Haiyuan came to Kuala Lumpur in 2009 in search of honing his skills in tattooing under a mentor. To him, Petaling Street in Malaysia was a place for artistic trailblazers, a hotbed of opportunity - the perfect place to develop his craft and meet his future life and business partner, Hishiko. This is their story.
1) How long have you been in this profession and how did it take for you to develop your skills as a tattoo artist?
Haiyuan: In 2004, I decided to become a tattoo artist, but before then I was an artist. I have an inherent love for design, art and interior design. But after I started working, I realised I did not like it. So it all started when I wanted to do by own tattoo, that was when my love for tattooing really sparked. However, my parents disapproved of my ambitions, due to the traditional Chinese mindset it was difficult for my family to accept my decision to transition to do tattooing. But in spite of my parents’ concerns I pressed on. I began attending a few international conferences where it really expanded my horizon.
Hishiko: My tattoo journey begun with meeting my husband. At first, I was learning mass communication, but I was always interested with art. Before my life as a tattoo artist I was an actress on 8TV, but the industry was too pressurised for me. So when I left the acting industry, I gave tattoo-ing a try since I always had an interest for it. Because a tattoo will be on a person’s body forever, I think it’s something that is very meaningful. Coincidentally, so it became with my relationship with my husband!
2) Tell us about your tattoo style. Is it more Western-or Eastern-inspired?
Hishiko: In the beginning, I was inspired by Haiyuan and felt I could relate to his style. And that time, I was looking at two different types of styles. But after speaking to him, and getting to know him, things transpired in such a way that I began to commit to his style to his way of thinking. I would say my style is more feminine and my drawings have more cryptic meaning to them. Furthermore, I adhere to the discipline of tattooing an image only once.
Haiyuan: During my generation, tattoo styles were more traditional and abstract like the Western styles, even in China. But I thought it was too simplistic, and I wanted to try something more challenging. So I wanted to do a style that is more literal and technical, to which required stronger technical skill. So I started to develop a more Eastern style for tattooing. But I do a hybrid style, by incorporating some Western style of tattoo that I like. But my style is never crystallised, I’m always looking to evolve. My inspiration comes from ancient Eastern style paintings. I also believe it is important for an artist to maintain his integrity and we consult our customers based on experience, expertise and perspective. For example, if the image is not suitable, we will advise our customers against it and the risks involved.
3) Why did you choose to establish your shop in Downtown KL?
Haiyuen: When I was working for my mentor, his shop was in Downtown and there was when I realised there was no place like Downtown to be a tattoo artist. The decision to stay in Downtown was even more compelling when more and more cafes started popping up, and it became an increasingly popular for young people. At the moment, we haven’t felt it is time to expand somewhere else. I don’t believe that a shopping complex is suitable, as they are very strict with their guidelines when it comes to a shop’s set up. I prefer to establish a shop somewhere which gives us the freedom to run the business the way we see fit.
Hishiko: At first Downtown KL was considered a dodgy and rundown area. Now because of trendy cafes as well as heritage sites emerging, it is becoming more and more attractive for people like us who are artists to set up shop here. Currently, we are seeing a rising trend for young people to experiment with tattoos.
4) Tell us more about your shop’s interior design.
When I was researching, I looked at a lot of different shop designs. Especially shops overseas that would be suitable for a tattoo artist. Retro style is really nice, and we decided to adopt a hybrid version of Western and Eastern style for my shop. I believe this fusion style reflects my tattoo style.
5) What is your vision for the art of tattoos?
Traditional and religious people still steer clear away from tattoos. To me, tattoos are just another avenue for artistic expression, it is simply another branch of art and fashion. Just think of tattoos as a permanent way of wearing clothes. For example, people who dyed their hair were seen as people who were from rough backgrounds but now it is seen as an acceptable form of fashion. My vision is to see that people from all walks of life accepting tattoos as an essential part of artistic expression. It is simply beautiful and it does not necessarily have any negative connotations.