Bodies of Devotion: Interview with Koji Ichimaru

Bodies of Devotion: Interview with Koji Ichimaru

Renowned for his ultra clean and bold work, Koji Ichimaru talks about the importance of process in finding an artistic voice.

Boldly and gracefully blending ancient Japanese icons with modern images of pop culture, Koji Ichimaru is known for a style that is absolutely unique. From monsters to men, Koji Ichimaru creates pieces of artwork that express an authentic sensitivity to what is traditional and what is contemporary. His willingness to experiment and break boundaries supports an aesthetic that is immediately recognizable and coveted. His bodysuits, in particular, are globally known as symbols of dedication to the art form of tattooing. 

How did you get into tattooing and was it always your career of choice?

I have always been curious about tattooing. It fascinated me a lot so I started tattooing myself when I was 16 and using my brother ‘s ID to get tattooed, because in Japan it is illegal to get a tattoo before being 20 years old. It all started from that, before I had never thought about being a tattoo artist as a career.

What is the tattooing scene like in Italy, and what makes Italy special to you?

I chose Italy for personal reasons; here I found my wife and I have my family.

What are your favorite tattoos to do?

What I like the most are full body pieces.

Many artists these days are self-publishing a lot of really incredible works that highlight aspects of the tattooing world. Why do you think creating books goes so well with tattooing? 

Because a book is also a nice object, something that lasts, that you can look through again and again to stimulate imagination.

You can check out Koji Ichimaru's flash book "Heads" over at  Belzel Books site!

I often hear that Japanese tattooing has many rules. Can you describe some of these rules, and why they exist? Why did you find yourself attracted to this particular aesthetic?

To me they are more suggestions than real rules. Every artist uses them in his own way. I like them because they are my culture, where I was born. To me they are natural.

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Your work is consistently praised for being so distinctive, and bold. The blend of traditional Japanese with Western styles is masterful. What artists, books, films, etc. directly inspire your work? What advice do you have for other artists trying to find their personal style?

What inspired me the most has been my training. In Kyushu, where I was born, in the south of Japan, there are a lot of traditional tattoo masters. I have seen wonderful masterpieces which are now impressed in my mind. I took inspiration from what was around me, even some yakuza. I think it’s not possible to decide a personal style, it is something that come with time, work and experience. I found that style is not something that the artist puts in his work, but that probably it is what others recognize after seeing his art. Personally I like to experiment, even learn. Being too much bound to a certain way to express, can, in my opinion tie up freedom and creativity. I think that for an artist, it is not very important to find a style, but the process in finding it. 

Beyond tattooing, what are you most passionate about? If you weren’t a tattooer what would you be doing?

I have different things that interest me, but now tattooing is what interests me the most. If I find something else, I'll do it.

If you're in the New York area, 3rd Ethos Gallery is collaborating with GxBxT and Masato Okano to host a group show that Koji Ichimaru will take part in. The opening party is February 15th at 6pm: 154 Knickerbocker Ave #1R, Brooklyn, NY 11237.

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