Famed tattoo artist JK5 is coming to DSMNY
Famed tattoo artist JK5 is coming to DSMNY
Tonight, to celebrate New York fashion week, Dover Street Market New York will be unveiling a series of new installations, limited-edition lines, and more. Artist JK5, who created the prints for Rei Kawakubo’s F/W ’15 Comme des Garçons Homme Plus collection, is a part of this transformation. In addition to being on hand this evening to customize a wide range of products (you can see some of the merch in the slideshow, above), the artist, best known for his tattoo work (he’s covered in them head to toe) is launching a jewelry line, selling books, and has erected a pop-up space that represents his work and vision. Here, Dover Street Market president and CEO Adrian Joffe speaks to the talent about his love of tattoos, working with DSM, and Donald Trump.
ADRIAN JOFFE When did you get your first tattoo?
JK5 I got my first tattoo my junior year at RISD in 1993. I was 23 and was pretty ambivalent about the realm until I decided I really wanted one. I was in a class with a brilliant printmaker named Forrest Curl, who had a little home tattoo studio. That's where it began—In a kitchen on Wickenden Street above Fillini’s Pizza in Providence, Rhode Island.
AJ Why did you start tattooing yourself?
JK5 I fell in love with the ritual, the aesthetic, and culture with its ancient power and history. It was what was transforming in my personal life and work at the time. I was taking steps into a much larger world. I got addicted to the pain and process: from designing and ideating, to the visceral experience, to the electric, life-affirming shock of receiving them. I had no idea at the time. I just spent every dime I had on getting more of them, and studying, immersing myself in that world.
AJ Is there a spiritual or at least ceremonial dimension to tattoo, or is it merely a decoration, an expression of your character?
JK5 There are endless varying reasons why people chose to get them. I have a million stories from my own 21-year experience of designing and applying them. Personally, I’ve had transportative, out of body experiences while getting tattooed for 7 hours straight on my ribcage, via meditation and a few painkillers. Other times it’s just needing that image from that friend with that fresh style. I’ve also tattooed myself after receiving some heartbreaking news of a friend’s passing. Reasons can be ever mysterious, about a spiritual communication with larger forces, or [tattoos] can just look cool, and mark a moment in your lifetime.
AJ Have you ever regretted a tattoo you’ve done?
JK5 I don’t regret any of them. I’ve been covered now for a long time, and am now covering, transforming, blasting over, and adding new layers...still needing to, and still loving getting tattooed for all of my reasons. 23 years of receiving, 21 years of giving...it’s just what we do.
AJ At what stage of tattooing your body did you become an artist? Or did you always want to be an artist?
JK5 I’ve been drawing and creating since I was able to hold a crayon. I've never stopped. Tattooing as a craft, vocation, art form, and way to make a living just presented itself along my path. I planned on going to graduate school, always making work in various forms, and teaching drawing on a college level. Then my life was reborn when I received that gift of a letter from my birth mother in 1994, and learning how to tattoo and working in a little hippie/biker shop 2 hours north of NYC became my "masters of the universe" as I like to call it. The rest is this story.
AJ What did you first think when Rei Kawakubo asked you if she could use your artwork on the CDG HP F/W ’15 collection? How was the experience?
JK5 My reaction was a thrilled, honored, grateful, and very excited one. The experience has been amazing and inspiring on so many unforeseen levels. It’s provided a platform, vehicle, association, alliance, and deep affirmation that I’ve been working toward for a long time. I’m so happy that it was Rei Kawakubo and Comme des Garçons. They’re such a brilliant catalyst, and a family of people to grow and build with. It’s been the deepest pleasure working with them.
AJ Tell us about your pop-up shop in DSM and the Comme des Garçons Trading Museum in Tokyo.
