Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Evil Angel

This person has posted two tattoos done by Melissa Mesimer of Ghetto Inks in BMEzine’s gallery (June 26th, 2006).

One is called “Evil Angel” and the other is titled “Burning Rain”.


Somehow the first character of 使 has been separated into two characters, which are (tooth) and (a partial that means looks like an “ear”).

For those who are curious about the striations below the hands in the photo, those are stretch marks. I am not sure if the photos linked above were from a female tattooer or a very large man with gynecomastia.


  1. If I may play devil's advocate for a minute, may I ask what exactly is wrong here? Is this not simply a case of the tattoo artist using their artistic license?

    Yes, I understand that it looks "funny" to a Chinese person to have the Chinese characters split up like this, but perhaps the artist felt that a better visual balance was achieved by using five visual elements rather than four, thus allowing the character 惡 to occupy a central top position and emphasizing the "evil" theme.

    I know that a Chinese artist would never do this, but neither the artist nor the client was Chinese, so as long as they both liked the design, what is the harm?

    Personally, I think the whole trend of getting tattoos in a language the tatooed does not understand is rather silly, but who am I to criticize art - body art in this case?

  2. @ last anonymous,

    so by your logic, since the typical automobile has four wheels, if I was to remove one wheel and assuming it would still run properly, what is the harm in that? It may look "funny" to the car's original designer, but what does he know, I am trying to express myself here.

  3. A better analogy is if I was getting the tattoo "LOVE" and the tattoo artist took away a line from the "E" and added one to the L. Or wrote the "E" backwards. It might still be comprehensible, but it would look strange.

    "Who am I to criticize" is normally a very healthy attitude. But that's why we're here at hanzismatter. :)

  4. @ previous anonymous

    Yes, that's exactly right. I'm sure that such cars have been created as pieces of modern art, and that's exactly the case here. It would look funny to the designer, and it probably would not run properly, but it would definitely be a form of expression. The idea that the "tools" we use must be created with functionality in mind is a false assumption that artwork is often based upon.

    You hit on the perfect analogy without even realizing it.

    - not the first Anonymous

  5. i don't believe 阝 ever means "ear." 耳子旁 is just a name given to it because it sort of looks like an ear. on the left, it's a reduced 阜 (which means "hill"), and on the rite, it's a reduced 邑 (which means "city").

    as for the anonymous devil's advocate, you can argue that it's an issue of artistic license, but consider a sentence like "i am a super duper person" that someone wants to tattoo on their backs. however, this person doesn't like how that sentence is end-heavy: "super duper person" is too many letters compared to "i am a." to balance it out, they will put the spaces in different places. "iamas uperd uperp erson" is perfect! it's five letters per group of letters. now they tattoo this on their backs. to someone who can't read english anyways, it might look okay; it's so even! but an english-speaker might say, "well, you can't just respace stuff like that willy nilly, cuz then it doesn't make any sense."

    in this case, that's pretty much what's been done with the tattoo. it's the equivalent of doing "ev il angel" because one wanted three clusters instead of two. (i can't speak for anyone else, but if i saw that tattoo, as a native english speaker i'd think it was pretty god damn ugly).

    not only is 邪 nonsense when split apart, but the two characters 邪惡 together means "evil." there is not any more emphasis on the "'evil' theme" by singling out the character 惡 (tho it does by itself mean "bad, evil." but guess what, so does 邪). if they wanted five characters, they should have picked five characters, or perhaps put a little picture in between the whole words 邪惡 and 天使. the point is there are much better ways to do this. there's something condescending about reducing a writing system to the status of poorly-understood and poorly-implemented decorative art.

  6. I doubt it's artistic license. A good tattoo artist with a knowledge of hanzi would've come up with a design that preserved the meaning and achieved visual balance. To tattoo hanzi on yourself implies an appreciation and understanding of their meaning, and splitting up characters destroys that. This tattoo just smacks of ignorance and/or laziness.

  7. @ anonymous #4

    Now that is a much better argument. The reason this blog exists is that Hanzi tattoos aren't modern art, they're just fashion, and the proof is in the pudding, as you've just shown.

    - Anonymous #3 (a.k.a. "not the first Anonymous".... is this getting confusing to anyone else?)

  8. It looks like man fingers, but the lack of chest hair leads me to believe it is a woman

  9. This is anonymous #1 (Alan) again.

    I think the car analogy is rather good. If someone just took off one wheel off of a normal car, the bare axle would drag and cause a safety hazard. But if someone carefully redesigned the car so that it runs well on three wheels, it might be more stable, more maneuverable and perhaps even use less gas. It still might look "funny" to someone who is used to having four wheels on a car, but it may be better in some ways.

