Ferocious wolves, prowling panthers, and vicious serpents—these are perhaps the images that come to mind when tattoos are mentioned. However, there is a new wave of young tattoo artists who believe that the art form can be a lot less intimidating. At the forefront of this movement in Seoul is Yeonho, a rising star in the local tattoo scene.
纹身不是凶神恶煞或是犯罪的代名词，这种刻板观念早已过时。对于新一代的年轻纹身艺术家来说，纹身作为一种艺术形式，早已脱离了望而生畏的境遇。纹身艺术家 Yeonho 便是引领这股新潮流的成员之一，她是一位来自首尔纹身界的后起之秀。
Yeonho’s tattoos revolve around animals and the natural world, but these motifs are shown in a graceful light, stripped of all aggression. They are drawn in gossamer textures, soft lines, and understated colors that make them seem closer to an ink-wash painting than a tattoo. In her work, you might find manta rays congregating and gliding through expanses of skin, a lone doe napping beneath a crimson-red sun, or a humpback whale swimming among cerulean flowers. “I don’t draw animals on the hunt or animals who give you the death stare,” Yeonho says. “I prefer drawing animals that are just resting or taking a stroll.”
Yeonho 的纹身作品多以大自然为主，图案优雅、细腻，丝毫不会让人感到侵略性。柔和、淡雅的线条和色彩，绘就如薄纱般轻透的纹理，看起来更像是水墨画，而不是纹身。在她的作品中，成群结队的魔鬼鱼翱翔在肌肤；雌鹿在胳臂纹理的凹槽下小憩；座头鲸畅游于蔚蓝的花海，打点肤色的天地。Yeonho 说：“在我的作品中，动物没有凶残的一面，我更喜欢画动物自然而然的状态。”
Yeonho herself is a person with a tranquil presence, evident in the unhurried and self-assured way that she speaks. “Can I have a moment to organize my thoughts?” she asks with a smile before answering one of my questions. It’s this quality that she channels into her work. “I hardly ever get angry or have mood swings,” she says. “I want to draw something that puts my clients at peace—just like my natural state of being.”
One of her clients had even compared Yeonho to Sanshin, beloved mountain spirits in Korean folklore. These deities are often portrayed as wise old men with long white hair and flowing beards, and they are believed to reside at the highest peaks of sacred mountains, protecting animals with their supernatural powers. And there is indeed something magical with the way she conjures these beautiful animals onto skin.
曾经有一位客户把 Yeonho 比作是韩国民间传说中深受人们喜爱的山神。山神通常被描绘成白发飘逸的智慧老人，生活在神山的最高峰，拥有超自然力量来保护动物。而 Yeonho 在皮肤上描绘这些美丽的动物时，确实能让人感受到一股奇妙的魔力。
Yeonho started her tattoo career five years ago. The first few years were rough—especially since she had not previously considered tattooing as a viable career. In university, Yeonho’s parents encouraged her to study art and design, partly to make up for the fact that they never got to. “Still, my parents suggested that I should study something that’s employable—that’s why I ended up studying industrial design,” she recalls.
After a stint as an industrial designer, however, Yeonho decided that this career path was not for her. She was interested in paving her own path and not just becoming another cog in the machine. “I grew frustrated working at companies where I couldn’t really draw what I wanted,” she says. “That’s when I got a tattoo. Just on a whim.”
Little did she know, this spontaneous tattoo parlor visit would become the creative catalyst she needed. Growing up, Yeonho always wanted to connect with people through her art and hear their honest feedback. “Talking to the artist as I got my first tattoo, I realized that this is what I was looking for,” she says. “It was a job where I could draw what I wanted, find people who liked my art and make a living out of it.”
Yeonho 从五年前开始成为一名专业的纹身师。最开始的几年她遇到了很多困难，毕竟在此之前，她也也相信纹身能成为一门靠谱的职业。大学的时候，Yeonho 的父母鼓励她学习艺术和设计，一部分原因也是为了弥补他们自己的遗憾，“不过，我的父母建议我去学一些容易就业的专业，所以我后来去读了工业设计，”她回忆道。
Although her art is populated by animals commonly associated with East Asian art—such as dragons, tigers, and magpies—Yeonho believes that it would be inappropriate to characterize her tattoos solely as East Asian, a mistake that many make.
“My art can be categorized as ‘watercolor tattoos,’ and I think this style together with my animal themes lead people to associate my work with East Asian art,” she says. “But I am not familiar with its traditions, nor did I try to adhere to them.” Yeonho has little interest in limiting her artistic expressions by strictly adhering to traditions, but at the same time, she believes in paying homage to the art of her culture. “I think it’s best to say that my tattoos are just what I draw, but that it resembles East Asian art, which I grew up with.”
虽然作品中有很多来自东亚文化的元素，例如龙、老虎和喜鹊等等，但 Yeonho 认为，将她的纹身简单地归类为东亚艺术并不恰当，这也是许多人都有的错误观念。
Yeonho 表示：“我的作品属于‘水彩纹身’，再加上我主要以动物为主题，所以人们常常将我的作品与东亚艺术联系起来。但我其实并不了解它们背后的传统文化，也没有试图与之相联系。” Yeonho 不希望传统的条框限制住自己的创作， “可能渗透着我从小耳濡目染的东亚艺术，但我的纹身是我的作品，不属于任何范畴。”
In fact, the two artists who Yeonho considers as her biggest influences do not hail from East Asian traditions. An illustrator and a sculptor respectively, Teagan White and Ellen Jewett are North American artists who also look to wildlife for inspiration. A sense of movement and the feeling of an untold story are keys to their work—these are the same qualities that Yeonho believes are instrumental to her tattoo art. “As a fellow animal lover, I also try to give each of my tattoos a unique narrative,” she notes.
Yeonho 所提及对她影响最大的两位艺术家也并非来自东亚。这两位艺术家分别是北美的插画家 Teagan White 和雕塑家 Ellen Jewett，二人也喜欢从野生动物中寻找灵感，他们的作品充满了动感和神秘的叙事角度 —— 这也是 Yeonho 在其纹身艺术中着重打造的风格。“我是一名动物爱好者，同时，我还希望能赋予我的每个纹身独一无二的叙事，”她解释道。
Yeonho likes to think of her animals as protective companions. When she tattoos an animal on a person’s legs, she imagines it accompanying the client on a walk in the future. When she tattoos an animal on a person’s back, she imagines it as a bodyguard keeping a vigilant eye out on the individual. “I want every one of my clients to leave my shop feeling supported by their new friend,” she smiles. “I even ask clients to name the animal at the end in hopes that it will really bring them to life.”
Yeonho 喜欢把作品中的动物视为守护伴侣。当神龙被纹在客户身上，Yeonho 会想象它陪伴左右时的场景；当她在客户背上纹上一只猛虎，她会把它想象成一个保镖，为它的主人警觉四方。她笑着说：“我希望每一位客户离开我的工作室时，都像获得了一位形影不离的新朋友。我甚至会在结束前，让客户为这只动物起名，仿佛它们在肌肤之上获得了生命。”