In the beginning, the ‘Art Brut’ school of tattooers were the ones I fell in love with when I first started to dig into what tattooing really had to oer and curious as it may be-at least to me-the core of that group has never really changed. It’s still the same people, pushing themselves harder and harder on a daily basis, never repeating and always growing. One of the artists always at the front of this pack is my buddy, Noon. He’s been tattooing over twenty years now and has seen them come, go, come again in a never ending spiral of disposable souls-but back when he started, there were other big names who put stakes in the ground too. Paul Booth and Guy Aitchison to name just two. Their names are still nailed to the top of the tree now but my questions for Noon-having been in the trenches for long enough to have a solid opinion and dispensing with any small-talk you can all find online-begin with, are we in a good place right now? “You’re right-those artists were definitely the first to bring some fresh air to the tattoo world. Bugs and Xed were also guys that impressed me a lot too. We really need to remember that tattooing was totally dierent at that time and that the last 20 years has been a big fucking revolution for the whole scene. “Back then, the tattoo was really locked down to a few of categories from which it was really difficult to get out of. Japanese, Traditional Americana, Tribal, Neo-Tribal, Realistic- and that was it. It was the same for the people coming for tattoos. At my small place in France, I started as a professional in 1996 covering jailhouse tattoos, doing religious designs on gypsy guys, skull heads on punks and rockers and dolphins and palm trees on just a few tattoo lovers who wanted to escape from the ‘normal’ people. The tattoo was-in France at least-mainly for the bad guys. “One generation later, everybody is getting tattooed and the tattoo is now mainstream..

“Has it changed for the better? I think so. Especially for the people getting tattooed. I can proudly say that what we did 15 years ago-me, Lionel or Yann-was to bring a more ‘arty’ and personal vision to the tattoo scene and we definitely opened up the tattoo to a large percentage of the public that were definitely not seeing themselves in the standardised designs on oer at that time. “But it was a long fight for us to get accepted. A really long fight, but the fight was beneficial for all of the generations of tattoo artists that followed and people getting tattooed. More and more artists are entering the tattoo scene and it is definitely much easier now for them to put forward their own work and develop it. The point is, that the internet and especially social media (that we did not have at our time) is also helping a lot. And this is good. It means people now have more choice. In my opinion, not enough, but they definitely have more options and a larger range of artists to get tattooed from..

“The quality is there now too. Everything is better, from machines to needles and inks. You just need to open a 20 year old magazine to see how the quality of the tattoos has changed! “On the other hand, I still find the tattoo scene quite constrained. Maybe because it is now ‘fashionable’ to get tattooed. Let’s see what will come up over the coming years when this fashion wave will go away.

“On the artist side, it is also better. It is really easy now to be a tattooist who specialises in one style or another because the demand is there. This is good for everybody. For the tattooist first because he can get better and better in his work and give the best of himself and not waste his time doing stuff he is not good at. “Finally-and to close the question-twenty years ago when we entered the emerging tattoo world, I think we were really paying close attention to what the ancients were telling us about what you can do or not do. I think this knowledge from the ancients is something to take into account when you are entering the tattoo scene.

“One thing that was really important back then for me was that you are getting a tattoo for life, so try to future proof it as much as you can. It also means that you cannot do everything you want in tattoo. Tattoo is an art medium with its own limits. Now, a lot of tattooers do not really care about tattoo history. As soon as they can make money, that is enough. I’m seeing more and more tattoos posted on social media that I know will not last forever but more than that, they will be fucked up in a year or two. Some tattooists are not doing tattoos, they are just making good pics for instagram and facebook. And I’m not really sure they are telling that to the people they are tattooing.

“Consumer society has definitely entered the tattoo scene and I do not find that good at all. But that is just a personal opinion.” Personal it may be but it’s one I share. Modern day living is not geared up for recognising a tattoo is for life and not just for Christmas. It’s a subject we could bat across the table for hours but I came to talk about him, not everybody else.

