Globally in-demand tattoo artist Dr Woo on the rise of Asian-Americans in the creative ecosystem
Globally in-demand tattoo artist DR WOO speaks to HELENA YEUNG about the rise of Asian-Americans in unconventional creative fields
TATTOOS ARE NO longer as taboo as they once were – chalk it up to style, where it’s now as much an accessory as your favourite necklace or bracelet. But we actually have to thank the legion of artists who popularised different styles that are more intricate and soft – breaking the stereotype of tattoos having to be bold, and, well, “scary.” In this realm is a name you’ve definitely heard of: Dr Woo. Born Brian Woo, the artist has a rumoured waitlist of at least two years, a whopping 1.3 million Instagram followers and a brand-new studio in Los Angeles. But not only is Dr Woo one of the most popular tattoo artists in the world, he’s also a part of the Asian-American creative class that has paved the way for a younger generation that’s struggling to find legitimacy in
“unconventional” career paths. We recently spoke with Dr Woo during his pop-up residency at I.T in Hong Kong.
Growing up, Woo always knew he wanted to do something creative, but coming from a fi rst-generation Korean household, it was a difficult choice to make with traditional parents who wanted him to pursue a more traditional career path. In fact, the name
“Dr Woo” came about because his parents always wanted him to become a doctor. “When I was young, I was into fashion, design, photography, music… I knew I’d do something in the creative field, but the question was, how?” he recalls. “As a kid, how do you survive by being creative? Tattooing was an opportunity for me to have a tangible formula where I could be creative and support myself.”
Despite Woo’s immense success, his parents still have their reservations. “For the longest time, they didn’t tell people what I did. They just said I was just an artist. It’s definitely something that was a big deal in a first-generation Asian household! They still don’t love it,” he professes, laughing. Considering the fact that Woo’s parents are originally from South Korea, where being a tattoo artist is still illegal in
2018, it’s perhaps unsurprising. But the classic Asian-American struggle to find legitimacy in a creative career led Woo to find his passion, where he’s established himself as a trailblazer.
“It’s definitely a progressive time,” muses Woo. “[The kids I grew up with] are now what, 37? I feel like there were enough of us that paved the way to show that you don’t have to necessarily take the conventional path anymore.” Among his good friends are other Asian-American public figures such as Eddie Huang and Edison Chen – both of whom are proudly waving the identity flag in their own industries of food and fashion, respectively. Their shared origins in “unconventional” career paths is something that’s much-needed at a time when diversity and representation is key. The more faces we see making it out there, the more we’ll be able to overcome archaic stereotypes and conventions – proving that no matter who you are, you can strive to do whatever you want.