Interview with Piotr Szot

Piotr, you give the impression of a person very closely related to nature, liberated, a little old fashioned (in a positive sense), one that was “brought up with wolves”. Tell me where you come from, where do people like you come from?

I come from a tiny village in Masuria (less than 1000 inhabitants), located somewhere in the middle of forests and lakes. I have been surrounded by nature since I can remember and definitely feel the best in it. Sometimes I like to feel this crazy vibration of big cities like London or New York, but only once in a while and only for a moment. I notice that whenever I get to a city, the first thing I do is go to a park.
Actually, I have always had the impression that I was born not from this era, I see myself waving my axe or saving the princess haha. But it is true that we live in a time of great change and great opportunities. If you have a little effort, you can find a lot of magic in the world around us. All you have to do is want. It is a great gift to live here and that’s why I’m happy that it is as it is.

Before you started tattooing, you gained an art education and experience on a lot of substrates associated with it. As far as I know, for a good couple of years you have been involved in illustrating, graphics, including 3D, sculpture, painting and more. Among the many “disciplines” that you have chosen, you choose tattooing. Why? What did you find in tattooing that was missing in other areas?

It’s hard to say. I’ve liked tattoos for as long as I can remember, although I did not think about it for a very long time. But everything changed when I made my first tattoo. I felt like I had done it before … And then my world exploded, and I felt that I found my place and my way. I can not imagine doing anything else.

At the beginning, however, you did realistic, colourful works – deviating from the present, which should probably be described as “modern blackwork” – wide enough to accommodate the whole spectrum of your works. The style evolution itself is a completely natural process among tattooists, but I am curious as to when and how you came across the fascination with ethnic, primitive, geometric motifs embedded mainly in black?

At the beginning I dealt only with color and realism, and this was a natural consequence of the fact that before I started tattooing, I was painting illustrations for books and games, etc. But I realized quite quickly that making dashes and dots gives me much more joy. And if you do what makes you happy, then there is no reason that it should not work out. I made the decision to change the style while working at the Copenhagen Meathaus studio, where I worked with two real Vikings, making beautiful traditional Nordic compositions. For me, what Peter and Uffe did was much more interesting than the hundredth rose and face. So I started my own search. For sure, travel has influenced me very much. The nature and world of folk ornaments is simply an endless source of inspiration. Although it has always been a part of the broadly understood ethics, it is certainly not its traditional concept. I am after all a child of Western civilization and just as my roots are fascinating, so is the world of modern minimalism. What I do is in the balance somewhere between one quality and the other. By narrowing the colour palette and focusing mainly on black, I am able to focus more on the message, form and shape. Besides, there is something very symbolic, beautiful and original in black.

You can not just say “tattooer”, you’re a tattoo-traveler / tattooing traveler / tattoo artist on a journey. You have traveled so many places – very distant, exotic and for many inaccessible. Tell me how much influence you have had, what did these trips give you? Mandalas, Hindu esy-flores, voluminous planes filled with black, tattoos charged – seemingly-understood symbolism we all know, like and admire. They are extremely attractive to the eye, others are very attractive in this dissimilarity. However, I have the impression that your attention is focused on them for completely different reasons.

Tattooing in the studio is work and passion, and tattooing on the go is a hobby! When you tattoo in nature, eg under a waterfall or on the top of a mountain, it is a completely different quality. It becomes something more – a kind of ceremony, artistic happening, a comprehensive experience.

I do not want my tattoos to be just nice pictures. I want them to be amulets that bring luck and protect their owners. I believe that the energy of the shape works even if we do not see it at first glance. That’s why I always try to put a symbol in the center of each tattoo, which becomes the heart of the composition and a specific source of energy, and then to make some beautiful elements around it so that everything takes on fleshiness.

Your attachment to tradition is not only about the motives you make, but also the tool you work with. You do your work with traditional machines but you have dabbled in other methods too haven’t you?

Yes, I had some adventures with traditional techniques, but unfortunately I do not have such experience in them as I would like. It is such a beautiful, incredibly attractive magic. But it also has its limits. You can work with the machine much faster, more accurately and more efficiently. Therefore, my main tool is definitely the machine.

Of course, you drive on guest spots, but you also take equipment with you on your trips and tattoo in different, surprising circumstances. How do you prepare for such, you can probably say, a ritual and who are your clients then?

When I travel, my clients become travel companions whom I meet by accident on the road. Everything is very natural then. But I try to make every session in the studio an unforgettable experience. Very important is the relaxing atmosphere – incense, lots of greenery, special rituals, specially selected ceremonial music. So that both tattooing and receiving a tattoo would be like a meditation.

