Interview with Marcin Łukasiewicz

From what I know you come from Lublin and please correct me if I’m wrong, that JuniorInk Niagorsze Studio w Mieście, which you work in, is also the first studio you started working in?

Exactly! I was born and studied in Lublin, my first introduction to tattooing was in my painting workshop where i had created a sterile corner to work in. I remember my first time tattooing being very difficult and my family and friends coming to my workshop for me to tattoo them. The sessions however were sporadic and it was hard to make any progress without anyone willing to guide me through the processes and correct my mistakes. At this time i had no idea that what i had started in my workshop would be what shaped my beginnings as a tattoo artist. I didn’t think that anything could compare to painting which at the time was how i made my income and was always my passion. I met Junior about the same time and Juniorink was the place where i finished my first sleeve. We got along straight away and our mutual interest was painting. I had some previous success within painting having had my work displayed at exhibits and Junior was first getting ready for his first exhibition at that time. At first the arrangement between us was simple, I would give Junior tips and share my experience within painting and he would be my first proper introduction into the tattoo industry. It’s not far from the truth to say that I found that I had a natural ability to understand tattooing and made quick progress, which was helped I believe by my education. Not long after this Junior asked me to join his team. Yes i did join one of the best tattoo studio’s as my first studio. I think that I was very lucky that Junior noticed my potential and was probably just in the right place at the right time. This year marks the 7th year since i started my journey with Juniorink.

In your case, art was not something that just happened. You studied at UMCS and graduated with honours with your specialty being painting. Like many of the tattoo artists I speak to you were doing a completely different profession before this one, so where did the idea to change from painting to tattooing come from?

Painting was a huge part of my life for a long time, in high school i used to sketch all over my work books, in college it grew into a backpack full of spray paints and i started to graffiti and attend courses of drawing and painting before I discovered UMCS. At university I could spread my wings, I was able to try out new painting and drawing techniques and as a result i realised my ambitions to become an artist and what i could achieve when i believe in myself and push the boundaries of my artistic capabilities. In front of the canvas i was sometimes ready to spend several hours, every hour i was spending on painting and on analysing new ideas for my paintings. Every penny i had went on paints, brushes and other materials. For the first time in my life i felt what it was to have a real passion and that painting would be with me forever. At the end of University as you mentioned before, i was recognised for my hard work and achievements and realised my worth as an artist, however i still didn’t know if I would be able to make a living off of painting. This type of “luxury” in Poland is very rare in spite of the fact we have many very talented painters. However even in my case i was lucky that my work ended up in a private gallery in Berlin where i started to work with the owner. We managed to organise a few solo exhibitions in places like Zurich and New York. The benefits to doing what you love as a career allowed me to progress as an artist and discover new ways i could express myself. It was this constant drive to find new ways to express myself that allowed me to try to break into the tattoo industry.

You were never a “sunday painter” as you already had exhibitions under your belt. The interest in your work was always high and it comes as no surprise-they are genius. I love your paintings and i dream about owning one, which i am sure is not an easy thing to do. When you have the skill is it just a matter of changing the instrument and transferring the ideas on to skin or is it a completely different thing all together?

I thought that it would be quite a quick change from artist to tattoo artist, however my knowledge of painting and drawing gave me confidence but i quickly realised i had a long road ahead of me. I had to re learn and drop some of my painting habits and learn about colour schemes all from the start again for tattoo compositions. I have to be honest, i was confident that it was just a time thing and getting used to using new materials however the truth was very different. Although my knowledge of drawing proportions and perspective definitely helped. Thanks to this i was always confident on drawing on skin free hand, i feel that when technical limitations dissapear, your imagination can carry you even further.

I will tell you that you are a total, total mystery to me…I looked through the galleries of your works and the more i analysed them, the more i realise how freely you move between such different styles. Your painting is very specific it has features of surrealism straight from the first half of the twentieth century, sometimes reminding me of Chrico’s painting, his prospective experiments, psychological layer, as in Hopper or Delvaux brings a million interpretations…The level of your tattoos also leaves no questions, you create amazing work on the skin, moving freely in neotraditional stylistics drawing from japanese tattoo art, which you also freely submit to stylish interpretations. Your search in painting and tattooing, however, seems to be completely different, tell me how you do it? What inspires you when you sit in front of the canvas or start work on living skin?

