Yuko Yabuki to Paint Live at Hell City Tattoo Festival

Artist Yuko Yabuki was born and raised in Japan, and studied at Tokyo Women's Art College, but the painter, who's been living in Phoenix since 1995, says she continually learns new things about Japanese art from tattoo artists.

So it's only fitting that Yabuki will be painting live at the Hell City Tattoo Festival at the Arizona Biltmore this weekend. Though painting is her prime medium, Yabuki says she connects with tattooists because she also draws, and both mediums require line-oriented art. "A lot of tattoo artists think my art is tattoo art," she says. "They decide to put on people's skin what I put on paper."


But the piece Yabuki will be painting at Hell City -- an elaborate, eight foot by eight foot painting titled "Alchemy of Life" -- would require more flesh space and hours with a needle than most tattooists have. It's a large scale work rich with images and symbolism.

"With tattoo art, I use my spiritual side," Yabuki says. "I try to understand the people's philosophy and mentality of getting tattoos. Sometimes, when people make a big decision or have a big life change, they get a tattoo."

The philosophy behind "Alchemy of Life," Yabuki says, is that one should find and follow their own path and live life to its fullest. The painting's already in-progress, and features a skull at the center, flanked by numbers on each side ("A zero on one side, which is birth, and 13, which is death, on the other," Yabuki says).

The white bird atop the skull "represents finding your purpose. It's a supernatural message," she says. There are hourglasses on both sides of the skull, and flowers in bloom that eventually die. "There's a dried petal on the ground," Yabuki points out. The whole gestalt follows a process from birth to death, with the end result of one turning into gold.

"Life is like alchemy," Yabuki says. "If you follow your path right, you can turn into gold."

In addition to finishing "Alchemy of Life," Yabuki will also be raffling off some finished pieces at Hell City for a charity called the Life Through Arts Foundation. Raffle tickets cost $20 for one, $25 for two, and $30 for three. The first place prize will be Yabuki's "Nirvana - Green Flame," a large acrylic on canvas piece valued at $2,000. Second place will win a fine art print on archival paper by Yabuki titled "Gypsy," while third place gets a fine art print titled "The Sinner Maker."

This is Yabuki's second year painting at Hell City. She says she likes painting there because "I can feel the energy, and I try to crystallize the energy I feel into my art. It's easy to get distracted, because I want to walk around and meet people and get tattooed, but I have to stay focused on my piece."

Yuko Yabuki will be painting Friday, August 26 through Sunday, August 28 at the Hell City Tattoo Convention at the Arizona Biltmore, 2400 E. Missouri Avenue. Tickets for Hell City cost $25 for a one day pass, $45 for a two day pass, and $65 for a weekend pass at the gate. For more information, visit

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea