Tattoo artists interpretation of traditional Japanese ghost stories
Gomineko’s “Japanese Ghost Stories” is essentially an art book. The project is the brainchild of Gomineko Press’ Crystal Morey who created a contest for her largely-tattoo artist customer base; she would present a traditional Japanese ghost story, that her customers would make artwork for, with the winner getting some free books. After the first of these contests proved successful, she followed up with another, and then a gallery show, and then finally this book showing the results.
There are four stories in this volume: “Ushino Toki Mairi” with a candle wearing woman pounding nails in a tree to gain divine vengeance for an untrue love. “Okiku,” one of Japan’s most famous ghost stories involving an abused serving girl and ten heirloom plates. “Kiyohime,” also known as “The Legend of Doji Temple” which tells the story of a woman whose forbidden lust overtakes her and she transforms into a serpent. And “Shitakiri Suzume,” known in English as “The Tongue-cut Sparrow,” involving a bird, a greedy wife, and a big box of demons. All of the text is in both English and Japanese.
Each story is more of an explanation of the story rather than the story itself. It is more of a one-page recap that tells the gist of the story and some of its variations. Each story is then followed by the customer submissions, between 15-29 per story. Each submission is a full-page, full-color illustration usually in the tattoo-style that attempts to get the feel of the story in a single piece of art.
The art varies greatly in quality, if not in style. To give you an idea of the caliber, far too many of these artists list their home page as MySpace or DevientArt) For a contest like this, I was surprised at how many of the submissions resembled each other. Because all of the artists hold the same job – they are all tattoo artists – most of the works are done in that thick-lined stained-glass style that is suitable for tattoos. I like that style of artwork. I like tattoos. But I would have liked to have seen more creativity in the interpretations. At least one submission came right off the promotional artwork for Ju-on, and a few more were almost direct copies of famous ukioyo-e prints of the same stories.
There are some standout pieces. Texas-artist Jon Claeton’s Old West interpretation of “Okiku” was inspired. Sergi Besa from Brighton, UK did an old-school sailor tattoo of “Ushino Toki Mairi” with a sweet face and rosy cheeks that was a nice change from the blood-weeping hags everyone else drew. Sara Alonso, also of Brighton, UK, did a very beautifully composed piece of “Okiku,” with each of the nine plates being a scene from the story. Horimasa, from Gunma, Japan, did a fantastically simple and effective painting of “Okiku” with nice striking reds and blacks. All in all, “Okiku” seemed to inspire the best submissions.
But ultimately the forgettable and the mediocre outweigh the good stuff. Crystal Morey had a good idea, and I applaud her efforts. I would have personally liked to have seen more balance between the stories and the art, with an attempt made to tell the stories, not just tell about them. A bit more quality-control on the art would have gone a long way as well, with fewer, better selections making for a stronger book.