Genetics is a strange thing. We know that some traits are clearly passed down from our parents, but could artistic ability be one of them? Seunghyun and Younggi Jo, a sibling couple from Seoul, South Korea, argue that’s the case. As an older brother, Seunghyun started the craft first, and he currently resides in Toronto where he impresses his clients with his large-scale black and gray portraits. Younggi, who sports a striking cover art created by her brother, focuses on the black and gray micro-realism so popular among Korean artists. There are similarities between each of their styles, but the work of each brother is clearly independent.
We had the chance to participate in a conversation between the two as they discussed their artistic origins, how they are inspired and more.
Let’s start from the very beginning. Tell us a bit about your childhood together and how you first discovered art.
Younggi: We went to the same middle and high school so it was kinda fun. [My brother] I really loved fashion, so when we were young we would go to the mall every day. We played a lot. He’s four years older than me, but we were still friends. He’s my brother but he’s also my best friend. Four years is enough for a gap where you naturally won’t hate each other and you can still be friends.
Seunghyun: We have always been good friends. I think we got lucky, I have so many friends who don’t have very good friendships with their siblings, you know? I’m happy with that [laughs].
Did you draw together when you were younger?
Seunghyun: Honestly, we never really drew or designed anything together because we never really learned to draw or paint. [as kids]. We don’t have that kind of experience. I remember when we were young we would always copy stuff from manga or anime, but that’s all we did.
Younggi: Sad to say, but we don’t have artistic training. He loved fashion, which is definitely an art. And I was playing music, so we were doing different things, but there was art there.
We’re assuming Seunghyun tattooed first, right?
Seunghyun: Yes, I started probably about 12 years ago. My brother started tattooing about five years ago. I’m 300 percent older than him so … [laughs]So were you inspired by your brother to become a tattoo artist?
Younggi: Actually, yeah. I didn’t know about tattoos until he started doing it. I saw some of his work, then I saw his lifestyle, and I really loved his lifestyle. So right after I finished my military service I asked my brother, can I tattoo? Will I be able to tattoo even if I have no artistic training? He said to me: âYes, of course you can! I did, so you can too. He introduced me to Bran.D, my master who taught me.
Have you learned anything over time?
Seunghyun: At first, of course, I taught him more than he taught me. But now that he’s become a great artist, I’m learning from him. We share information via SMS or Instagram.
I think it’s interesting that you both have your own signature styles, especially when it comes to scale. Was it a conscious choice where you each wanted to stand out, or was that just how it ended?
Younggi: He didn’t tell me I had to do little things because he does big things [laughs]. I tried to think about my specialty. I really like to express the details inside. When I saw tiny, realistic tattoos, I fell in love with them.
Seunghyun: Twelve years ago, we didn’t really have that kind of micro-realism tattoo. Now our technology has gotten so much better, maybe that’s why so many great artists are doing such great micro tattoos these days. But I never told him what to do. I wasn’t trying to say that you bullied him in his style [laughs]. I was wondering more if you had a sibling rivalry involved.
Seunghyun: I think you should ask him since I started!
Younggi: Actually, I also really like big pieces. [When I started] my brother was already popular and I wanted to have my own style. Back then, I thought if I did big chunks, people would think, âOh, he’s like his brother. So I think that’s why I chose a different style.
Did you two tattoo each other?
Younggi: Yeah. I tattooed him and he tattooed me.
Seunghyun: Yes, I finished one of his sleeves.
Younggi: Yeahâ¦ this one. It is my favorite! How is tattooing your brother different from a normal client?
Seunghyun: The first time I tattooed it, it was my biggest tattoo. I was afraid to finish the piece in one day because it was super big. But he was sitting really, really well. He sat for probably 13 and a half hours. Law.
Younggi: It was 2 p.m. [laughs].
Seunghyun: We talked a lot while tattooing. I liked it. It’s my job, isn’t it? And then he started doing the same job as me. So it’s a little weird but at the same time it’s very special.
Younggi: It was so much fun this time.
Fourteen hours ? It’s so long, both to tattoo and to get tattooed. Seunghyun: Crazy, isn’t it? The next day we couldn’t wake up [laughs].
Tattooing is not as accepted in Korean culture as it is here in America, so tattooing is illegal for non-doctors in South Korea. What does your family think about the job you have chosen?
Seunghyun: I was worried about my first tattoo because I knew my mom was going to be pissed off. I covered it for about two months. And then one day while I was sleeping I could feel something next to me and it was my mom looking at me. She was like, “What the hell is this?” I said, “Oh, well, that’s a sticker, that’s a fake tattoo.” I don’t know if she really believed in it or not, which is why when I started my career I was really worried about my mom’s reaction. But after that, honestly, she didn’t really give me a hard time. I pretty much think we’re good. I don’t know about my brother, but my situation was good.
Younggi: Also, I started after my brother so it was okay. Right now, she doesn’t care if I get tattoos, but she still hates it when I get a tattoo. For me.
Seunghyun: I think it’s all about history. When I was young, I always had problems. Problems at schoolâ¦ it was all about problems. So I think my mom hates tattoos because of our culture. Korean culture is far removed from this stuff. But I think she likes it over time. I work really hard, I think that’s what she likes. She respects the fact that her sons work hard.
Younggi: I remember the time my mother saw my brother’s work and thought to herself, âOK, he’s fine. ” [laughs]
I think as a younger brother it’s easier for you to get away with it. Seunghyun has already done it …
Seunghyun: Yeah, I’m still the one making the biggest problems. I think my mom just got used to it.
Younggi: So true [laughs].
Considering the culture of South Korea, I’ve always been curious if artists tend towards micro-realism as these tattoos are easier to cover up on a daily basis.
Younggi: Every Korean loves fashion. So I think micro tattoos are all the rage these days. I think they are more acceptable than the big chunks.
So it’s more fashion oriented than anything else?
Seunghyun: We don’t have a very big, hardcore tattoo culture. In North America everyone has tattoos, everyone has sleeves, sometimes face tattoos, neck tattoos, that’s not a weird thing. But in Korea, it’s really hard if you have a big tattoo because people are going to put a filter on their eyes when they look at me. I think that’s why they’re starting to get smaller tattoos. Nowadays our culture is becoming [more accepting], so people start to have bigger chunks too. Plus, I think it’s about our personality. It’s not just Korea, but many Koreans like to micromanage their lives, their food, their studies. So I think that’s why Korean artists have become such amazing micro-realism artists. This is how I see it.
Let’s finish with the most difficult question of all. Which of you is the best tattoo artist?
Younggi: Of course my brother ! I mean … until now [laughs]. I’m going to get better and better, but for now, he’s my brother. Just my opinion.
Seunghyun: I want to be better than him. But I hope that one day, or even now, he can beat me. This is why I am waiting.
Younggi: I will beat my brother! [Everybody laughs]