Kip Fulbeck – East Meets West

Courtney McKinnon, Tattoo Savage

October 2008

“With tattoos, you run the gamut, from people who have them for highly personal, sometimes sacred reasons, to those who just did them for the hell of it,” Kip Fulbeck points out. “I have a lot of respect for both methods.”

In fact, the UC Santa Barbara professor/director of arts showcased the two extremes of getting tattooed in his latest book, Permanence. It’s not necessarily about tattoos; rather it is a book about identity that examines the unique individuality of each participant.

“That’s why the tattoos are so all over the place,” Kip adds. “You’ll see masterpieces but you’ll also see some pretty shoddy work as well.”

Kip falls into the category of a person who waits, and waits, and studies, and studies, until he finds exactly what he wants, by the tattoo artist he wants.  Though he first began looking into getting tattooed in college and had his mind set on a full-body dragon, being a collegiate swimmer didn’t allow for that much time away from the water.

It wasn’t until Kip turned 35 that he began his close relationship with Horitaka, owner of State of Grace Tattoo in San Jose, California.

“[Horitaka] did both my sleeves. It began with the Koi on my left arm and gradually became a sleeve with background. The swallows on my right arm were interpreted from Hiroshige prints and Horitaka drew the iris freehand.”

Next up on Kip’s list of elite artists was Horitomo, who inspired him to fly to Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan, to receive his Kannon and dragon backpiece.

“I lived there for five weeks in 2005 and got tattooed five days a week, anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours a day—both machine and tebori,” Kip explains.

“It cost me a fortune because I had to rent an apartment, fly there, and pay Japanese costs of living with weak American dollars—all in addition to the costs of gifts and the tattoo itself, but it was well worth it and I am honored to wear it.”

Completing his collection of masterpieces is the work graciously done by Horiyoshi III, who has a reputation for being the finest full-body tattoo artist in existence.  The beautiful hiragana on Kip’s right arm is a Buddhist death haiku that loosely translates to:

I wake up and see
the beautiful iris
I saw in my dreams