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Christian Koch
Interview by: Christian Koch Friday 5 July 2019
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15 Of The Best: Blackwork and Ornamental Tattoo Artists

You don’t need us to tell you that blackwork body art is currently having a ‘moment’, as people across the globe clamour to have parts of their anatomy covered in darkly-rendered patterns and shapes. Ornamental tattoos are equally as ubiquitous; spiritual and neo-tribal designs are now a social media mainstay. 

Yes, both styles are effortlessly timeless. But they’re also continuing to evolve in exciting new ways, thanks to the 15 artists below, all of whom will appearing at this September’s London Tattoo Convention. From a traditional Samoan 'tufuga' artist to a famous French tattooist who spent 200 hours perfecting one bodysuit, here they are…  

1. Dillon Forte, Sri Yantra Tattoo, USA

Gaze at Dillon Forte’s sacred geometric tattoos, and you may see much more than hypnotic patterns and some dramatic dot-work. According to their creator, “through geometry we can gain a greater awareness of the true meaning of life.” Whether he cracks that eternal mystery or not is a moot point, but this US artist has certainly made it big: he counts Chris Hemsworth and LA Ink’s Kat Von D as clients, while he has two Sri Yantra Tattoo studios in California.

@dillonforte 

2. Flo Nuttall, Swansong Tattoo, Italy 

Scour through Flo’s Instagram feed and you’ll find plenty of images of Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god, all rendered beautifully in the Rome artist’s lavish style. There’s also a bounty of other spiritual images too: mandalas, Buddhas and a mysterious group of feline deities from an unspecified cat religion. 

@flonuttall

3. Lawrence Ah Ching, Samoa 

Blackwork is believed to have originated from the Polynesian islands of the Pacific. There could be some credence here; even the word ‘tattoo’ is thought to derive from the Samoan ‘tatau’. At the London Tattoo Convention Samoa’s Lawrence Ah Ching will be taking blackwork back to its roots, with his use of traditional 'tufuga' methods that have been passed orally through generations. Want a Pe’a (Samoan tattoo covering waist to the knees)? Or maybe a malu (female tattoo on both legs)? Lawrence’s your man.

@segaula_tatau

4. Nissaco, Japan 

Putting a twist on the tattoo styles from his native Japan by fusing them them with Gordion-like geometric patterns, Nissaco is a true innovator. No surprise, but should you want to book one of his sterling skin-works, you can expect an average waiting time of one year. 

@nissaco 

5. Jack Peppiette, Insider Tattoo, Scotland

This Edinburgh-based artist regularly drapes his customers in some stunning mehndi and geometric patterns, often featuring flowers, mandalas and religious icons – and almost always administered in his signature blackwork style. 

@jackpeppiette

6. LewisInk, France 

At one previous London Tattoo Convention this French artist memorably completed his client’s bodysuit in front of hundreds of spectators. It was a denouement to an epic – and well-publicised –  project that had taken him a staggering 200 hours, 30 sessions and 18 months. Does LewisInk have similar wizardry planned for September’s event? Shuffle down to Tobacco Dock to find out…   

@blacksymmetry

7. Jim Orie, Dragon Tattoo, Netherlands

Having grown up in his father’s Eindhoven tattoo parlour, it was inevitable that Jim would one day take up the baton too. Today, his speciality is ‘symbolic blackwork’ that respectfully mines the ethnic tribal styles of the South Pacific for inspiration. 

@jimorie

8. Hanumantra, Un1ty, UK

After a decade spent traipsing across the world, Hanumantra and his partner Jo, returned to Birmingham to set up their joint Un1TY studio. Using only black ink, many of Hanumantra’s free-hand designs are inspired by tribal tattoos seen on his travels, such as those from Māori, Polynesian and even Bornean cultures. 

@hanumantra 

9. Ivan Hack, Russia 

This Moscow tattoo artist is known for majestic geometric body art that showcases his mind-boggling chiaroscuro techniques and deft dot detailing.

@ivan_hack

10. Grace Neutral, Femme Fatale Tattoo, UK

Arguably one of the best-known faces at this year’s London Tattoo Convention, thanks to presenting Viceland’s 'Needles & Pins' documentary, a 643k-strong Instagram following and tabloids frothing about her body modification (elf-shaped ears, her inked violet eyes and a forked tongue). Grace is also a mean tattooist herself, producing stunning patterns at her Femme Fatale Tattoo studio, such as this… 

@graceneutral 

11. Samantha Houten, Switzerland 

The tradition of Berber women in North Africa tattooing faces, feet and other body parts for beauty and protection appears to waning among younger generations. Attempting to revive this custom is Switzerland-based hand-poke artist Samantha, who’ll be bringing her machine-free Berber designs to September’s convention.

@samantha_houten

12. Jeroen Franken, Seven Seas, Netherlands

There are many neo-tribal tattooists around the world, but few research their trade as thoroughly as Jeroen. Having made his first tattoo in the jungles of Borneo in the 1990s, his initial designs were inspired by the island’s Iban tribe. He’s since branched into the kind of ink exotica rarely seen in other studios, such as Filipino, Hawaiian and Polynesian body art.  

@jeroenfranken 

13. Ajarn Matthieu and Rung Duquenois

In Thai culture, the 'sak yan' are tattoos worn for spiritual and physical protection, taking the form of anything from cabalistic spells to interpretations of animals, such as tigers and monkeys. Frenchman Matthieu Duqenois is only the second European to ever be honoured with the title of 'arjan' (master of Thai tattoo), having learned the rituals of Thailand’s tattoo masters via a series of apprenticeships. He’ll be attending the London Tattoo Convention with his wife, Rung.

@matthieuduquenois

14. Colin Dale, Denmark

As a Canadian working in Denmark, it’s somewhat apt that Colin’s hand-tapped tribal tattoos feature both Haida (native people in British Colombia and Alaska) styles and Viking symbols. At his Copenhagen Skin&Bone shop, you’ll find him excelling in other tribal styles, all of which feature his excellent dot-work. 

@colindaletattoo

15. Gakkin, Japan 

Having left his native Japan after an Osaka court ruled he couldn’t work with needles without a medical license, free hand tattooist Gakkin has effectively exiled himself to Europe, where he takes the stylings of his homeland, and embellishes them with blackwork or ornamental flourishes.

@gakkinx

Meet all of these artists and more at The London Tattoo Convention, 27-28-29th September 2019. Tickets are now available online.