N.B. Originally published in the Absinthe §2 Catalogue, published by Side Quest, produced to accompany the Absinthe §2 exhibition, curated by Billy Fraser, Charlie Mills and James Capper, 18.05.19 – 17.08.19, Spit and Sawdust Pub.
Hector Campbell : I understand that after years working as a freelance tattoo artist you recently opened the underground tattoo parlour ‘Pleasure’ in East London? How did this project begin, and develop?
Antoine Brutal : Pleasure has been an amazing adventure that started from the original idea of Heartless Jasper, and it now involves Stone Le Tattoo, Charlotte Weston Dj Treesha and RCDW What I was invited to be part of in the beginning, a safe space in which to practise, work and develop further our skills as tattoo artists, has become what it is today. We are all stoked that we have managed to connect with other tattoo artists from all over the world, from Korea to France and California to Sweden etc.
It’s nice for each of us to have the potential to meet people who enjoy our artwork and to get the opportunity to go and guest at different private shops around the world, to discover more of what people practise and develop in different locations.
HC : In the tattoo world you’ve gained notoriety for your special interest in medieval woodblock print imagery, how did you become interested in this niche area of art history? And what contemporary relevance does it have?
AB : I developed a huge interest in medieval artwork firstly for its violence and historical subject matter, Kings being assassinated and people being decapitated, my love for witchcraft and interest in how witches were treated at the time.
After further research, I began to be really intrigued with the famous “masters” of woodcuts, as well as painters of the 13th & 14th century who started to shape and model the way we creatively recreate and represent the body today. Close to realism but with a touch of infantile mistake, I especially like when things have an aspect of error in them. Every century sees an evolution in art practice, but the representative style used by those ancient masters stoked my curiosity to another level!
HC : The contemporary tattoo culture appears to place more importance on tattoo artists than ever before, with commissioned tattoos almost becoming a thing of the past and original artwork becoming more and more popular. Do you agree with this trend? And if so, why do you think that is the case?
AB : The evolution of tattooing in the Western world has always involved a lot of imitation, of famous artworks by famous artists that have been repeated and repeated for decades. It’s still popular today with younger generations and I’m sure that culture will remain strong around the world.
However, part of every new generation is embracing things that the older generations would consider bad or “scratch” and I do see people getting more and more interested in the tattoo artists themselves. Artists creating original artwork with new shapes and new textures, there are lots of incredible styles growing from all over the world that all have something to give. In every country, you can find stunning artwork that each retains an aspect of their own past historical influences.
Artists who do their own, original work has a real vision to it, they must know how to create straight on the body and that is what made artwork really powerful. There are millions of examples all around the worlds; my friend Sandropilat is doing astonishing work in Milan, mixing his own designs and bringing tattoo performances to another level alongside other great tattoo artists from Italy or England. I also really like Eastern European tattoos, they have amazing artists nowadays that bring new view and texture to their work, such as Syndromelzrs and many others from Euthanasia Sport in Kiev, Ukraine who do really dark work.
HC : In that past decade the line between tattoo art and fine art has become even more blurred, with contemporary artist David Shrigley tattooing visitors to Frieze Art Fair in 2010, and famed tattoo artist Scott Campbell bring his Whole Glory project to the London fair’s 2016 iteration. What are your thoughts on the boundaries between tattoos and art?
AB : Following on from the last answer, the evolution of tattoo art became more original and vibrant as the ideas come more and more from the artists and not the client. Custom tattooing has been building for a while, these tattoo artists are artists because of their vision of art on the skin.
The link between fine art and tattooing has become blurred because people allowed tattoo artists to work as they should, creating their own artwork. Artists such as David Shrigley and Scott Campbell are good as both of them have a vision for what tattooing can be, and that it can have a better consideration within the art world. The future will bring more and more of those performances I’m sure. Tattooing is as old as cave paintings and it was surely meant to be back in the contemporary art world.
HC : Prior to your work as a tattoo artist you graduated with a BA in Painting from Camberwell College of Art. Do you still maintain a painting practice? How did your background in painting influence your career as a tattoo artist?
AB : I have always viewed painting and tattoo in a schizophrenic way. Studying painting influenced the first flash sheet I draw, but now my everyday tattooing seems to influence my painting, they are linked but both have different styles. I continue to paint and will show more artworks in the future, at the moment I am focusing on my practice and learning how to have the ability to work on a bigger scale work too. At the beginning of my art studies I also staged performances, and coming up with tattoo performances is again a return to what I was learning and studying back then.
HC : You’ll be hosting an experimental tattoo workshop as part of Absinthe §2, could you give us an insight into what that performance will involve?
AB : For the performance, I want to explore what ‘The Green Hour’ could be nowadays. ‘The Green Hour’ was popular in France during the early boom of absinthe, when at 5pm everyone would go to the local bar for a glass of The Green Fairy.
I can’t explain all the details involved in the performance, as I like to keep a few aspects secret. I will be inviting people to participate in my own ‘Green Hour’, an experience for both body and mind that will involve tattoos, or external marks as I am calling them for this performance. It will also be an interactive performance that would involve the participant to work alongside me whilst I tattoo. I’m looking forward to it and meeting the audience.