Taiwan graffiti artist swaps spray for ink in epic tattoos

In a small workshop down a narrow alleyway in Taipei’s Ximending district, tattoo artist Bobo Chen is refreshing a scene from a Japanese epic with new ink on a client’s back.

The vivid image depicts a fictional Japanese hero fighting a tiger and dragon, symbolic of strength and protection.

A former graffiti artist, Chen, 35, switched to tattooing five years ago after learning the craft in Thailand.

On the walls of his studio are pictures of historical Japanese drawings, which he takes as inspiration for his body art.

Taiwan was ruled by Japan for 50 years until 1945 and the island´s design aesthetic often still reflects Japanese style.

“I like Japanese culture and traditions,” says Chen. “I take inspiration from them for my work because I’d like to play a small part in handing them down.”

It also pays the bills — Chen does mostly large-scale tattoos and charges over Tw$3,000 ($100) per hour. A large tattoo costs as much as Tw$300,000.

He does not advertise, but says he has plenty of clients through word of mouth.

Chen says the trend of having larger scale tattoos has grown more popular in Taiwan in recent years as people become less conservative about they way they look.

He talks through the process with clients before going ahead, adding that often they decide to have tattoos when they are suffering “frustration or disappointment” in life.

Micky Peng, 30, who sports the epic back design Chen is touching up, as well as a tiger pattern on his chest, said receiving tattoos had been cathartic for him.

He first started when his father fell ill ten years ago and said it was a way to release emotional stress.

“I feel like I am being protected by the hero tattoo on my body,” says Peng, who runs a tofu dessert shop in central Taichung city.

“I think I’m addicted to it. Getting new tattoos makes me happier and feel that I am more unique.”

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