I also experiment with the very form of this process. Depending on the client’s needs, the session includes a massage, a shaman’s journey by the drum, baths in the sounds of gongs and Tibetan bowls, coaching and food diagnostics. It is wonderful that I can work with my friends who really know what they are doing. At this moment, I tattoo 2 clients a week, so from the logistic point of view it makes a lot of sense. With some customers there is flow and the ceremony itself is created. And with some people, who I do not tattoo – I feel a certain stiffness and lack this flow. That is why tattooing is also very important. Due to time constraints, I am able to work only with some five percent of people who apply to me, so I try to choose them very carefully. They are usually people with open heads and hearts who are looking for something more than what the consumer culture in which we live offers us.

I am interested in one more thing. You are a globetrotter, every now and then you travel to far corners of the globe, even now you are thousands of miles away. What does your return to civilization look like? Every day, or rather “visiting” Poland, you are connected with Bielsko-Biała. And honestly, I wonder how you feel after months spent in various exotic corners of the world, tattooing in the bosom of nature, when you enter the studio – a sterile, specialized room with full access to media, equipment and everything, which without most tattooists could not imagine to work.

Everything takes place very naturally. I do not have a problem with returns, because I assimilate with the situation that surrounds me very quickly. When I’m under the palm, I’m 100% under the palm. When I’m under the birch, I’m under the birch. I used to visit Poland in the past, but since my son was born two years ago, at least for some time, I settled down in home climates. But Poland is also beautiful and has plenty to offer. If it were different, I would not live here) The glass is always either half full or half empty. It depends on you how you see it.

However, there are projects that I think it would be difficult to do out “in the field”. I mean the great compositions you create, they are extremely precise, geometrized and time-consuming. Some of them are so openwork, meticulous, that it frightens thinking about planning them. How does the whole process work, including cooperation with the client?

First, I talk with the client, then, including the anatomy, paint a compositional sketch on the body, and then have an idea of ​​specific directions, shapes and overall flow, or continue to paint details manually or in the case of more complicated designs I design them on a computer. The whole process is very organic. One step defines the next. I almost never know what the tattoo will look like until I finish it. It allows me to constantly get excited about the whole process, and you can evaluate the effects yourself.

You are currently in Asia and you will most likely stay there for a long time. Do you already have a plan for further trips, or maybe you also plan some spots in Poland?

In connection with the birth of my second child, I now work a lot less. This is a very special time when the family needs me the most. During the last business trip I felt that it does not work the way it was when I did not have children. Therefore, at least for a time I gave up all the guest spots and conventions (except the most important one in London – because you know when you get that you have to go. Now I have definitely more family – home moment in life and free time is the most valuable currency, so if I have a weekend off, instead of going to the convention, I prefer to learn something, go to a workshop or ceremonies.

By the way, all this time is a beautiful lesson and an opportunity to stop and think about what is important in life. Now I want to experiment a bit with the form of travel and work along the way. In mid-January we fly with my family for a month and a half to the Canary Islands and I want to tattoo some of my clients there. Just instead of offering them a meeting in winter Poland, we set ourselves up for sessions under the palm tree. In the summer we plan to ride around 3 months in Europe, also tattooing interesting people in interesting places. The idea is to find a balance between travel and work – so that you have the time to show the world to the children, but also that travel costs are returned. I am very excited about it, because if it works, we will have an interesting life.
A year ago, after more than 1.5 years of searching, I found a charming house in the countryside, 20 minutes from Bielsko. And where the road ends, surrounded by a field of wheat, stream and forest, 100 meters from the house, I set myself a studio in the shape of a dome, glazed on all sides, so that you can feel like in the middle of the forest. There is power! The idea is that my clients can take a break from the city noise and feel how close to nature can help in the fight against stress and everyday life. The very fact of being tattooed in such a magical space makes the whole process something very special. Besides, instead of going to someone, in the end I will have the opportunity and conditions to invite someone to myself!

Oh. For several years I have been dealing with widely understood self-development and shamanism. For a long time I have wanted to find a way to use it in my work. Therefore, from this year I plan to start cyclical workshops in which I want to connect the world of shamanism with the world of tattoo. The first edition will take place in early January. I will invite shamans and tattooists to cooperate with a similar approach to what they do, what I do. I want it to be a special experience, both for the client who will have a very special bond with his tattoo and for the tattoo artist. As far as I know, no one has done such things yet, so I have no idea which way this adventure will lead us, but I think there is a huge potential! I’m excited.

It sounds great, I will definitely have to visit you! I wish you, then, that your plans will have the best realization! And thank you for finding the time to talk, being thousands of miles away!

Many thanks for the interview and best wishes to you!

This interview for  Tattoo Fan Magazine was created by  Maria Śmigiel.

All used photographs have been made available by  Piotr Szot.

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