to love printmaking almost as much as tattooing. In both there is something about the medium that grabbed me, and in many ways it is the medium, and the processes involved in it, that has been my main inspiration.”
The connection between printmaking and tattooing stretches back centuries. Traditional Japanese tattoos and woodblock prints (ukiyo-e) grew up side by side during the Edo period (1603-1868), and Europeans first encountered tattoos by viewing prints of indigenous peoples brought back from expeditions, like that of Captain Cook, during the late 1700s. Binnie’s awareness of this longstanding relationship between the two art forms is what inspired him to get into woodcuts in the first place. Eventually, he started to do portraits in the medium based on photographs, which is how the series was born.
The book contains thirty-two portraits, all based on other tattooists. “These are my people, our family,” Binnie writes. “Some I have known for decades, some just a few years; some very well, having worked alongside them for a long time, some much more casually; but all are people I have felt some real connection with. The vast majority are tattooers themselves, and a lot of them have been heavily associated with my shop.”
Binnie does more than just capture the look of his fellow tattooists; he accentuates the characteristics that make each of them such unique individuals. He tips his hat to their different tattoo styles by employing a variety of techniques, like bordering his portraits thematically, abstracting the appearance of his subjects, and other dramatic effects. Because of the strong sense of personality he puts into them, his compositions speak to what makes the people they’re modeled on so remarkable. He pours his heart and soul into his woodcuts and, in doing so, channels the spirit of his peers.