Kokoro: The Art of Horiyoshi III

Kokoro: The Art of Horiyoshi III

Free exhibition at Somerset House: 21 March – 1 July 2012

Internationally renowned tattoo artist Horiyoshi III exhibits for the first time ever in the UK, showcasing a diverse collection of traditional Japanese artworks and designs with never-seen-before masterpieces at Somerset House

Described as a “living legend” by The New York Times, Horiyoshi III is best known as the undisputed master of Japan’s ancient art of tattooing of his generation, but he is also a prolific artist who has a passion for painting on paper and silk as well as skin.  In this landmark exhibition, Kokoro: The Art of Horiyoshi III, Somerset House hosts a display of the master’s work for the first time ever in the UK, featuring his beautiful, brand new silk and paper paintings, which have never been seen before by the public.  Visitors will also have the rare chance to purchase the original artwork by the master.

Meaning ‘heart, mind and spirit’ in Japanese, the concept of Kokoro underpins the Japanese culture and defines its people’s approach to all aspects of life.  It is what makes Japan quintessentially Japanese and is always present in the work of Horiyoshi III.  The master has created an extensive catalogue of compositions on silk and paper, including sumi (ink wash) paintings and Zen calligraphy, which is considered to be sacred in Buddhist culture by encouraging the mind towards enlightenment.  He has also designed a number of netsuke pieces, elaborately carved miniature sculptures suspended from the sashes of kimonos.

Depicting a range of mythical creatures and characters, each of Horiyoshi III’s artworks interprets a traditional Japanese folklore story, which gives glimpses into the morals and values of Japanese society.  Usually using only shadings of black in his paintings, the master has experimented in the last year with colour compositions, which have never been seen before by the public.  Taking up to 40 hours to produce at a time, the delicate techniques of his work are best admired up close.   

A selection of these artworks, handpicked by Horiyoshi III for the exhibition at Somerset House, will be on display alongside photography taken by the master’s only international apprentice, Alex ‘Kofuu’ Reinke, and Reinke’s partner Matti ‘Senju’ Sedholm, inside his Yokohama tattoo studio, highlighting the motifs in both his art and tattooing.     

Horiyoshi III said: “I am absolutely thrilled to now be exhibiting in the UK and particularly at Somerset House.  I have always felt an affinity with the UK; I think our countries have a lot in common since the history and culture of the UK is as old and vast as the one of Japan.  There are so many incredible and inspirational artists there too that I feel extremely honoured to be joining them at a venue in the heart of the country’s artistic scene.”

Born Yoshihito Nakano in 1946, Horiyoshi III is part of a proud tattoo art tradition in Japan, which was outlawed until as recently as 1948 for its ‘barbaric’ practices.  He was bestowed with his honorific title in 1971 by his master, the respected tattoo artist Yoshitsugu Muramatsu, known as Shodai Horiyoshi of Yokohama (the second Horiyoshi title was given to Muramatsu’s son).  ‘Hori’ means ‘to carve’ since the traditional tattooing tool is sharpened bamboo which is pushed continually into the skin to create gradations, similar to brush strokes on a painting.  After meeting the American tattoo artist Ed Hardy and becoming close friends, Horiyoshi III adopted electric needles alongside the traditional techniques, pioneering a new style of Japanese tattoo art in the process. 

Having “vowed to never be lazy until the day I die”, he still tattoos six days a week after thirty years of practice and has a long waiting list of clients.

Orchestrated by London based Italian tattoo artist Claudia de Sabe with Somerset House, the exhibition gets to the core of a country with a beguiling cultural tradition and aspires to leave visitors with their own sense of ‘kokoro’. 

Notes to Editors


Opening hours:               21 March – 1 July 2012, daily from 10.00 to 18.00

Address:                           Somerset House, Courtyard Rooms, Strand, London WC2R 1LA

Tel:                                      +44 (0)20 7845 4600 www.somersethouse.org.uk

Admission:                        Free

For press enquiries and image requests, please contact Stephanie Lilley or Josephine Rodrigues on press@somersethouse.org.uk or 0207 845 4619/0207 845 4638

About Somerset House

Somerset House is a spectacular neo-classical building in the heart of London, sitting between the Strand and the River Thames. Since opening to the public in 2000, Somerset House has produced a distinctive public programme that annually draws over 2 million visitors to the site, providing a centre for arts and culture in the heart of London, as well as housing numerous creative communities. The varied, year-round programme includes an open air film and concert season and ice rink, as well as temporary exhibitions focusing on contemporary fashion, design, art and architecture, family workshops and free guided tours. In September 2009, Somerset House became the new home of London Fashion Week.

> View in PDF

Sign up to our e-newsletter
Facebook Twitter YouTube instagram
September 2016
Designed and Developed by Earth