    A tattoo is simply a visual design and has no functional purpose, so the only criterion for whether or not it is successful is whether people like it or not.

    So was this a careful redesign or a case where the designer just left off a wheel? This design seems to have been fairly well thought out, and the characters are well-formed and clear except that one was divided in half. It is still quite legible and makes sense with a certain amount of imagination.

    I also like the analogy of the "iamas uperd uperp erson" tattoo. This too is a sort of word puzzle; they appear in the Jumbles section of the newspaper all the time. If someone wants to get a word puzzle tattoo, why not? It might get people staring at their chest and attract attention, which might be the whole point of the tattoo to begin with.

    This also seems to be a lot like spelling LOVE like L0\/E. Sure it is hard to read and doesn't make sense at first, but a lot of people on Internet chat rooms seem to like this way of playing with words and letters.

    Why is it wrong for anyone but Chinese people to play with words in Chinese?

    Some people may not like art that plays with words, but some people may think it clever.



  10. i don't know why anyone isn't saying anything about the fact that the lady is holding up her boobs for the picture. gross!

  11. ...If someone wants to get a word puzzle tattoo, why not? It might get people staring at their chest and attract attention, which might be the whole point of the tattoo to begin with.

    Why is it wrong for anyone but Chinese people to play with words in Chinese?

    Some people may not like art that plays with words, but some people may think it clever...

    i can accept "artistic license" as a possible reason. that, i certainly am not arguing against. but there is no trace of wordplay (or character-play, as it were) here. within any language, there's a scope of what can be seen as wordplay, and to someone familiar with the language, anything lying outside of that scope is just a plain mistake (namely, when the wordplay doesn't make any sense). no claim on clever usage can be made with this tattoo. it's not clever; it's just written wrong (or "artistically"). the only notice this person will get from people who can read chinese is that 邪 is miswritten. it's got nothing to do with whether or not the people involved are chinese or not; it's about a person's knowledge and understanding.

    i can personally see no real aesthetic reason to split up 牙 and 阝, but perhaps the owner of the tattoo wants both to be an "evil angel" and a "toothtown bad angel." wow, so clever! as a critic of art (as all people are), i think this piece of art is ugly, stupid and poorly done, kinda like nacho libre (speaking of manboobs).

  12. Folks are assuming the person actually KNOWS the hanzi is not supposed to look that but is still ok with it. Would a person who wants "evil angel" be ok with "ev il angel" or "iamas uperd uperp erson" instead of "I am a super duper person"? Probably not, if they didn't ask for it.

    A word puzzle is one thing, but the way it is tattooed in no way indicates it was meant to be a puzzle. It's more like someone who didn't know any better in several respects - the artist and the owner alike.

    As for the harm - that has been raised repeatedly. IIRC, it's the reason why this blog was created. 99% of the time it's not art for art's sake but plain vanilla ignorance.

  13. It is definatly a girl - you can see her bra at the top of the photo ... plus she doesn't have hairy knuckles like most guys - I'd say she simply bites her nails - who knew that was enough to make your hands look masculine.

    Regardless of art - it's still ignorant to split up the hanzi/kanji like that ... and it also takes away some of the aesthetics because the first two characters are too skinny.


  14. If tattooist takes artistic liberties in cases like this, they should be painting pumpins and not tattooing.

    Would you say "sure, let's do it!" if a tattooist would ask you to separate a character, reverse a letter or change your kids face to a pig just because it looks balanced?! In this case it would've been balanced if the arrangement of the characters were done with three characters.

    Even if majority of people do not understand or know what it means or it is done properly/right, doesn't mean it's ok to go and fuck it up. I think best words to describe tit would be stupidity and ignorance.

  15. I have to agree. A knowlegeable play on words or experimental use of the characters is one thing, but I am willing to bet that either the tattoist or the recipient - or probably both - did this out of ignorance rather than other reason. Plus, I would be far more willing to accept 'artistic license' if these tattoos were actually attractive - the five character one is in fact still uneven and unbalanced, and both have been rendered by someone who seems unable even to ink a straight line.

