Interview with Horisumi regarding getting his name in Japan - Authent/Ink

Inked AU/NZ Interview

Interview with Kian Forreal – Horisumi



After spending a week in Japan sightseeing and absorbing the rich culture that Japan has to offer our resident columnist had a fantastic thing happen to him along the way….


HG: How long have you been tattooing?

Kian Forreal: This will be my 20th year tattooing. I started in 1993 in Canada.


HG : So, you’ve obviously travelled around a bit and worked all across the world…

Kian Forreal : Yeah, I tattooed in Canada for many years and then Europe and all across Asia, then Australia, then back to Europe, enjoying endless summers for about eight or nine years, and then I decided to settle in Australia


So, what drew you to specialising in Japanese tattooing?

Well when I first started tattooing, like 20 years ago that’s what I was drawn to. But it was a different time man, I was in a smaller town, the library only had a limited selection of books on Japanese stuff. You know, there was no Internet, you couldn’t just buy Japanese books online like you can now, so there was very little to see without having gone to Japan. I was quite young, so I didn’t have the money to go. So, I was drawn to it initially, but then you get stuck in a street shop and you get stuck doing normal tattoo designs and you start to drift away from your initial interests and then as things progress and time went on I got better at what I did and travelled more, and naturally drifted back towards Japanese. Its just a classic style, you know whether you’re 20 or 40 or 60 you can have a Japanese tattoo and it doesn’t date you it doesn’t look young or old, it doesn’t look new or old, it just is. It’s a timeless style. That’s the great thing about it. It’s classic. It looks great no matter how old you are or how long you’ve had it. Whether its 5 years old or 20 years old, the tattoo still looks great if its been done properly. It doesn’t date you. It’s a classic style built on tradition. And it stands the test of time. And that’s what I’m drawn to. It’s a magical style, there’s so much that can be encompassed in a Japanese tattoo, you can tell a million different stories with the different elements. You know, really there is no better, for me, better style of tattooing than traditional Japanese.


So, you recently came back from Japan. Why did you go there this time?

This time I went just for a week to sightsee, visit friends and to get tattooed by Horiyoshi 3 in Yokohama. It was a very successful trip – I got to see some temples and some nature and some of the nightlife. Then the last day of the trip was going to Yokohama to Horiyoshi b3’s private studio and getting a tattoo by him.


So, you’ve met Horiyoshi before, so what was it like this time? Did he ask to see your work?

Yeah the first time I met him, it was just in and out, quick, I bought a couple of prints and had a chat, got a photo taken. This time was a little different. I had arranged with my friend his happens to be Horiyoshi’s deshi (apprentice) to get tattooed and to have a chat and to have my work looked at. So I went, and he requested to see my portfolio, I showed it to him, and he went over it for quite a while. It was nice, he didn’t just flick through it, like a lot of guys do. He spent the time going back and forth and examining it. And paid me some compliments on my backgrounds and compositions and that kind of thing … and then he had already come up with a Japanese tattoo name for me. Which I kind of knew was happening but it was nice I didn’t have to ask for it. So after 20 years of tattooing and specialising in Japanese for probably 8 years to finally get some recognition or validity from someone who is a living legend such as him was pretty cool. He had done calligraphy of my tattoo name on a piece of paper. I ended up going to get a tattoo from him, at the time I didn’t know what , but then I decided getting my tattoo name in his calligraphy done on my chest. So it was a very meaningful experience and tattoo. I also got him to sign it as well.


So, what name did Horiyoshi 3 give you? And what’s the meaning behind it?

The name I received was HORISUMI. So, Hori is a prefix to tattoo names for traditional Japanese masters. Hori means “to carve” so a tattooer is called a Horishi which means a carver, and this is a throwback to the wood block carving days of the Edo period… in Ukiyo-e and so a lot of wood block carvers were also tattooers and there’s a big link between the woodblock prints and tattooing. So a Horishi would have the prefix Hori. So Horiyoshi, his name is Nakano Yoshihito. So he became Horiyoshi 3. For me, my last name being Forreal, he took Forreal and found a kanji that means truth, and it’s the same kanji that is for Sumi. And sumi is the black ink that you traditionally use for brush painting and for tattoing. You grind the stick. It’s a Sumi stick, and you create the Sumi ink. The word Irezumi which is the Japanese word for tattooing comes from using the Sumi stick. So, Horisumi is “carver of black ink” but the kanj also means “truth” so it’s a little but of a pun, you know altogether. So its quite cool, and it fits me perfectly and I’m extremely happy with the name.


So, what does this mean for Kian Forreal now? How does this change things?

Well, for me its an honorary name, it doesn’t mean I join the Horiyoshi3 family or anything like that. It’s an honorary title bestowed on me based on the quality of my work and the dedication I have had with Japanese tattooing in my career. So its big deal to me and I take it seriously that its going to make me look inwards and push myself harder to a) live up to the name, honour the name and the person who gave it to me and to just go to the next level and work harder, take my work to the next level. Be more traditional, more attention to detail and more serious about what I’m doing.


And how have your peers and clients responded to this news? Is this something that has followed on for you?

My clients are stoked. For them it’s pretty cool, and for me its cool. You know, I’m trying to take it all in stride. I had an idea this was all happening. I didn’t want to get excited about it until it happened. It did happen, and I’m stoked I’m still trying to keep my feet on the ground and just focus on being busy you know, not believing my own hype so to speak. My peers, my colleagues, my friends are happy for me and have congratulated me. They think its cool. It’s all good. I’m very happy. For me it’s a milestone in my career, but i’m not going to just stop here and rest on my laurels and be like yeah this happened. Its’ just another stage of my evolving career.


So, in the next year or so, what can we expect to see from Kian Horisumi Forreal?

Well, I’m probably going to have a party for my 20th anniversary at some point this year, to celebrate my 20th year of tattooing and the one year of my own private studio, and my Japanese name. So there’ll be that. And I don’t know ,we’ll see what else happens from there. I’ll also be going to London at the end of the year for the London tattoo convention in September and maybe tattooing in New York in August. It remains to be seen.


So, how important is travel. You’ve just been to Japan and obviously that has a big effect on your work. Travelling and working with other artists and seeing other work. How important is that to you?

Travelling is a massive inspiration. It’s one thing to sit in your little tattoo cave and do your thing and focusing on work, but getting out and working with other artists and meeting other people and being inspired by the outside world is one of the most important things you can do as a tattooer, to get out there and be amongst your own kind. Too often we seclude ourselves and we hang out with the same people and don’t grow. Really the most important thing is to grow and to evolve and to find our true selves. I haven’t really travelled much in years, so hopefully this year I’ll be able to get out more and hang out with my friends that tattoo and work in different shops with good people and expand my horizons. I look forward to doing all of that and hopefully tattooing some people overseas.


Kian Forreal Horisumi lives and tattoos in Sydney Australia, you can contact him via his website



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