Letter Strasbourg

In Europe we are seeing a new wave of big conventions at the moment. Of course, some people say there are too many anyway, but I think what they actually mean is: There are too many bad ones. Give me a new organiser in a new city with a new event any day, as long as the organiser is from the tattoo scene, the city is easily accessible, affordable and culturally interesting and the event is well organised, not overpriced and well-attended. The most important part is the artists, of course: A good variety of interesting, international and highly creative tattooists is the heart of every event. Milan is a good example, Rotterdam another one, London seems promising, and now there is Strasbourg too. It is in France, but Germany is only a few minutes away by car or train and Switzerland is around the corner. The old city is an amazing example of European architecture, hotels are dirt cheap, even though Strasbourg is the seat of the European parliament. And the organisers are Sacha and Leanka of Primitive Abstract Tattoo, well-respected artists who attend many conventions themselves. They rented a huge expo hall, put in a lot of work, invited their friends to help out, set up a professional website (www.strasbourg-tattoo-convention.com ) and went for it. Affordable booths for artists, merchandisers and suppliers and a fee of about 10 $ US to get in. There is not much money to go round in Europe these days, jobs are scarce and times are difficult. But if you offer a line-up like Sacha did this weekend, have friendly people as security (instead of intimidating gorillas) and loads of people will be coming through the door and some of them will get tattooed. There were 7000 visitors over the weekend and all of them were happy to see artists like Japanese Sabado, the “living laser printer” from Nagoya, who left everybody with their mouths gaping. Even top tattooists like Rob Admiraal of Amsterdam were blown away by his inventive, technically perfect work. Other Japanese guests, like Madoka of Cat Claw Tattoo could definitely keep up with his quality of work and the traditional Ryu family demonstrated hand tattooing par excellence. One of the members of the family, Yushi, practices his work in Seoul, Korea; underground, I might add, for tattooing still is illegal in this country. There were a few American guests as well. Jason Phillips and Sean Perkinson of FTW Tattoo Parlour, Oakland were among the busiest of the whole convention, and even organiser Sacha had a little coffin tattooed on his neck by Jason. Nick Caruso (Fly Rite, NY) was there as well and worked right next to Dirk (Leib & Seele, Germany) and Slick Nick (Inkstitution, Rotterdam). But what makes Strasbourg such a special event is the great variety of tattoo styles offered. If you prefer black-and-grey fineline, there was Milosch from Czech Republic, Jack Ribeiro from Metz (France) or Gabo from Mexico. Vibrant color work, fantasy style? Look no further, there is Berit from Berlin , Seb from Avignon or Fabrice from Lyon.

There is – surprise, surprise – also quite a scene of “avant-garde” tattooists in France. They got rid of all conventions held inevitable for a definition what a good tattoo is. Clear lines? Who cares? Placement in harmony with the body? No way! An easily readable design? What for? People like Lionel (www.outofstep.fr.st ), Yann, Navette and Noon aka “Bill le Boucher” are trying to find a new definition of tattooing. Make sure you check out their websites, but be prepared: For them, tattooing is an art performance, where the situation in which the tattoo is made is just as important as the result. Individual meaning and symbolism are above all consideration of aesthetics and technical perfection. They are inventive, creative, spontaneous, funny, unconventional, slightly anarchic and definitely crazy. And they have no shortage of clients in France (and growing in the rest of Europe), I might add! Even I got fascinated by the loveable character that is Lionel of Nantes. The young father of three (soon four) super-cute kids has given up lucrative jobs in street-shops do his own thing at Out of Step, a tiny studio in the far west of France. When at Strasbourg convention I sat down in his chair to have my feet tattooed by him, he warned me: “While I do this, you will hate me! Maybe after, you will love me again…” I didn’t really know what to think about it, until he got started working! I can only say: It was painful. There is no trick to his scratchy style. It is just the way he tattoos, working himself into a frenzy mood, sometimes holding the machine by the frame to get a certain effect! On the other hand, he likes it when artist and “client” work together. He will ask you repeatedly your opinion about the evolving tattoo, details are changed while he’s at it, things added, some crossed out even! At the end, the finished tattoo is a concerted effort, the result of a certain cooperation, which is deeply rewarding for artist and subject. I must say I am extremely happy with my tattoo à la Lionel, even though some people now say I should get rid of this “stain” on my feet! ;-)
Wherever I lay my head is home!
Travelin’ Mick