    The excuse often given by people with these tattoos / t-shirts / interior decor choices etc. is 'who's going to know?'. Well, it may be that they have no Asian friends to see the tats and t-shirts, and have never had an Asian person in their homes to see their lovely 'zen cushions' or whatever. But with something that's been marked permanently onto their bodies (especially one in a visible location), is the thinking then that they don't *ever* see themselves having an Asian friend? And if so, why?

  16. Artistic liscense? Please. The only reactions that come to mind when viewing this is "ignoramous" or "moron".

    When you call something art, it implies creativity or wit of some sort. There is neither creativity nor wit, and absolutely no awareness on top of it, in this tatoo.

    Anyone with awareness of either art or Chinese would never make such an argument. Don't equate idiocy with art. It degrades both the language and the art.

    On top of that, that tatoo is just plain fugly, period. To call that "art" is just plain insulting to the real artists out there.

  17. @Coco...

    That's an interesting suggestion. Like these people are voluntarily excluding themselves by getting these tattoos. I think a case could be made for that.

    But don't forget that having an "Asian friend" isn't necessarily going to mean much. There are plenty of Chinese and Japanese out there that don't know a thing about Hanzi, not to mention all the other "Asians" that don't use them to begin with.

  18. Oh sure, I'm aware that 'Asian' is too sweeping a word to include only people that can read Chinese characters! In fact, my use of the word 'Asian' was a deliberate attempt to Americanise/Internationise my English - in contrast to American usage, here when we say 'Asian' we are usually referring to peoples from the Indian subcontinent, to the exclusion of Orientals.
    If anything, it could be argued that people with an 'Asian tattoo' are more likely to be the kind of person to think that all people who look 'Eastern' are Chinese and read Chinese characters.
    But that's another issue.
    I guess it just annoys me living in a multicultural city with many overseas students, and a large Chinese language-using Chinese community, where signs in Chinese characters can be seen written up in shops and so on, and to then have people walking past them saying 'Who cares if it's wrong? Nobody important is going to know!' as if these people around them do not exist. I'm not suggesting for a second that all of these people are being deliberately racist or exclusionary, but I can't help but wonder at the subconscious processes that have lead to treating a language that is clearly being spoken, written and read all around them as some kind of pretty picture that makes no sense to anyone.

  19. That's pretty much how I have felt seeing English in every Asian country I've been in.

    That's not intended to invalidate your point, but agree with it.

  20. Just to get back to the topic of three-wheeled cars... these *do* (or at least did) exist. The Reliant Regal is a well-known example (you may not recognise the name, but if you ever watched Mr Bean, you'll have seen one, at least), and they certainly worked quite well, too.

    Of course you can't just one wheel off of a four-wheeled car to get a three-wheeled one, but that doesn't mean you can't build three-wheeled cars at all.

    I'll leave it to someone else to apply this to the use of Chinese characters in tattoos again. ;)

  21. The artistic liscense argument is bullshit. What if I wrote the letter "i" and decided to put the dot at the bottom instead of the top. I'm not Chinese, but I have the sense to know that a character consists of a whole and it means nothing once you butcher it.

    Besides f*cking up the first character, the artwork from Ghetto Inks looks very ghetto.

  22. So was this a careful redesign or a case where the designer just left off a wheel? This design seems to have been fairly well thought out, and the characters are well-formed and clear except that one was divided in half. It is still quite legible and makes sense with a certain amount of imagination.

    The design is far from being well thought out. If it was well thought out, then they would have easily accommodated the character being whole instead of being split in half.

    As for the characters being well-formed and clear, anyone can see the disgusting linework done here. Look at the third character (which, if done properly, shough be the second) and the top line of it. It wobbles like anything, and no character stroke wobbles like that. The last character's left hand side is terribly crooked. The shading is patchy and looks pencilled in as an afterthought, rushed and uneven. Not an example of "clear and well formed" at all. All a tattoo artist needs to do is follow lines, and the one who did this one obviously could not.

    This then allows me to make the assumption that this artist is a crappy tattooist all-round. So then this crappy artist takes 'artistic liscence' to butcher the character just because it 'looks better' that way. How can one give the allowance of 'artistic liscence' to someone who can't perform their craft properly - that is, make lines even and straight and shade properly?

    Artistic liscence may be morphing the characters a little to appear more like the image of the meaning, for example, the character for 'dragon' being morphed into a more dragon-like shape while retaining the general shape of the character. The same could be done with 'fish' and 'horse' and others. Cutting it in half is not a show of being artistic at all.

    Cheap crappy tattoo that shows no respect to a culture. I hope he/she didn't pay more than $50 for this counterfeit piece of crap.