I don’t know many Polish tattoo artists which can proudly say they’ve been tattooing for this many years as you. Please tell us, how many years have you been in this profession?
I am unsure if that’s good or not, but I’ve been tattooing for over 26 years. I am slowly starting to be afraid that my time to retire is coming with big steps, and soon I will turn into a legend.
It’s definitely a good thing you have such a long experience. Looks like I am younger than the time you’ve been tattooing, and this incredible opportunity gives me a chance to ask you a little how did it all start for you long before I was even into tattoos. How did it start, what did your first tattoos look like and why did you start tattooing?
Ever since I remember I’ve always been drawing, so tattooing was only a matter of time. Back in the time when I was starting, tattoo culture differed from now. It was more associated with growing subcultures and was more associated with old stereotyping. Growing need for freedom, individuals needed some way to express themselves. Next to alternative press and DIY activities, individuals needed to change their appearance in the way to show their. That is why tattoo became a good way to be different from others.
From as far as I remember, really, ever since I had any contact with this subject, I remember remember you from Cykada studio, which you are an owner of. I also know before that you’ve been working in Berlin. How did your road on getting your own studio look like, what was it like in Berlin and where are you based at the moment?
I started from my own studio in Kedzierzynie Kozlu, I run it till 1996. The next step on my road was Germany. Up there the tattoo industry was more developed. My dream was to keep on progressing, mainly that was the reason why I moved, to have a possibility to self-improvement. When I was opening the Cykada studio I had clear goals and knew what was the key for well perspiring studio. Which turned out not to be that easy!
I have a feeling that many polish tattoo artists are going overseas. You on the other side have left and returned to Poland, and decided to stay for longer by opening your studio. From many years, on different tattoo conventions you enthrone as a jury. I think you are the best person to ask how did the Polish tattoo industry change ?
I’ve asked myself many times, what is it that makes the Polish tattoo industry so special. We have so many great artist, which specialise in different styles, which are so creative and filled with ideas- this is not only my reflection on it, we are appreciated on many different tattoo conventions. This is a great feeling, being a part of it and being able to follow it for years. Additionally we have many great tattoo artists which became ambassadors of the tattoo art, promoting great work in Poland like also overseas. We have two great tattoo magazines and many really well done annual conventions. Looks like Poland did really good at expanding tattoo industry without the help of ministry of culture. Look at the artists like Junior, Tofi, Radek the owner of Kult, Marcin Paczesny, or Piotr Wojciechowski. There is many more which actively are promoting polish tattoos, representing it on many events overseas.
I think as with everything we still have a tendency to look at West- the effect of previous system, but I couldn’t agree more with the fact that we have some really talented tattooists and we produce an incredibly high level of quality work and I think it is worth mentioning. Surely not just one well known tattooist is looking up to you even now. Someone with so many successes, huge experience and ownership of a studio, you could easily slow down. However you still choose to work full time. It is clear that this is not only your job but also a passion?
I guess, Duracell batteries 😉 Running a studio and tattooing is like having two full-time jobs. This wouldn’t be possible to do without a passion. Unfortunately this has it’s down sides and due to work, I tend to have no free time for myself or my loved ones.
You are a comprehensive artist, with years you’ve worked hard on your workshop. You are creating new-traditional work, very bright and colourful, usually quite big compositions, but on the other hand you also do realism. What subject you enjoy doing the most?
I grew up from completely different tattoo school. When I was starting, tattoos were done from a catalogue and custom tattoo was still a ‘baby’. Not many artists back then was lucky enough to create their own designs and tattoo them. Additionally the promotion of the tattoo was going completely different way to what the tattoo represents nowadays. The only resource was a magazine and own designs which was send between the studios. Back in the day I was just a grey mass creating sticker-like-tattoos from the wall of a studio filled with pre-prepared designs. The only way to be was to become very universal, this is why I started learning different styles – realism, new school, ornaments, and Japanese. However after time I was able to create my own, semi- realistic style with thick lines.
Skin is not the only ‘canvas’ you create your art on, you also paint. Is it your favourite form of spending your free time or constant improvement of your workshop.
In 2016, tight schedule and many changes didn’t give me too much ‘me’ time. However this year I am hoping to go back to painting, especially now we have a new extra room in the studio which is meant for creating and painting.
The amount of people who want to start tattooing professionally, grows everyday, and think tattooing is their dream job. I personally think there is a lot of good sides however this profession tends to be very hard and time consuming. What would be your advice, based on your experience for those who are starting their career – I have a feeling, it seems to be easier and faster to become a tattoo artist.
Nowadays, thank to the Internet it got easier to learn any profession. Internet is filled with unlimited resources and gives an access to different forms of auto education, and tattoo- as a visual art and hand made craft- benefits the most. From the moment of purchase of the tattoo equipment, through learning the theory online by watching tutorial videos, to forums or contact with other artists- finding potential artists to look up to and ending on posing their ‘creations’ online. Theoretically everyone without the need of leaving their homes can become an artist. The quality and diversity of the tattoo machines nowadays don’t require any special technical and manual abilities. Twenty six years ago, back when I was starting this was not possible. The process of becoming a tattoo artist was long, and hard. Becoming an artist now is very effective. This almost reminds me of modern food, good looking, bright colours but lacks of vitamins or nutritional values. Sometimes it makes me sad, talking to fresh starters when I see their confusion when mentioning the name; Filip Leu- their paradoxical knowledge about Old School tattoos go back barely few months to the newest specialist of this style. Being here at this moment I know what we’ve neglected, I mean pioneers of Polish tattoo industry. All the hype went into promoting visual aspects of the tattoo, however we don’t have any backup form of the ethic in this profession.
I think this is the coolest conclusion I’ve ever came across with, without the need of adding anything. Thank you so much for your time, short story about Yourself and for creating something we now call ‘tattoo industry’.
The interview for Tattoo Fan Magazine was prepared by Maria Śmigiel.
All used photographs have been made available by Zappa.
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