It has been 6 months since I have shifted base from India to Germany. If countries could have their own antonyms, then Germany and India would probably be best suited to be each other’s. The differences are abundant and intrinsic. For example, the clichéd German obsessiveness for order and discipline and India’s complete lack of it, is one of the many. However, art has been the weapon of choice for rebels in all forms, and tattooing used to be that once – a form of gritty, underground, urban rebellion.
And that is very evident from the various and numerous contemporary tattooing styles and genres that have emerged out of Germany in the recent past – most noted examples would be the Realistic trash polka from Buena Vista tattoo [that everyone in the world has tried their hands on], the dark horror imagery by Tommy Lee Wendtner, the surrealistic black and grey work by Neon Judas, the simplistic yet powerful lines contouring the human form in Chaim Machlev’s work, the fractal bio-organic art pieces by Markus Lenhard, or the brutal industrial trash style of the little anarchist, Little Swastika – as one observes these powerful visual manifestations on the human body – the last thing that comes to mind is order, or discipline – the success of German contemporary tattooing is in its ability to have been able to mate chaos with aesthetics, and create something absolutely profound.
And that is where tattooing as a form of rebellion still breathes and thrives.
It is a treat to be in the middle of such an organic and stimulating time in the tattooing timeline – I dare say this might very well be our [tattoo world] renaissance, and I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to be part of it.
Germany also has been the hotbed for more traditional styles of tattooing, like the beautiful Japanese and oriental body of work by the late Marcuse [RIP] from Smiling Demon’s Tattoo Studio, the amazing black and grey portrait master Andy Engel, and numerous old school and neo traditional artists all over.
India’s tryst with modern tattooing has been largely a borrowed experience; the same is reflected in its tattooing lineage. My belief that Indian tattoo artists will only find legitimacy and a foothold in the worldwide tattoo community, if and only if they manage to find their individual voice within themselves, has been reinforced in the last few months that I have been here. We need to stop looking at others and start looking into ourselves.
There are roughly around 30 tattoo conventions in the whole year in just Germany – some are big [ex . Frankfurt, Berlin, Dortmund, Zwickau] and the others are smaller ones in different cities – almost all of them have artists coming from all over the world to participate. Frankfurt is the biggest convention in Europe with about 600 listed artists participating every year. This makes Germany one of the biggest markets for tattooing in the world – which in turn has led to the formation of numerous sellers and producers of tattoo and body modification related products.
Germany also has one of the toughest health regulations in the world, which means that a lot of inks of various brands and other products are banned here or have to conform to the health standards of the country. There are regular checks from the health department at both the conventions and individual studios to monitor that all the rules and regulations are being followed and that proper hygiene is maintained at all times.
I was part of the 26th Berlin tattoo convention this year, which also is the longest running tattoo convention in Germany. It was a grand affair with burlesque dancers, freak shows, music and Japanese bondage dance by the famed Sana Sakura.
I usually always book my conventions from before which gives me time to prepare myself beforehand and I did the same this time – I had 3 average to large sized pieces for 3 days – one was a sea turtle in my geometric/semi realistic oriental style, the 2nd was a start of a full sleeve in ornamental bongo style and the 3rd day was a dotwork mandala on the elbow.
It was a very busy 3 days, and I only managed to find some free time on Sunday [final day] to look around and see other artists. There was lots of amazing work that happened at the convention. Fabrice Koch worked on a giant brush stroke styled Chinese dragon tattoo in his signature graphic style and managed to finish it in one long session, there were a lot of very good realistic tattoo artists in the Cheyenne row, lots of traditional maori and Polynesian artists doing both hand tapping and machine work. It was a really well put convention and I’m looking forward to it next year.