Picture a dragon with gleaming scales descending from the heavens, its serpentine body twisting as it swirls down through fire and thick plumes of smoke. The ground trembles when the beast lands at your feet, and as you stand shaking before its massive frame, it extends one of its three-toed claws. Oh, did we mention it’s holding a donut? This is the unique, postmodern style of Maxime Gautron, better known as Brindi. His designs are a delightfully absurd combination of timeless motifs and silly 21st-century imagery. By fusing high and lowbrow culture, he honors Irezumi's legacy, while still having a little harmless fun at its expense.
Traditional Japanese tattoos are full of heroes dying on battlefields, yokai tormenting innocent souls, and mythological creatures intervening in mankind’s affairs, but Brindi shows that they don’t always have to be so serious. With their practically neon color palettes, his tattoos smack of pop culture. They feature imagery like kitsune with bananas strapped to their heads instead of skulls and hannyas chewing on sneakers. In these zany pieces, you can see the vestiges of ukiyo-e masters like Kuniyoshi and Hokusai, but there are also hints of contemporary tattooists such as Ichibay, Grime, and Filip Leu. He views mixing these disparate cultural touchstones as a way to connect the art form’s rich heritage to his generation.
“Shows like The Simpsons are a really big source of inspirations for me, not only because of the cool drawing style but also for the genuine creativity and smart references to movies, bands, arts, and life in general,” says Brindi. “But I’m also inspired by things like Hiroshige’s landscapes, so I reappropriate them.” In the eyes of some viewers, Brindi’s compositions may seem irreverent toward the longstanding tradition of storytelling behind Irezumi, but for him, it's a matter of staying true to himself.
“I've always been a weirdo, so I guess I do what I do best: producing weird stuff. I think tattooing is a very serious thing, but being a tattooist doesn't mean you have to take yourself too seriously,” explains Brindi. “I respect the art of tattoos so much, so I try to do justice to it in every piece, but in a cheeky way. Tattooing is like a best friend — you respect and love them so much, but it's also the person you make the most fun of.”
By using traditional Japanese tattoos to horse around, Brindi is actually giving a nod to its history as a popular art form. His work is more of a parody of contemporary society than one of traditional Japanese tattoos. When Irezumi first came about in the Edo period, it was centered around expressing feelings about everyday life in Japan. By reflecting the current cultural zeitgeist, his tattoos serve the same function as those made centuries ago, mirroring what it is to be alive in a bizarre yet beautiful day and age.
To see more of Brindi’s postmodern spins on Irezumi, follow him on Instagram. Should you want a Hiroshiege-Simpsons mashup or some other strange play on a traditional Japanese tattoo motif, he own and operates out of Brindi Tattoo in Toulouse, France and can be reached at email@example.com.