[Art Book]: The Incredible High Art Tattoos of East G and Moussa
The partners of PARA tattoo studio show us their portfolios
Art Book: "Art Book" is a SmartShanghai column focusing on creative talents in Shanghai. In this series, we ask locally-based artists of all genres and fields to open up their portfolios and shows us all the wonderful things they’re doing.
Next Gen Kids
Despite the gov’s most assertive... assertions, tattoos are trendy in China right now. “Trendy”, yes, but also subject to an upheaval of internal trends all unto themselves. With each generation, not only do new aesthetic styles supplant the old, but also new techniques and breakthroughs in craft beget new possibilities for how ink driven into skin can look.
For this inaugural “Art Book”, SmSh sat down with the partners of PARA, a new tattoo studio that specializes in avant tattoo styles: hyper realism, portrait, anime, chrome, illustrative, and a mixing up of all those and a few more. Here’s a look at the portfolios of East G and Moussa, two award-winning young Yunnanese tattoo artists developing their own voices and putting out work that makes us look at our ‘90s tribal armband tattoo and think…
The Artist: East G
"My name is East G, from Baoshan in Yunnan Province. I studied tattooing in Kunming, Yunnan. In the shop. Guishou Tattoo (鬼手纹身). I didn’t have a store in Kunming though. I worked at my ex-girlfriend’s tattoo studio. Then we broke up so I went to Chengdu with my friend and started our own business."
"I would say my style is hard to define. I try to combine different elements from different places. Or, maybe, in working in one style and moving it into a new place. Realist but also conceptual. Lately, I’m into chrome art, “graphic juice” art, anime, and portraits.
My friend sitting at the table over there would like to define my style as “new fashion.”
"The first tattoo I ever got on myself is all covered up now. It was on my chest — a red diamond. I got it when I was 12. There was a girl that I had a crush on at the time, and she got a red diamond inked. We didn’t get together, so at the time, I thought well at least I’d get the same tattoo instead." [Laughs.]
"When did I become interested in tattoos.. Well, I saw my first tattoos on my uncle, and was super curious. But his tattoos were really crappy. Then I found more on the internet – particularly from abroad, some of which really complemented people well. At that time, I was also doing street dancing, and I felt that having tattoos was different and cool.
As for getting tattoos now, I don’t really have a preference. I’m quite chill with having different styles on my body. As long as the look nice to me and fit, all good."
"This one I did with another artist. That's my part at the top. Sort of combining an anime style with black-and-white and shading."
"A little bit of everything in this one. Portrait, anime, graphic, illustrative. Still transitioning in styles..."
"We opened PARA a few months ago but are looking for a new place. This one’s only temporary. Prior to this, we had a tattoo studio in Chengdu. He [Moussa] was also taught by the same teacher at Guishou Tattoo (鬼手纹身) but he was the more senior student.
We came to Shanghai because of the romantic story starring my business partner and his girlfriend…"
"Like other studios we have our regular artists who work in different styles and we’re also hoping to host in guest artists every month from different cities and countries.
I really want to push it further though. Most tattoo studios here focus solely on tattoos. I find that idea a bit restrictive. I want to get involved in broader projects like… anything relevant to fashion.
I’d like to have my own brand. Clothing or accessories. I want to collaborate with artists from different fields.
Art shows maybe?
We won’t rush it but perhaps when we get enough material we could move into something like that."
"This tattoo is important to my career. This was a tattoo I did when I was 18. I was really young and people don’t acknowledge you unless you’ve got certain achievements. So I used this for a competition to prove myself.
After this competition, many people got to know me and it went from there.
For this piece I did it according to my understanding of realism. That style. I chose Sin City as the subject matter. The light and shadow aesthetic in the film really matches this style. I also got a second award using the same tattoo.
I’ve got quite a few awards. But I don’t really care about awards though, we can talk about something else."
Long Way in a Short Time
"The first tattoo I did on someone else was in 2016, when I was 16 years old. It was script. Just a short quote. And… I can’t actually remember what the quote was. The exact words… let’s see.
[Spends 10 minutes scrolling back through his photos in his phone to 2016. Inticipation builds.]
…Yeah, I’m not finding this quote! But, anyways, yeah that’s what it was."
"Ah, the rapper one. This client was a fan. I used quite a few graphic design skills in this piece. I depicted the artist in a realistic way, but added in other elements inspired by the artist’s album. I tried to make it really eye-catching."
"Clients find me through my Weibo and from friend referrals. I’m in a good position now. I’ve got clients that fly in to get work done.
My usual clients? Usually, young people under 30. From all walks of life.
Which is to say: they’re rich. [Laughs.]
But yeah, Weibo and WeChat are the main avenues. I’ve got 30k fans on Weibo, and usually have a customer list arranged by the month."
The Artist: Moussa
"My name is Moussa, which comes from my religion, Islam. I’m also from Yunnan.
I learned at the same studio in Yunnan, Guishou Tattoo, although I’m older than East G. Style-wise, I used to do a lot of Japanese style and new school, but now I prefer black and white portraits."
"This tattoo is based on the client’s request for something space-themed. I wanted to make it as a piece of total art so I did the whole arm. It also helped me win the first place of a competition that I really like, so this one’s a special one for me."
"The first tattoo I got myself, I just picked something I saw on Instagram. I just wanted to get into the industry. I thought it would be meaningful to just have one without thinking about what it was.
The first tattoo I did on someone else was just a word. I can’t remember exactly what the word was…
So, yeah, this one. At the time, most of my work was dealing with superficial sorts of stuff and using a lot of visual effects. But this client asked for something balancing different themes, and something with more meaning to them. So the religious themes in Christianity, and the combination of the heart and the mind, rationality and sensibility.
An important one for me because it made me really consider the deeper meanings of tattoos as to how people express themselves."
"So this is that turning point for me that I'm talking about — that deeper understanding — and this piece also represents a style shift in my own work to what I’m interested in now."
“This is inspired by an American show that I really like, Hannibal. But, to me, instead of the main character, I’m focusing on the supporting character because I felt his mental transformation was the most important part of the show and the most inspiring.”
"I get most of the clients from Weibo and friends. I also work as a guest tattoo artist in other shops. Some clients would recommend me to others, so gradually more and more people got to know me. Most of my clients are in their 30s…
I think people everywhere get tattoo to boost confidence, but in Shanghai [compared to Yunnan], the demand is a bit higher and it’s common for people to have them here. In Yunnan, tattoos are still really quite niche, and not as recognizable or cultural acceptable as they are in Shanghai.
People don’t have the certain stereotypes towards tattooed people here... they shouldn't..."
PARA Studio Contact
PARA Studio is at 876 Yan'an Zhong Lu, right under the bridge at Jing'an Temple.
Follow East G on WeChat at jzyz99.
Follow Moussa on WeChat at G-ibrahim.