book review: black tattoo art

This review is long overdue for which I apologize to my generous friend/Santa, Bastian.

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 I’ve never been a fan of black solid work in tattooing, so even though I noticed, and posted on here about, the news about a new book by Marisa Kakoulas, I wasn’t thrilled about it enough to add it to my collection of the books on the subject. When it miraculously was added to it anyway, it took me a while to browse through it and then to actually read and experience it. My final thoughts on it? This book is great!

Ms. Kakoulas is not new to the international tattoo scene, of course. Her articles on law, published on BME in its good, ol’ days, were always fascinating to read and easy to comprehend; her posts on her blog (first, later were always light in tone and yet informative and thoughtful, so one could expect that her new book, on a subject that she literally wears on her skin, would be at least as good as things she’d already done.

Everything about this book is impressive, from its size (it weighs close to 4kg! and is packed up with excellent quality photographs of tattoos in various styles) to her own thoughts on the subject to quality of the interviews she conducted with the artists to the references for the curious and willing to learn more.

Ms. Kakoulas never tries to impose her presence and expertise on us; she’s always there to assist us while listening to the interviewed artists (interviews with Leo Zulueta, Daniel DiMattia and Colin Dale are wonderful in their lack of pretensions, with a great touch of humor and a light, simple but still serious tone in approaching the subject while her interview with Yann Black shows a still new but gaining more and more fans tattoo style in a (again) simple and unpretentious and also very informative way.

There’s a great concept behind the way the author shows the black tattoo art. Very tribal and traditional as it is, Ms. Kakoulas started with a very modern, Westernized version of the black tattoo to gradually take us to a more avant-garde direction within the style to finally touch the subject of tattoo traditions in various cultures and the part of the book devoted to ‘traditional revival,’ describing ‘Filipino Tribe’ and presenting tattoo artists practicing traditional ways of tattooing is, in my opinion, the most interesting one in here.

One can’t forget, however, that in this work not only the text itself is important. The photographs of the tattoos by many great artists play a very important role here as well. Pictures of the tattoo pieces by Leo Zulueta, juxtaposed with traditional, ‘exotic’ settings create a feel of serenity and simplicity while pieces by Xed Lehead may fascinate with their complexity and spicing monochromatic works with controlled splashes of color.

In a way, ‘Black Tattoo Art’ was a sort of revelation, showing me, again and again, that in the hands of a talented and imaginative artist one color can be a powerful tool to create a real art that is, cliché as it may sound, definitely more than only skin deep.


Marisa Kakoulas, Black Tattoo Art. Modern Expressions of the Tribal, Edition Reuss, 2009