You live and work in Wrocław, but you come from Kharkiv. When and why did you decide to leave Ukraine and move to Poland?
I moved four years ago. In 2012 my friend and I opened our own tattoo studio in Kharkov, Ukraine, and we managed it all by ourselves. Running the studio was very difficult and took up a lot of our time. A few years later I visited some studios in Poland and Germany and had a lot of fun there, doing lots of tattoos. I understood that tattooing without thinking about the all the external stuff was easy, so I decided – I’m a tattoo artist, not a businessman. And I got lucky, a few months after some of my friends invited me to Wroclaw to join them in their new studio. It was a cool chance and big challenge for me; to start a new life in another country. Especially in a country with lots of great tattoo artists in countries close by, with all of the different tattoo conventions happening. I learned a lot and spent my time concentrating on tattooing.
Was art always something present in your life, or did artistic predispositions take place later on?
I’ve been drawing since I studied in school. I didn’t do very well but liked to take a pen, imagine something and just draw it. In art lessons I got bad marks every time but who gives a fuck about that. I practiced graffiti but paints were so expensive. I didn’t paint as often as I wanted to.
And your interest in tattooing? When did that come to you and where did you come to the idea to work at it professionally?
The first time in my life I was really aware of tattooing was when one of my friends showed me the book “How to Tattoo”. I found a lot of tattoo designs that I would take a pen and draw fake versions on my friends – but my tattoo journey stopped a few days later when I met another guy from high school who was already tattooing. His name was Roman. He showed me a lot of things about tattoos, about the process and he took me to visit my first convention. It was the Kiev Tattoo Convention in 2008. I was so intrigued that I decided to become a tattoo artist but had no money to buy all of the equipment. I had to find a way of living my dream of being a tattoo artist so I began piercing to make the money for tattoo equipment.
Do you remember your first steps in tattooing and your first job? How did those early days take shape and what was most difficult about them?
Yes, I remember of course. As every young tattoo artist does at that time, my first days were spent tattooing my friends, for free of course. The most difficult thing was to find new clients and to find someone who could help and answer all the questions. At that time, the whole tattoo culture was closed to anyone from the outside and to grow up, to find this information was so difficult 10-15 years ago. Now, becoming a tattoo artist is much easier.
You create the highest class of amazingly colourful, realistic tattoos. Since you started did you always know that you wanted to work in this direction or did you try different ideas and stylistics?
Oh, I tried a lot of different styles. A lot of black symbols and stupid tattoos, from walk-ins. I worked in old and new school, Japanese, black and grey and colour realism too. One day, I was tattooing a friend and he asked me, “why do you work in all these styles. If you tattoo detailed realism so well, why bother with the rest?”. It made me think, yeah, why do I do this? That was the time I decided to change something in my tattoo life. I started to talk with customers, talking about working the realistic style. Of course, not every one of them wanted to get something realistic, so I hand-picked them.
What kind of designs, images do you enjoy tattooing the most? On the other hand, are there tattoos you are reluctant to do?
I like to tattoo things from hell, scary faces, fire and flames, devil hands and skulls, of course. These themes are very interesting to me. I can’t explain to you why but I like them a lot. I also like to do flowers, something positive and funny sometimes – comic characters have been very popular. I hate to work with religion or national themes, anything to do with politics or portraits of real people. I hate that, I don’t feel good or free doing them.
Who is your greatest inspiration? Is there someone who’s had a special impact on you and what you create?
I get the most inspiration from my friends and colleagues, who work together with me. We’ve assembled the best team, where everyone is really great as both people and artists. I like to work at conventions and do guest spots in different studios. I get to meet my tattoo artist friends, follow their processes of tattooing and get to watch great work happening in person. We speak together and create new things and in the end, all of this gives me a high. I want to work and work and work, always working on new things and I can’t take a break from it. I am full of ideas. These are my inspirations.
I have always wondered how, especially in terms of realism work, there’s a noticeable pattern: tattoo artists from Eastern Europe – Ukraine, Belarus, Russia – represent the highest level and are always leading the way. Where is this coming from? What’s the secret?
I get this question every time and I don’t know what I can tell you. I never studied in art school and never took art lessons, except for ones in high school. It probably happens because of the fine art which you can find in museums, all of our art experience is based from that. Maybe, I don’t know.
What was the hardest moment of your career thus far?
The most difficult time was when I moved to Poland. I left my home, my comfortable home and work life where I had lots of friends, clients and my own private studio. Moving to another country where I had to start from the bottom, work at tattoo conventions showing off my work and myself, also finding new customers and friends in the industry. All to prove to everyone that I’m not just another artist from somewhere else. Now, I’m fine and very happy that I did it.
What are your plans for the future? Will they be made in Poland?
I don’t know. Right now I want to work in as many new places as I can. New studios, new countries, new projects and new friends. Right now, I live in Wroclaw and I love the city, the people and atmosphere here, but I don’t know what tomorrow brings.
This interview for Tattoo Fan Magazine was conducted by Maria Śmigiel
All images used courtesy of Levgen Knysh