The first tattoo-art car by Lexus will travel around the UK when lockdown measures ease.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

The pure white Lexus SUV was transformed into a work of art featuring Japanese-inspired designs. 

Artistic collaborations are nothing new, but Lexus’ collaboration with a tattoo artist to create the world’s first tattooed car is something else. For an artist used to working with fine needles and pliant bodies with potential slip-ups easily remedied, this piece was a monumental challenge that incorporated the use of vibrating drills on a rigid metal surface with absolute precision.

Judging from the finished look, Claudia De Sabe rose ably to the occasion. Her design – in a style inspired by Ukiyo-e art, which flourished during the Edo period – on the Lexus UX 250h compact SUV the brief features a striking koi sweeping across one side, with its tail wrapped around the window and roof. Two lively goldfish appear on the other side. This is especially fitting for a brand rooted in Japanese craftsmanship and traditional aesthetics. Koi represents fortune and perseverance in Japanese culture.

Lexus reveals that the bespoke work, unveiled in March, costs around $211,000. Says a spokesperson, “Once lockdown measures are eased, we plan to take the Lexus UX tattooed car to several design-oriented events and locations around the UK, so people can see the car in the flesh.” 

My Reading Room

London-based tattooist Claudia De Sabe was chosen for her Japanese-inspired style. 

The concept was the brainchild of the Lexus team, who are constantly looking out for fresh ideas to celebrate craftsmanship. They are also fans of De Sabe, who has been tattooing for more than 15 years and has a background in painting and engraving.

As her work is greatly inspired by Japanese art – she describes her style as “Western traditional meets Japanese” – she proved to be the ideal choice. 

The entire process took six months, not including months of research. De Sabe, assisted by her husband Yutaro, used four Dremel drills with modified grips, and alternated between engraving and painting.

Both wore masks and ear defenders to protect themselves against potentially harmful dust and high-pitched drilling sounds.

Altogether, five litres of paint were used. Gold leaf was then applied to give the koi a more striking appearance before a full coat of lacquer sealed in the design.

“We like the idea of scratching the car to do something beautiful,” says De Sabe. “When you tattoo a person, you have to think about the muscles and tissue beneath the skin. With the car, it was about the way the bodywork changes shape over the framework.” 

My Reading Room
My Reading Room

After the stencil was applied, drills were used to trace the design in a gruelling process that exposed the metal. 


What do you love about Japanese culture?

I admire the dedication of the Japanese to making everything the best that it can be. Every detail is taken care of; everything is thoughtfully put together. There is a constant striving for perfection that generates beauty and power, pushing for evolution in traditional culture.

What role do tattoos play in the relationship between art and community? 

Tattoos are a very important artistic tool that everyone can access. I say “tool” because they have a purpose beyond the aesthetic. Tattoos give people a sense of identity. In my work, I have encountered people from all walks of life – from lawyers and punk musicians to exotic dancers and nursery school teachers. They use tattoos to express themselves and experience their bodies fully.

Do you prefer tattooing a car or a person?

Tattooing a person. I’m happy that that’s my everyday job and not the other way around! However, it was nice to test how much I know about tattoos and apply those lessons to other things.

How does your tattoo studio celebrate creativity? 

Red Point Tattoo opened in London at the end of 2018. We hold exhibitions and they are collective efforts featuring the artists that work with us. Our mission is to promote all aspects of tattoo culture. Our next exhibition will be a gathering of paintings and diary entries we made during the lockdown from March to July 2020.

What other creative work do you do?

I love to experiment with mediums. I’ve done graffiti work as well as linocuts, and have painted murals and ceramics. Among my works is a series of Japanese zodiac-based paintings featuring a female character set amid elements of esoteric Buddhism, Shinto religion, Japanese folk art and nature (an example below). Next, I want to learn to throw ceramics and use oil paints. 

My Reading Room

Text Adeline Wong