“I remember, as a young boy, sitting with friends in groups of about 15, and I would draw on them with a ball-pen. I always admired tattoos a lot. In fact, my friends used to tell me that I would end up becoming a tattoo artist to which I would always disagree with.”
Modern tattooing has transformed from being a weapon of rebels to being an aesthetic art form that defines individuality, across the world. And this change/evolution has happened courtesy of the efforts of certain tattoo artists, who have redefined the idea of tattoo design logic. One such artist is Germany’s Fabrice Koch. Recently, during the Heartwork Tattoo Festival 2016 in Delhi, Shubham Nag caught up with him to know more about the man, and what drives his art.
Fabrice is not only one of the finest abstract tattoo artists of modern times, but also a force who has shown how stereotypes of tattoo beauty can be changed, with respect to changing body identities in today’s times.
“I worked in graphic design for a long time. There was a chain of a lot of good incidents before I went into full time tattooing. For a long time, my wife wanted to get a tattoo done and I was not satisfied with the work in the numerous tattoo shops that we had inquired in. It was then that we met a Balinese tattoo artist whose work I really liked. We became friends and soon I would travel to tattoo conventions with him because I was so interested in the scene. And after a while, he told me that my apprenticeship was done and that I should start off tattooing myself.”
Fabrice has been associated with professional art even before tattooing because of his stint as a graphic designer. He also adds, “I also paint and have taken part in exhibitions as well. But that society is very sophisticated and artificial. I did not like that.” He saw a primary difference in tattooing, “It is more direct and pure! The people are more open. No one pretends to be someone or something that you are not. When I am tattooing, I can just be the person I would like to be and I do not need to be a person someone else wants me to be.”
And that reflects in his tattoos as well. At Heartwork Tattoo Festival 2016, where we had the chance to catch up with Fabrice, he engrossed himself in three fantastic tattoos. The tattoos stood out from everything else we witnessed at the convention.
When we asked him how he would like to define his own style of tattooing, he says he takes a lot of influences from the Far East, “Chinese and Japanese black ink work and put it in my own abstraction.” He has a very unique style of tattooing and we very curious to know about the process that clients have to go through to get a tattoo from him. “My style is very organic. I have spent a lot of time with real tribal tattoo artists from the islands of Polynesia and Borneo. I learnt from them. They just look at their clients and then directly make their designs on the body. I try to free hand as far as possible. I make a lot of sketches before in my mind and then improvise as tattooing progresses. My first lines are always rough as though I am taking measures of the person’s body and then if they work, I detail further. And of course, trends keep changing. If I see a tattoo I did four years ago, I would still like it but today I would do it differently.”
And talking of doing things differently, it is also important to note that Fabrice is tattooing in Germany; a country suitably given the title of the modern tattoo capital of the world. A country that is home to the most radical tattoo artists of modern times. “The tattooing is very diverse and yes, Germany can become the tattooing capital the world. Dot work and mandalas are a big thing now and there are all categories of artists including bad artists and copy cats. People go in for sleeves and there are some tremendous realistic artists too.”
There is a very strong presence of all sort of art in Germany and this is what Fabrice had to say of the progression of art over the years, “It’s become commercial. You can see it in conventions – there are many vendors and big companies sponsoring artists and promoting their work. Tattooing has become a very big industry. It is because of the media and globalization that we see tattooing now, but in reality, it has always been there. Previously, tattoo artists weren’t paid in money. There are books which say feed your tattoo artist well and you will get a good tattoo.”
When asked of how tattooing is perceived in the German culture, he told us that art is forever an inter-changeable subject. “Sometimes we see a typical tattoo design on tee shirts and in ad prints. Tattooed people are even featured in ads of banks which imply that they want to reach these people as well! I have customers from all professions. It has become very mainstream now.”
We all know that the Indian tattooing scene is growing and this is what he could make of it, “The artists are brilliant here and there is fast progress in the scene. I see there are some artists who are taking care of the old traditions. I think there should be more research in old roots and renew them to make more modern. Be proud of your own culture and build on that. There are a lot of tattoo artists in the international scene who base their work on the Indian ornamental stuff or the spiritual aspects. So it is possible to merge traditional and modern stuff.”
When asked to single out a memorable experience with a client, Fabrice blanked out! But, what he enthusiastically spoke about is of spontaneous decisions taken by customers who are readily willing to change their idea based on something new that they see in his studio. “It often happens that my client will say that it’s totally different than what I had imagined but let’s go for it!”