Powder Tattoo (@powder.tattoo) is the alias of Seoul-born, Tokyo-based tattoo artist and visual artist Ezi Woo. Her mostly abstract tattoo designs are so organic and fluid that they seem to have spontaneously emerged from the skin. Just as our freckles, our wrinkles, our stretch marks, or any wrongly named “imperfections” defy the standard canons of beauty, so too do these powder tattoos seek to be a form of subversion that makes our body special, more our own.
Ink, resin, thread… the materials with which Ezi creates her works are so resistant that they can last forever. However, her tattoos, her sculptures, and the clothes she knits seem fragile, delicate, and ephemeral. As if they would fade, melt, or disappear in the wind. As if they were ice, the thread of a spider’s web, or actual powder.
Chorareii: First, introduce yourself!
I think I’m a very loose person, slowly doing everything by hand. This doesn’t fit with the ‘high-speed-wheels-like’ contemporary society. I’m creating things slowly but steadily.
How did you start tattooing?
I started my career as a tattoo artist in 2018. I learned tattooing from one of my friends, the hand-poke tattoo artist NAME.
I had always loved getting tattoos, I liked the feeling of relief when the needle touches the body. I had been drawing for a long time, so I felt bored and had a thirst for new things.
I was impressed by the change of physical properties when a drawing from a flat surface is applied to the three-dimensional space of the human body. That’s why I wanted my drawings to be on my body.
I love getting tattoos myself, so I understand that feeling of ‘relief’ you mention when the needle touches the skin. But how is it when you are the one tattooing, especially hand-poking?
I remember the first time I picked up a needle. I poked a rubber plate with a needle at a bar in Seoul where a tattooist friend worked. It was a whole new feeling.
Poking and being poked are completely different things. Whenever difficulties arise, I recall the subtle emotions of that time.
Tattooing is art. However, I think it is also very different from what has traditionally been considered artistic expressions. How do you see it?
The process of creating art is too long. The time between thinking, feeling, creating, and sharing is too long. During this process, I get very tired and lonely.
However, the tattooing process is shorter. Drawing a design, engraving it on someone’s body, seeing the result, and getting paid. The people who get my tattoos travel around with my designs. Until death. I enjoy this idea very much.
How do you define your style?
I always work with an idea in mind: the human body is always moving. The body of a living person, not the body of the dead, constantly moves. That’s why I create curved, irregular, and natural-flowing designs.
Depending on the characteristics of the body and the body part, the emphasis on the original design may be deformed and distorted. The linear designs that look like a sticker are not the kind of tattoo I want.
Definitely, your tattoos could never be stickers. How do you see them, then?
I think that tattoos are more like accessories. I use the concept “body accessory” a lot when posting on social media. Accessories that can’t be erased.
My tattoos are disconnected and connected, they flow, are strangely intertwined, and are also a little sweet. They make hard things look soft and sad things look cute. I love that subtle mood.
I feel that some of your tattoos are very powerful because they seem to have been generated by the body itself. They make sense with the body.
Exactly. This is because, as I said, most of the designs were made suitable for each body.
Just transferring the design drawn on flat paper to a three-dimensional and fluid body is very limited. When I tattoo someone’s body, the thickness or curves of each part of the body are subtly different. The gap between this and the design draft is often filled with my freestyle design.
I may cut some parts of the designs, connect them, or rearrange them. Responding according to each body part leads to these unexpected and satisfying results.
As your tattoos, your visual artworks are like sculptures, but somehow they could be accessories too. Tell me about them, please.
I make transparent objects and put them on the legs, arms, head, vagina, etc., to take pictures. The idea of this project is to cover the entire body. The objects are light and easy to move, so this project is named “Delivery Service.”
In my previous works, I dealt with a lot of materials. However, as I continued to see people’s bodies while tattooing, my focus naturally turned to the body.
My tattoos, transplanted directly into the skin, and this project of objects applied on the body, complement each other. I’m interested in this subtle mood that spans a person’s body and makes it feel like it’s expanded in a way.
You also design knitted clothes. I see similarities between your tattoos and your knitting, but I couldn’t explain them. Can you?
I make knit pieces by connecting and tangling threads following my instinct, without setting patterns.
There’s no machine for hand-knitting. The same goes for the hand-poking needles. I can’t rely on anything but my hands. I think I’m more committed to the knitting process than to the completed pieces.
This process resembles the tattoos I do because the designs change without following any set patterns or methods.
Where do you find inspiration to create?
I get inspired by the music I listen to, even the title of the songs. Also by experimental clothes and textures, accessories, the glow of objects, or old stains. I also get ideas from the pieces I’ve made.
In the past, I used to be very inspired by my feelings, but now I’m consciously trying not to do that. Work derived from too powerful emotions creates a “wall.”
Do you have any recommendations for people in Japan or South Korea that may what to be more involved with tattoo culture — either tattooing or getting tattoos — but are afraid to do it because of the negative social perception?
Seoul is where I was born and Tokyo is where I have lived since I moved here about 3 years ago. People in both cities, based on my experiences, are very sensitive about others’ opinions toward themselves. Most people think that tattoos are cool but on the other hand, they are scared.
That scary image of tattoos makes things very difficult, as there are places where people with tattoos cannot enter, and there are many uncomfortable situations caused by tattoos. It is not easy to tell people to feel easy with tattoos unless the social perception is changed.
However, I would like to talk about my personal experience with my first tattoo. Before I got the first one, I was feeling a bit guilty and uncertain, thinking ‘Is this the right choice?’. After finishing, I got a sense of freedom.
That tattoo was about rebelling against social prejudice. Nothing changed in me because I wore a tattoo, but I lived happier after that day. I regard tattoos as a form of self-determination, they are a decision for personal happiness.
If people are being scared of wearing tattoos because of social prejudices, I would like to tell them that they will feel great joy overcoming those prejudices themselves.
Follow Ezi Woo (@voohje) on Instagram to check her art