When it comes to tattoo mastery, you know you’ve found your artist when you’ve signed up for a 37-month waiting list. Cross-disciplined artist, Joey Pang, is better known as the world’s only professional tattooer with expertise in Chinese calligraphy and Asian painting on the skin. She is a woman of many firsts and is currently the founder and art director at Tattoo Temple in Hong Kong, otherwise regarded as the first of its kind in the region. Born in Yunnan, China in 1979, Pang has been studying multimedia and fine art for several years and in celebrating Tattoo Temple’s tenth year in business. As leader of the ULA group, Pang has influenced handfuls of fellow artists with both her pristine work and highly respected philosophy of the craft. She emphasizes structure, placement, and movement of ink on the body while also specializing in large full-scale pieces that often reach from neck to toe.
In a recent conversation with Pang, Tattoo.com learned of her background and overall role in the tattoo industry as well as the many household names who have had the pleasure of placing Pang’s ink on their bodies. From gender to culture, to artistic discipline– take a look at what the phenomenal artist Joey Pang had to say regarding Chinese style tattooing and her journey to cross-industry success.
Female tattooers are gaining more and more recognition in the modern industry, but it hasn’t always been that way. What are some struggles that you have experienced, especially as an international artist, up to this point in your career?
I never had any problem being a female tattoo artist. Actually, I believe we are very welcome in this field, as both men and women seem to feel comfortable with female tattooists. I believe that often we are comparatively more gentle and caring throughout the process. Women typically like placing their artwork across hidden positions whereas men like working with women. There is a higher percentage of male tattooists in the industry, the same as in a range of other fields. As such, men are commonly used as the standard reference point because of the sheer numbers. I would not necessarily consider that being a female tattooer is a struggle.
At what point did your brushstroke tattooing style come to fruition? Can you describe the exact moment that it clicked for you?
Essentially, I started Chinese calligraphy body art because I’m the only one who actually learned the art form first, then figured out the way to transition this movement into body art, recreating the individual stroke texture on skin. Everybody can pick up a brush to write whatever they want, but Chinese calligraphy is an individualized art form which takes a lifetime of practice to learn. To truly become good and earn your own style in this form, there is a lot of history, theory, and skills that, once understood, subsequently shape the artist’s work. Changing their thoughts, movements and the ‘life’ behind each piece. In short, focusing the energy or ‘chi’.
I decided to do Chinese calligraphy since I saw Europeans getting a lot of bad Chinese characters from flash templates. As a Chinese artist, I felt like it was my mission to tell the world what real Chinese writing should be. During the first year of my career, Chinese clients only got English script tattoos and the Western clients always got Chinese calligraphy. I believe that this was a common trend around the world. Yet from the second year, after seeing some of the calligraphy pieces created, more Asian than Western clients started getting Chinese calligraphy pieces and they are all so proud of these. I saw the shift when the style really came to fruition.
Your life’s work has gained a lot of international media attention. Did you ever imagine that your work as a tattoo artist would have such a technical and social influence?
It’s an artist’s job to influence people, to invoke emotion and share a message. For artists, spreading our works is what we do. I don’t believe reaching any specific level or sharing to any extent was something we could ever have planned for. We concentrate on the artwork itself, focusing on the individual piece for the one client. I feel honored that we have been able to reach as many people as we have.
You have been known to work with a lot of celebrities and commercial organizations. What is one individual or company that you dream of working with in the future?
Steve Jobs (or now Tim Cook) and Gordon Ramsay. I would like to have artwork on Apple products and in Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant – or, actually, tattoo both of them.
Your portfolio showcases a lot of full-body tattoos, particularly on men. How long did it take you before you felt comfortable with handling the human body up close? Have you had any negative experiences?
I never had any issue with facing the human body. I see it as my canvas and I cherish every unique figure.
Artists are always developing new techniques, but it can be easy to become comfortable with a particular style. What are some new techniques you are currently practicing or wish to learn?
I’m currently developing a new Chinese ink painting style which will be on both canvas and skin. I’m also creating a Modern Chinese Ink painting series as well as tattoo art on synthetic skin statues for fine art exhibitions later this year.
What are some of your favorite elements of traditional Chinese tattooing?
I like trees, flowers, water, clouds, as well as the classic dragon and Phoenix. Whilst they often form the staple or can be viewed as the ‘stereotypical’ elements in classical Asian paintings, there are so many ways for them to be interpreted and represented in novel compositions. I am always excited to show how these can be re-envisioned.
Who are some of your favorite tattoo artists, both historically and in the current industry?
Filip Leu, Yellow Blaze, and Jeff Gogue
Have you ever encountered a client wanting a traditional Chinese tattoo but didn’t know what the meaning was behind it? How did you handle it?
We won’t accept the project if they don’t know what are they getting. Clients need to know the meaning that they appreciate or would like to have before we can proceed. Just as in any form of writing, the wording is too explicit for someone else to make this decision. We are able to advise and discuss equivalent translations of their thoughts, researching its appearance in traditional Chinese poetry or writing. But we can never just choose something in calligraphy without the client’s input.