The adorable design depicting the everyday life of gay men. Rocco, a tattooist from South Korea, empowers the LGBTQ+ community with tattoos.

queer tatooist Rocco interview

Rocco, a tattooist based in Korea, who works all over the world. The reason his tattoos are popular among the LGBTQ+ community, especially gay men, is that they depict gentle, realistic life, far from the stereotypes of gay culture such as S&M and fetishism.

Since the tattoo stays semi-permanent, not only the technique but also the relationship of trust between the customer and the artist takes place as an important matter, but the fact that Rocco himself is openly gay and provides a safe space for LGBTQ+ people. This is probably one of the reasons for gay men to visit.

Rocco empowers the LGBTQ+ community from within through tattoos. We wanted to know about his roots, and we’ve tried to contact with him, and he agreed to an online interview from South Korea.

famous tatooist Rocco roccotat

ーーWanted to express the peaceful everyday life of gay men, rather than the stereotypical “violently erotic” gay scene.

I have always loved drawing, so I wanted to establish a career as a painter after graduating from art school. However, it was difficult to make a living with only as a painter, so in 2019 I took a half-hearted compromise and started working as a tattooist. At that time, rather than starting something completely new, I felt like I was learning techniques while utilizing my illustration skills.

— How do you give your service?

I usually give my session at my own studio in South Korea. It’s a warm space that was renovated from an old house, so I think it’s very comfortable. Also, if a customer wants me to visit and give my work, I sometimes travel to where they live and do my work.

However, what I value more than the location where I give my work is that we trust each other. Adding inked is the act of inserting a needle into the customer’s body. That’s why it’s important for me that they feel to be willing to entrust their body to me. On the other hand, as long as you can trust my tattoo skills, location doesn’t really matter.

roccotat draw illust

— What experiences influenced you to design tattoo muscular men and gay couples?

I’m not sure why, but it’s probably due to my experience when I was a student, where when I drew women’s bodies I lost confidence, but when I drew men’s bodies, I felt energized and naturally overflowing with confidence. I think. In the Croquis lectures I took in college, I continued to draw more male nudes than female nudes, and practiced over and over again.

Also, I’m gay and see male homosexuality and the body as a normal thing. That’s why I feel the design is more gay-friendly.

— On the other hand, the facial expression is cute and the gap is also impressive.

Famous works representing the gay community are closely connected to SM and fetish culture, and are sometimes depicted with violently erotic images.

Rather than drawing inspiration from such gay stereotypes, I wanted to express their casual everyday life and reality, which led me to establish my current design. Some people who have seen my illustrations and tattoos have commented that they have a “calm and warm atmosphere.”

roccotat tatoo for gay couple

— Rocco’s next step in empowering Korea’s LGBTQ+ community.

— Do most of the people who visit Rocco belong to the LGBTQ+ community?

Mostly, yes. In South Korea, where the human rights of LGBTQ+ people are still not guaranteed, I am grateful that so many openly gay people come to visit me and have a strong desire to express their identity visually. We also have many customers from Western countries where same-sex marriage is recognized, as well as from gay-friendly Asian countries.

In the past, a couple who had been together for many years and got married to their same-sex partner came to visit us, and it was a real treat. To congratulate them on their marriage, we had them get a tattoo with an illustration of the two of them. There are many couples who have had tattooed as memories or mementoes.

— Since you talked about the LGBTQ+ community in Korea, I would like to ask you more details.

Regarding the LGBTQ+ community, as I talked on earlier, Korean society has been behind yet. As long as you don’t tell anyone you’re gay, you’ll be fine, but if you come out to your family, co-workers, or friends, you may not get the reaction you want.

From a political perspective, South Korea does not have a partnership system like Japan, and is currently working on enacting laws related to partnerships, insurance, pensions, inheritance, etc. Although it doesn’t seem any major changes in the LGBTQ+ scene yet, I believe that society will gradually change for the better.

— Please tell us your goals if you have, for the last question.

Working as a tattooist is the first step to becoming a painter. I have built up my career so far by illustrating the Korean version of the essay “Unexpectedly, I’m a shopping lover” by Japanese novelist Ryu Murakami. While continuing my activities as a tattooist, I would like to focus on my activities as an illustrator in the future.

Oh! Also, I have never had a tattoo done in Japan, so I hope to meet Japanese customers someday!

A tattooist from and living in South Korea. Since starting his career in 2019, he has provided tattoos to more than 300 people in Korea and other countries including Singapore, Thailand, France, the United States, and Australia. The design, which centers on a man with a cute face and muscular body, has gained a lot of support from gay people.
As an illustrator, he was in charge of the cover illustration for the Korean version of Akutagawa Prize-winning author Ryu Murakami’s essay “Unexpectedly, I’m a shopping lover” (Gentosha).


Image provided by Rocco
Interview/translation/text/Honoka Yamasaki
English translation / Lady-J
Edit/Takashi Haga