Somewhere along the way, I heard that he likes to think of his tattoos as ‘love stories’ and as a consequence of laying out his stall with these stories for all to see, I wonder if he ever gets people asking him for work he quite obviously doesn’t do anymore. Stranger things happen out there! “No, it never happens! In fact, there are two different directions in my work: one is more abstract, the other one is more figurative. In the last one, I am telling those stories, but all the people that come to me are doing it because they fell in love with my work first. Maybe the ‘love story’ starts at that time-but they all understand it perfectly, so people asking for other styles from me definitely never happens!” Here’s something that’s probably very particular to Noon’s peer group of artists. They do not get copied-not so far as I have seen anyway, and I see a lot! Is recreating the work too obvious a steal? Maybe even too hard? Or is it more that the people who want these kind of designs actually want the real/original artist do the work?

“You’re right. I am not copied that much. I am ‘inspiring’ some tattooists but not getting copied. I think that may be because my work is too distinctive in the first place. If you copy it, people will immediately see that it is a copy. I draw directly onto the skin so that is also a dynamic that you cannot copy easily. All of my tattoos are designed directly on the body so they will fit to one body but not to the next guy coming along. “I can also modestly say that it is quite technical and that you need a fair amount of experience in tattooing before copying such work. I developed some techniques I am using that are also not so easy to copy.

“It’s a good point though, maybe you’re right. Maybe people just want to get the original. That is definitely not an easy question to answer but do tattooists still really need to copy other people to make money?” With so much great original material coming out from all over the world-particularly in Europe-I wonder if Noon pays much attention beyond his close friends or does he try not to look at it so that he is not influenced by it in any way...

“I still look to people that are showing great artworks. I love art more generally speaking and I need to consume some everyday wherever it comes from. There is some good art coming out from the tattoo world today, so why would I not look at it! Some even inspire me sometimes, but not more than the art I am eating up everywhere else. I am really happy when I see a new artist working with a new sensibility. I am spending so much time looking at what is new at the moment but I’m still probably missing a lot of new and upcoming great artists.”

One of the bigger reasons for catching up with Noon today is that I saw he had an exhibition of his art recently-this was news to me, which is mighty remiss considering I would call myself something of a fan of his. He has a new linocut available for a start-is this something new that we can look forward to over the coming months? I guess it’s something he would do a lot more of if he weren’t so busy... “Definitely, I really like doing linocut.

There’s never enough time but I am trying to do one or two every year. It is really close to the tattoo in spirit as you are not allowed to make any mistake. There is no way back. One mistake and you can fuck up hours of work. That is something I am also now developing in tattoo. I have just started some new tattoo works called ‘Black is Back’ and it is about big, flat black ‘linocut’ style designs. This is something that I really want to do more in the future.” If you had put me in front of the exhibition and asked me who the work was by, I wouldn’t have had a clue it was Noon. Perhaps that’s the whole point. To work at art but allow it to express himself rather than his clients.

“Most of the artworks I did in the past were definitely closer to my tattoo work, but my tattoo art is a real tattoo art. I should explain that better for you: My tattoo art has not been developed on canvas or paper and then adapted to tattoo. It has been developed to get tattooed, to fit the body, and every time I had to do it on other media, I had to adapt it as I was never satisfied by doing it the same way on another medium. “So when I got the chance to get this new larger place for painting a year ago-which is 100% dedicated for painting-I really thought about what I wanted to do. I could have made it easy for myself and adapted my tattoo work onto another medium, stamp ‘NOON’ on it and sell it in five minutes online but I decided to make something 100% new and start in a new direction from the very beginning, making it exciting and challenging for myself and not using my tattoo background.

“I found this second option much more thrilling. Also, I have wanted to work with ‘matter’ for a long time. I was not able to do that with tattooing. I also really needed to say something different with my art today. My tattoo art is enough to say what I have to say in that way, but what I still have to say, I need to do it in a dierent way now.” Does modern tech feature at all in this workflow?

“That’s not really my cup of tea, but I have used it sometimes. You can do a lot with it. Xoil-and before him Je-developed a new kind of tattoo using this media and I really love their work. It’s is a modern version of the collage, but we can see too much work done this way now in tattooing. It starts to become di¢cult to digest.

“I do not have too much opinion on the medium though. So long as you can make something good, I do not really care about the medium and I have seen some really good art work online.”. As usual, I’ve likely gone way over time and way over the space I have available to cram five pints into a pint jar but I think it’s worth it. Noon is one of the finest tattooers around in the world today. I thought that ten years ago and I still think it now... and that’s not something that happens very often.