UK based blackworker Hanumantra creates distinctive pieces tailored to his clients anatomy. We spoke to him about his inspirations and the motivation behind his work.
What does the term ‘blackwork’ mean to you?
In recent years there’s been a meteoric rise in the term Blackwork and what that means to people varies considerably. Personally, I will always see a Blackwork Tattoo as one that has some key fundamentals: Large areas of ink saturated skin that balance on the body and create a visually striking aesthetic. A carefully thought out, well-crafted design that compliments and works with the wearer. And, amongst other elements a certain edge to the tattoo that will distinguish it from the background noise that has become mainstream tattooing.
How would you describe your style of tattooing?
These days I use the word Blackwork to describe my tattooing as old habits die hard. By current definitions this word encompasses so many different styles of tattooing from neo-tribal to fine line, stipple shaded illustrations and everything in-between, that it’s hard to know what a Blackwork tattoo actually is. However, the name by which my work goes by is not really something I concern myself with as I aim to create tattoos that define themselves regardless of the category people choose to place them in. To quote William Shakespeare “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.
You have travelled extensively through Asia, Australia and Central America. How has this influenced your artwork?
The years I have spent travelling influenced and inspired my work immeasurably. Every place visited, person met and experience gone through has helped shape and form who I am and my perception of the world. It’s our perception that is perhaps our most valuable tool, the lens through which we view and shape our reality. There is no shortcut for this kind of learning and the depths of understanding it permits. I use it to draw inspiration from the various countries and cultures I have visited and then imagine what the future of Blackwork tattooing might look like. It’s the people from this imagined future that I use as a reference for my tattoos today as well as some of the conceptual artwork I create. Tattooing for the tribes of tomorrow.
The way you describe your tattoos as pieces of armour designed specifically for each client, and the process as a rite of passage, it feels as if there is a spiritual quality to your work. Would you agree with that?
All design work is done with the client present and standing in front of me, whilst I freehand directly onto their skin with a pen. It takes a great deal of trust to approach a tattoo in this manner but it’s this foundation of trust that the tattoo needs to be built upon for the best results possible. I believe that a tattoo should enhance the natural and inherent beauty of the human form. Therefore, getting a tattoo to fit and flow on a person that works with their musculature and contours is paramount. This can only truly be achieved by drawing directly onto the skin. It’s like having a suit tailored as opposed to buying off the peg.
Working directly on the skin also has the benefits of reducing the likelihood of overcomplicating the design. I like to keep my work minimal and the more minimal the design the more attention required to what is there. This approach also helps to ensure that the tattoo is scaled on the person to an appropriate degree and does not look irregular when the body is viewed as a whole. The right tattoo on the right person should look as if it was always there.
I’m not really sure what gives a tattoo or anything for that matter a spiritual quality. What I do know is that when I tattoo someone I’m not just changing the way they look, but the way that person views themselves until the day they die. My offering of a tattoo is a gift to the grave, so I want it to be a positive change, an evolution of who they are. I see my tattoos as a protective layer, a talisman that sits below the surface level of the skin. An outward representation of the strength held within, beyond the reach of the physical, armour for the soul. If that makes it spiritual then so be it, but it’s not something I’m chasing.
What are the biggest inspirations behind your tattooing?
What inspires me most these days is providing the best experience I can for my clients here at UN1TY. Working in an environment that encourages people to realise the vision they have of themselves. To continue making a positive impact on the lives of the people who place their skin and trust in my hands.
Hanumantra works from UN1TY studio in Shrewsbury, UK. Check out more of his work on Instagram @hanumantra.