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I’ve written a fair bit about the varying attitudes seen in some Asian countries with regards to tattoo. In some countries like Japan, tattooing is slowly making its way into the mainstream but is still dogged by the outdated stereotype of tattooists and those who are tattooed being involved with the mafia. In South Korea however, tattoos are illegal. As a result of this, tattooists are forced underground, operating secretly in carefully disguised and unlabelled studios.
The situation in South Korea is anything but ideal, though if it does have a single advantage it’s that it inspires artists like African-American/Korean Phillip Spearman to dig into his culture and emerge with art and images that can be tattooed and displayed throughout his own work.
Spearman has been tattooing since 1995 when a friend introduced him to the world of tattoo by buying him his own gear. As a self-taught tattooist, he has worked all over the place, learning what he can from various artists worldwide. But it was his initial start after moving to LA from Baltimore that really gave him a clear insight into the industry of which he was so enamoured. Spearman tried repeatedly to get an apprenticeship, but had a difficult time. He spent much time learning from a handful of legendary tattoo artists at legendary tattoo studios, people and places like Mark Mahoney, The Shamrock Social club and Mario Barth, to name but a few.
After eight years of running his own shop in Artesia, Spearman closed things down in order to tattoo from a private studio by appointment only. This new arrangement has given him the sort of freedom that he wants, but perhaps most importantly, it allows him to travel at the drop of a hat – a perfect asset given that travel is one Phillip Spearman’s greatest influences. Throughout his travels, Spearman has been able to spend time in Korea and learn about the traditional Korean art that most of us are not typically exposed to. This art finds its way into his tattoo work, allowing him to honour his culture as well as keep the act of tattooing alive from a uniquely Korean perspective. In a way, Spearman is doing what he can to preserve and spread the Korean tattoo scene until it becomes legitimised by Korean authorities. Spearman hopes to publish a book on Korean tattoo artwork sometime in 2011. He’s also compiling a DVD of work inspired by traditional Korean art.
You might be tempted to believe that all Phillip Spearman does is tattoo Korean art, but he is much more than that. He is a consummate artist who promises that whatever it is you’re coming to him to have tattooed will come out superb. Hey, that’s a promise I’m willing to believe in.
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