You just made it to ten years of tattooing, how does it feel?
It’s definitely special. You hear all these older tattooers, the big legends saying ‘If you haven’t been tattooing for 10 years you’re not a tattooer’. But now it’s done! People ask me to teach them all the time but I can’t take on an apprentice, I’m still a young tattooer right? I can’t take that kind of stu lightly. I don’t know, maybe in five or six years when I have my own shop. I would never take on an apprentice or try to open up my own shop or anything like that before those ten years tattooing. I’d rather be more secure and knowing that I’ve been doing it.
The tattoo scene in New-York is busy, are you close to it?
I care more about my tattoos than everything else. If I’m getting better then I’m happier. I’m not trying to hang out, to be in every tattoo show, event -New-York is my home and I have my friends here. Most of the tattooers come from other places, so when they come here, they meet tattooers and tattoo people, and that’s all. That’s their whole circle of friends. Every time I do see tattooers it’s always about eight of them altogether! They always hang out together. But I never hang out with them, here it is my town.
When did you start getting tattooed?
Really young. I was doing gra.ti and used to hang out in the Bronx. I went up to this tattoo studio, Tu City, where Ces and Yes worked. They were also doing graffiti together and I wanted to meet them. While there, I was looking at the wall and I saw these drawings of beautiful women, faces... and I asked who was the artist. That was Andre Malcolm (working at Invisible Ink at that time, now at Analog Tattoo in San Francisco). I met him and he completely took me under. He started working on my left harm when I was 15 or 16... really young, not supposed to be tattooing me (laughs), and I kept in touch with him.
Were you drawing at that time?
As far as I can remember I’ve always been drawing, painting and all that. Very early I wanted to tattoo, I thought it was a way of liva lot of time alone, alone in your room making your artwork, but in tattooing you get to meet a lot of people. I was in this art program in the Bronx. I was about to go to an art school but right before that, these guys of Tu City were opening a shop and oered me to work there. I had done maybe 10 tattoos on my friends, like small ones, and they gave me a chance. I stayed 3 years, starting with small motifs. Andre ended up working there as well. He helped me a lot, he taught me everything I know. Then I met Scott (Campbell) and he oered me to come and work at Saved in 2010.
How dicult was it to switch from paper to skin? A lot of things I had to ‘unlearn’ and then I got to learn the design for tattooing which is completely different. It has to be all planned out from the beginning, and follow certain rules. Like, you have to be able to read an arm from across the room not only from very close. For me, the most important thing visually, is that it has to be readable. Enough contrast, enough skin, enough black. As readable as possible.
Still, you put a lot of details in...
I do. I want it to look amazing from afar and I want you to get close and there’s still something to look at. I try to make it so that it doesn’t get lost when you’re far away from it, with a strong impact.
Your doing mainly religious figures, has it always been that way?
I’ve always been obsessed with religion. Since I was a child. My grandmother was catholic and she would take us to the church. I’ve always felt the shock of the space inside of it, being intrigued by the many images there, feeling so much power and a lot of energy. I didn’t believe in a lot of this stu, I always had to question. I read a lot about dierent religions, but the imagery is always something that I really enjoyed. To draw and paint it is something powerful. I’m not so much into western religion and now I’m very much into eastern. I love the western aesthetic and the images as well, but I relate much more to Hinduism and Buddhism. They are more in line with my world viewwhich is about here and now, self-transformation, making yourself better. Something more internal. Is one imagery better than the other for tattooing? I have a lot of respect for these imageries but I think the style and the way it’s drawn is much better in the eastern religion - and it’s definitely better for tattooing. It’s been around longer, it’s older, and I feel like the more ancient it is, the more it’s been used and revered, the more powerful it is. It carries more validation. The Indian stu it’s really fun for me to do, you don’t see a lot and there could be more tattooed. There’s more freedom to play with it, there’s always dierent styles, while there’s so many ways to do the Tibetan stuff wrong. I would like to do more Egyptian, because I don’t see that much out there. It’s really untapped and it can definitely be developed.
How do you go through your references?
I have a lot of books. Too many. A thousand in my house, they’re everywhere. I like to collect them. I like to have them with me, I do read a lot. Anytime you look at a reference it’s hard, I can spend two hours with them and not achieve anything! Just be aware that you can get lost in references, there are so much, and that’s enjoyable. Sometimes I’m like‘Oh my job is just to find references!’. A lot of times though, I find a handful of dierent images I like and I collage them all together.
You only work in black and grey, why?
I understand it better. I concentrate more on the form, the line, the contrast, it frees up more space in my brain. I like the look too. I don’t have any colour tattoos myself. It’s good for everybody, no matter what is the colour of your skin. Sometimes colour can only look good on a certain type of skin, but I want tattoos to be accessible to everyone. I think also that it heals better over time. Colour is fine to me when it’s flat, graphic, and Japanese style.
Do you feel like being part of a specific style?
My stu doesn’t really fall into one specific genre of tattooing; mine is more in between stu. I definitely like that illustrative kind of look for tattooing. The very photo-realistic stu is very impressive but every time I see it I don’t like that it’s based on a photo, the reproduction of an image. I don’t like to copy I’d rather create an image, especially for tattooing. I try to make a little bit more graphic, it ages better, lines are really important and that is something that misses also to photorealistic stu, but you need it for tattooing.
There’s a lot of a peace in your work...
There’s no violence in my work. I feel like most people that come to me want something that’s just beautiful. They want something that is not super intense. I think it has more power to it. I try, in every tattoo, to see how peace feels, more than anything. I like faces, I think that’s something very powerful, weather that’s a deity, a Saint... it’s not an easy thing to draw, but it catches our eye. The content of the image is something that is supposed to be beyond us, in some ways.
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
You just made it to ten years of tattooing, how does it feel?