Hailing from the land of trash polka, Guido Schmitz isn’t another run-of-the-mill tattoo artist looking to earn just a big name. A fidgety character who likes experimenting for the essence of experimentation, and not just for the sake of it, Guido has quickly established himself as one of the leading abstract tattooers of the current generation. Shubham Nag caught up with him to know more…
Shubham (S): What led to tattooing for you?
Guido (G): From a very young age, I found a growing fascination for tattoos and tattoo art and ﬁnally got started to get myself tattooed quite early. Unfortunately, this was no career choice during my then current situation, since hardly anybody trained as comprehensively as today, and if they did, quite a lot of money was required – besides the fact that even in the ﬁrst about three years, you do not earn any money. So I reoriented and in search of a creative craft, I ended up training as a sculptor and stonemason, which I completed and then worked for a few more years as a sculptor. After a while, it started to be time for something new and so I bought myself a tattoo machine and just started to tattoo friends, and of course myself. Finally, put all one’s eggs in one basket and quit my job as a stonemason and sculptor and moved for personal reasons from Eifel in southern Germany to Kassel in northern Germany. I scoured all studios to ﬁnd a place in a shop – but not to “train” or apprentice, just to have a place to work and learn. After a few years in shops and a lot of traveling for guest spots and conventions in Germany and worldwide, I finally opened my own private studio here in Kassel in September 2017.
S: You grew up in the birth place of trash polka. Can you tell us more about the subculture that has bred trash polka?
G: While I cannot encompass a general definition or a bigger picture, but I can share what my ideas of trash polka are, and what is expresses for me. My personal background is dominated by punk and hardcore, a preference for collage style and in this context also the creation of concert flyers (yes, I had a band, once).
I have become aware of tattoos in this style through Buena Vista Tattoo – Volko Merschky and Simone Pfaff, who also gave this style its name. Of course, they are two of my big idols in the tattoo scene and their work has inspired me to want to get into this direction of tattooing.
S: While trash polka defies all boundaries of tattoo fundamentals in many ways, it also signifies a fact about tattoos that dates back to Egyptian civilisations, i.e. red and black ink are the only pigments that truly stay on skin. And you have personalised this brand of red and black trash polka… what are your thoughts?
G: Oh wow! I have to admit, I did not know that. I guess I need a bit of catching up .. ups. For me, these two colors simply have the highest contrast (on skin) that you can achieve, and the effect of the interaction is great.
Red for example is used in many countries as “the” color of warning and prohibition signs and for me this association depends… In my opinion, the combination of black, red and (released) skin to work with (I usually use white only as a highlight) makes tattoos very lasting.
S: Tattooing, in today’s date, is many things. From a life culture perspective, where/how do you see tattoos?
G: First of all… I think it can still be everything 🙂 Of course today, not only prison inmates, gangs and different cultures are wearing tattoos, but over the years I have accumulated the experience (especially through my clients) that tattoos truly can tend to be and mean anything and everything – for the respective wearer. A Lifestyle object and something what’s in a scene, a memory, a coping, a reward, a body cult, a trend, a passion for collecting, an expression of an experience, an opinion or simply art on skin…
However, if you mean my personal point of view from the other side of the needle, for me it is the greatest possible artistic development. I work on and with skin, with an individual who provides me with their trust and a part of their body, and hopefully proudly takes this shared art into the grave. I am simply overwhelmed by the trust that has been placed in me, the size of some of my works I am able to do, the great ideas of my customers and their openness for the designs I create for them.
S: Apart from tattooing, how are keeping yourself occupied these days?
G: In addition to “normal” commissioned work, I have learned to model, pour down and sculpt sculptures in stone. Unfortunately, I am currently lacking the space and materials for this passion, so I stick to canvases – or wood prints, when I have the time besides tattooing, designing and traveling.
S: We know that different styles of tattooing embody different personalities of tastes and ideas. What kind of a headspace do you associate with trash polka?
G: Phew, I have a really well mixed crowd of customers. That’s great and very varied. People collect art, people process things or reward themselves or want to perpetuate an opinion or passion on their body. What they all have in common, they are very very open minded in the implementation of their motives. That’s so great and important for me, because that way I can truly work and contribute my part, my creativity, my thoughts, and my way of art.
S: You have done few conventions in South Asia now. What are the stark differences you notice back home and here?
G: The very first thing I noticed on my first show in Goa 2017 (thank you, Martin!) – a really huge interest, open minded people and hospitality. It was a lot of fun and an incredible time (I stayed for some holiday after the show) and that’s why the Goa Tattoo Festival got a lovely spot for me again in 2018, then Bangkok, then Nepal – all really great shows and wonderful people! * lovely mode out * 😉
Okay, things all take a bit longer. The mentality is totally unlike ours – we are said to be absolutely punctual and all the other stuff what goes around about the Germans, so yes – you have to get used to it. For example, waiting until a printer is working, accepting power failures with a smile, be able and enjoy to work barefoot, watch your tattoo balm when it flows from the table… But hey, I like that and there can be worse things to deal with and I ́ve been also a Asia Traveller before it 🙂
But beyond that, I can say that hygienic standards were kept to the best of knowledge and current ability. Like on all the other shows everywhere, everything you need to tattoo was provided and somebody took care.
Due to the fact that I made some great friends on my journey, I also visited a few tattoo shops and got the same to see. Clean shops with everything provided to tattoo in a hygienic way. But nothing helps, if the electricity went down 😀
S: Germany is home to some of most radical tattoo artists of today’s times. How would you describe the atmosphere that is making so much room for progressive tattooing to happen?
G: I think, to answer this question, I first have to spread out a big Thank you to all my current clients, future clients and all the tattoo enthusiasts in the whole world! Because without you, this question would be totally useless. You are in the mood, we are in the mood and the more you want to get tattooed, the more open minded you are, the more of art you want, the growing trust you place in your artist – that ́s it! – the more we can develop ourselves. THANK YOU!
Further, I think it’s a growing interaction of customers and tattoo artists and definitely increased possibilities about what is possible in tattooing, what mind blowing artists create all the time and show to the world. We got high quality materials to work with, from new machines and awesome colors to great aftercare products and needles. So, the whole thing around helps us just to have time to create and try to tattoo some stunning pieces.
Besides this, conventions, traveling and definitely staying connected, exchange and working alongside with other artists helps me personally a lot! And I really enjoy it 🙂
This interview has also been published in the latest issue of Nepal Inked Magazine (The Language of Skin), curated by Tattoo Cultr. To order your copy today, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.