The extremely talented and prolific Japanese artist Ozuma Kaname, born in Niigata in 1939, was trained in classical Japanese painting by his uncle Sakai Soushi. From all artists from the ‘Golden age’ SM era, his work is by far most published. This is perhaps not so surprising as, in Ozuma’s art, three different specialties come together in one beautiful image: the sensuous seme-e (kinbaku pictures) scene, the bijin-ga (beauty pictures), and the irezumi (tattoo) masterpiece. His images are mainly inspired on the traditional subjects to which he adds beautifully tattooed (wabori) female figures tied-up in inescapable poses.
Ozuma Kaname attended Art College in Niigata but had to leave prior to graduation as he was forced to accept any assignment in order to make ends meet. He did this by illustrating for SM magazines in the early 1970s , and became a popular contributor to acclaimed magazines like SM Select, SM Collector and SM King.
Early in his career Ozuma examined various styles and often mimicked more well-known artists like Kita Reiko. But over time as he became more skilled in his art, his originality and breathtaking imagination started to attract a large audience. It was in the late 1970s that he began to combine his skills with seme-e and irezumi and started to produce his signature style of picture; Edo era maidens with flowing black hair, covered in glorious, colorful irezumi and bound with thick hemp rope in sensuous poses of rapture, shame or torment.
Although Ozuma mastered the art of Japanese traditional tattooing, called irezumi, he himself became a huge inspiration for contemporary tattoo-artists. Especially his second book, published in 1995, is now an important reference. In a review on one his exhibitions in The Loving Living Gallery (2015) I read that when you examine Ozuma’s paintings on silk in real-life, the detail is incredible. The female protagonists are largely depicted in submissive poses, with the male (if present) dominating, holding the female figures down in position.
The female figures are large, round and graceful. All characters are Japanese. The nudes feature flowing lines moving down the entire body including genital area. The private parts are always subtly hidden by twigs, ropes, a kitten (Fig.4), water (Fig.5) or simply by the pose in which the body is presented to the viewer.
Ozuma’s paintings were a major influence on the work of the popular tattoo artist Horiyoshi III (1946). In return, Horiyoshi’s clients were frequently used as models for his paintings. He signed his work only with his family name.
His depictions of dragons and Buddhist deities can not only be found in the tattoo subculture but also in mainstream Japanese culture (such as jigsaw puzzles and postcards). This is quite an accomplishment since tattoos have a bad stigma in Japan. Ozuma Kaname’s tattoo paintings are seen as masterpieces among irezumi connoisseurs.
At the end of his life he was every bit as famous a designer of tattoos as he was an SM artist and was acknowledged as standing in direct descent from Utagawa Kuniyoshi, the early 19th century ukiyo-e master who first popularized the art of irezumi with his prints series ‘The 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden‘ (1827-30).
A striking characteristic of Ozuma was his great humility. In an autobiographical essay accompanying the art in his book ‘Tattooing‘, he commented that although he was pleased at the collection’s publication he was, ‘a little ashamed that they (the pictures) aren’t better.’ He concluded by saying, ‘As an ukiyo-e artist, I hope that his book will find its way into the hands of tattoo fans the world over, and show them at least one aspect of Japanese culture and tradition, art and technique. Nothing could please me more than this.’ This most renowned master died from cancer in 2011.
The following video shows more amazing tattoo art by Ozuma Kaname:
Source: ‘The Beauty of Kinbaku‘ by Master “K”
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