JK5 The pop-up installation for Dover Street Market was an invitation to "Take it to the next level," to quote [you], during our first meeting about the opportunity. It’s been an intensive six month process, but I’m so pleased with what will crystalize and be realized, from so many facets, forms, ideas, potentialities, and details. It’s really been a process of reduction and editing. I’ve had a lot of help and perspective from brilliant friends who are artists, designers, architects, builders, visual merchandisers, art directors, and mostly from my wife, Adrienne Labelle, an interior designer. She’s my most brutal and honest critic—a vital eye and ruthless editor. All the things I need.
The inspiration for the range started broadly and got narrowed down to a few focused components. The result is a distinctly branded engaging space and experience. I’ve ultimately designed everything with Rei’s approval, with tireless help from the CDG and DSM teams all along the way. There’s a custom "Geometric 5" display unit, and some unique architectural elements, as well as seven new, custom, walnut wood panel, laser engraved works hanging on large photo-printed walls of star clusters and nebulas, imagery from the Hubble Telescope. There’s also my first book, Subconsciothesaurusnex, published by Houston in 1999, as well as my Rizzoli monograph, published in 2014, and a debut jewelry collection with my good friend Asher Hoffman that consists of bracelets, rings, a pendant, and my favorite piece, a functional, cast and rebuilt, pencil sharpener ring called the "P.S. I Love You." All of the jewelry is in sterling silver and will be made to order, and the books and wood panel pieces will all be for sale. There's also 100 customized CDG wallets, sneakers, and perfume bottles and boxes available for purchase.
Rei Kawakubo has also designed a massive installation that celebrates and features the work from collages and sketchbooks that became the majority of prints for the A/W ’15 Homme Plus collection, with my book that was the initial discovery, having prominence as well. A wild development, and an incredible honor.
AJ Your art is not only about tattoos. What do you want to say with your art? Is it just your living or do you have a message you are interested in communicating?
JK5 It’s hard to say concisely what I want to say with my work, or what my "message" is, because the communication is the work. The idea, graphic, word, rhyme, quote, imaginative concept, poetic intent, or direct message is what the work is as bridge between the seer and I. We are one. It’s at once for me and for all. It’s directly how I’m feeling at the moment, and what I’m wanting to express at the time. Abstract and encrypted, or clear and isolated. It’s a visual language and vocabulary unto itself, it meanders in and out of pop and cultural sources of all kinds, and I’m constantly generating new content that is based in reference, words, statements, poems, iconography, visual systems, and narrative story telling, all media, all message.
AJ Can art change the world?
JK5 Art changes the world in different ways all the time.
AJ Are you interested in politics?
JK5 Not so much, but I’m very passionate about equality and human rights, and infuriated by hypocrisy. My commentary goes in and out of being political. After 9/11, I made a lot of work about it, the disgusting aspects of the Bush Administration, and how it took the country to war, which is ongoing with no end in sight. I exhausted that subject after many shows and series around the subject, and took a long break until Obama. I made work around that new hope for a while, and then became ambivalent and overwhelmed with all the madness...my daughter was born, and a world of new inspired work and life experience awaited me.
AJ What do you think of Donald Trump?
JK5 Donald trump was my least favorite human being on the planet long before this completely insane shit show.
AJ Do you have an ultimate goal?
JK5 My ultimate goal is to keep strengthening, exploring, and clarifying my vision and sensibilities, to stay open and challenged. I trust and hope that it’s becoming time to shift my focus away from tattooing, or at least controlling its practice a lot more, and really build my holistic brand in ever-evolving form. I want to art direct a team and make unique, beautiful things never seen before. This whole process was a taste of that and I want to build from here. I want to design and create clothing and accessories for a more creative, progressive, and spiritually conscious world; to always explore new form, and approaches to making art, and travel with all the support and opportunities that are unfolding; To go to Paris for the first time, and get back to Japan after 12 years. I see what I’ve done at DSM as a model for potential, a prototype of my future store one day—I’ve been aspiring to make that a reality for a long time. To quote an excerpt from Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel, The Man in the High Castle, "That is the artists job: take mineral rock from dark, silent earth, and transform it into shining light reflecting from the sky." I like that.