You know, human skin is a capricious material, and there is no such thing as an end result, because the tattoo changes all the time. The matter of colour matching and composition looks completely different, because the whole theme is not always visible. When it comes to inspiration, i usually move here in the world of oriental decorative art, mythology and floristics, sometimes it adds elements that are less obvious, to bring the tattoo out of the usual meanings and give it originality. Of course, the personality of my client and their anatomy is very important. I always try to match both of these elements and not duplicate this for everyone. What seems like a great idea for one person will not work for someone else. In painting, inspirations can appear unexpectedly, a melody heard in a song or a reflection of light through a window pane, books, games basically all stimuli can be fuses for someone to sketch. Unlike when I am tattooing I allow myself to get carried away in creating while painting. Often, therefore, sitting down to the canvas with a crtain plan and finding it change during the course of the painting.

Returning to “japan”, where did your fascination with Asian tattoo art come from, where did your love for these motifs come from?

Japanese tattoos have always fascinated me, tattooed from head to toe, the members of the Yakuza made an impression on me even from a young age. However, when I started my adventure in tattooing I did not think that this is what attracts me the most. In the studio colleagues took care of “comprehensive education”, so both realistic black and grey compositions, signs on the wrists and colourful mexican santa muerte were no bother for me to do. For a long time it seemed to me that I would take my steps towards the neorealistic tattoo, but “oriental” gave me the most satisfaction and it was easiest for me to compose. This is how it has been so far and I think that this fascination will continue for a while.

What does your cooperation with your client look like? I noticed that you are doing many “large format” works, preferring when the client gives you free reign (just like when you sit down to paint yourself), but are there any useful tips for collaborating with your customers?

I think that, as in many other occupations, with tattooing it is important to have an individual approach to the client. The first is a meeting and conversation, sometimes it happens very quickly and the person is determined on a specific topic, sometimes it seems completely on me. There are also clients who flood me with ideas so far apart that I take the initiative and ask them to trust me. I do not want to compromise, which neither side would be happy with. However, I must admit that at the moment I am lucky to work with really great people who trust me and are open to my suggestions.

Each tattoo artist emphasises how absorbing this work is and how little time they leave for all other activities. How do you reconcile it? Do you have time to still indulge in painting or has tattooing turned out to be a possessive passion as well as your career?

I don’t think my opinion differs from that of my colleagues. It is actually a possessive job, it requires a lot of time and exercise. Doing this profession and devoting a lot of heart and energy into it, I feel that I miss time for other activities. This is not a job from 0800 to 1600. If you want to be really good at this you often have to make difficult choices, look for inspiration and draw. However, giving so much satisfaction, both to me as an artist and to the people I tattoo i can justify this. You asked me how I find time to still paint. My first years in the studio I was so absorbed that the painting was pushed to the side. Slowly, however, I returned to the canvas with fresh, slightly different energy. For some time now I have been able to create new paintings in the studio. I now try to plan my time better and find time for my other passions as well. I am planning a lonely motorcycle trip. I hope to visit some really interesting places in the coming year.

Right, motorcycles….Apparently your studio combines not only a passion for ink, but also for two-wheelers, is it true?

Motorcycles have always been a very important part of my life, when I started in the studio it turned out that I am not the only maniac on two-wheelers. Igor, Novick and recently also Dominik have an interest in motorcycles. Suchy and Junior are still fighting on scooters. Every year, we take a studio team to Tattoofest in Krakow, we go, drive around, play and see new places. Sometimes it is Lviv, Budapest or Ostrava. At least a few times a year I try to go on a motorcycle trip, even for a few days.

This interview for Tattoo Fan Magazine was conducted by Maria Śmigiel.
The photographs used in this article were made available by Marcin Łukasiewicz.

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