Southampton is shrouded in thick, dark clouds. Their ominous presence poses the constant threat of a downpour, creating a thick atmosphere and a foreboding backdrop for my visit to the little studio, Tattooz by Design.
Entering the studio I am encapsulated by a small room with walls emblazoned with bold, bright and intricate flash artwork. The familiar buzz of needles seeps through the walls as I am introduced to Eugene Rubuls, the Latvian tattooist whose expertise is causing a stir despite only being on the opposite end of a needle for less than three years.
Eugene’s tattooing history may be in its infancy, but his artistic background spans years, transcends media and has an all-encompassing stylistic reach. “I believe my artistic ability came to me from my father, he was a sculptor and I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. Pencils and watercolour were my favourite toys as a child. I only started painting three years ago when I came to England. Before that I used watercolour, charcoal and pastel."
It was an unconventional calling that brought Eugene to the shores of the UK. He went from doing character portraits and penning temporary tattoos on the beaches of Latvia to undergoing an NVQ in catering. “I always like creating something with my hands”, says Eugene. Clearly his creative flair can flow through any medium, including food. Eugene’s work life then took a turn when he was inspired to undergo training that allowed him to work on a gas tanker as a chef. “I worked on the gas tanker world wide for about five years. I liked to travel and see different places”.
It was in Latvia that Eugene was first introduced to tattooing having approached a studio to have some work done, the tattooist was so impressed by his designs that Eugene began to build a portfolio before gaining the most expeditious apprenticeship he could have hoped for, here in the UK. “A Polish guy called Tulipan offered me an apprenticeship after seeing my drawings. He saw that I had steady hands and offered me the chance to do tattoos on some of his mates during the first few days of my apprenticeship. Soon after, I had my friends willing to have tattoos as well."
Eugene’s inquisitive attitude and determination coupled with his innate talent soon saw him progress into the stages of an apprenticeship that could take years to reach. “Those days, I worked from 6am until 3pm in the kitchen and after 4 until 10pm in the studio. I asked Tulipan 1,000 questions a day about tattooing and on my days off I went to conventions such as London, Brighton, Tattoo Jam.... I was always asking questions, and the more answers I had, the more questions I asked!”
Three years later, Eugene’s skills have strengthened into an enviable talent, but his learning process continues with every piece of work that he creates. With every tattoo comes a new experience. “Tattooing appeals to me over other media of art because it is the most demanding and requires responsibility”.
Eugene’s tattoos reflect his painting style; brightly coloured, infinitely detailed and expertly accomplished. They come to life with a vivacity that is beautifully realised. The pieces that stand out from this myriad of colour depict ferocious lions, majestic leopards and sinuous reptiles and even tiger-rabbits! “I like my clients to trust me” says Eugene. “It gives me freedom and the responsibility to design an idea. I start from basic shapes and body flow, and then add shadows, values and details. I see a tattoo as a decoration of the body and want to be sure the design fits the client. I have been tattooing nearly three years now and from the beginning I always wanted to create something big and readable from a distance like a painting or a sculpture.”
Painting has always formed the basis for Eugene’s artwork. From classical to art nouveau to Trompe L’oeil (the method of using intricate detail to create a three dimensional effect on a flat canvas) as well as Chinese art. “I guess my paintings are kind of a mixture of all things that attract me. It can be nature or interesting character. Art is everywhere and I always try to paint something better than before.”
Constantly striving to push the boundaries of his skills, Eugene took to tattooing his own thighs in order to further his talent. “They are a tiger and a lion portrait and are quite large, the roundness of my thighs gives a bit of a 3D look to them. It was a good exercise because I had to do them upside down and I wanted to feel and know tattooing inside out. How ink goes in the skin, what hand movements are more efficient and less painful, different configurations of needles and it was kind of a challenge to myself. My tattoo work is still in progress and always developing. For an artist, there is no perfection”, he muses.
Despite only having worked one international convention to date, Eugene managed to scoop both first and second place in the large colour category at the Bournemouth Convention this year. “I plan to do as many conventions as possible”, Eugene tells me. “I like the spirit of the tattoo society at conventions!”
Eugene has a long list of influences that have informed his work over the years, such as, Guy Aitchison, Jeff Gogue, Shige, Paul Booth and Mike DeVries - to more recent influences as his research continues such as Nikko Hurtado, Yang Zhuo, Shawn Barber, Uncle Allan, Jess Yen, Juan Salgado, Carlos Torres, Bob Tyrell and Robert Hernandez.”
“I’m really thankful to my dad, colleagues and Pix, who taught me a lot of technical aspects of tattooing, Karen and Simon Faith for the great opportunity of working here at Tattooz by Design and Alvis Caune from Neo Tattoo in Latvia because he is the guy that inspired me to tattoo”.
A post-interview visit to Eugene’s art room at his house reveals film characters intermingling with beautiful female figures in bold, bright paintings while delicate watercolors depict unsettled landscapes, with skies as full of emotive clouds as those that hang over us outside. A blue dragon wraps itself inquisitively around a ball of light that highlights its soft curves and streamlined koi carps seemingly glide across their canvases.
With artwork like this to his name and so much more to accomplish in the future, Eugene will no doubt be experiencing every success in his ongoing journey into the world of tattooing.
A Matter of Perspective
The phrase Trompe L’oeil is most often used in relation to the Baroque period of art where it referred to perspectival realism, but its roots actually go back much further than this. There’s a great story about a contest between two Greek painters: Zeuxis’ entry into the competition was of a still-life that was apparently so real, birds flew down from the sky to peck at the ornamental grapes. His rival in the contest, Parrhasius, then asked Zeuxis to pull back the tattered curtains so they could judge the painting behind them, Parrhasius was declared the winner as his painting was of the curtains themselves. Fooling the birds is cool, but fooling other painters trumps all.
One of the best examples of the form is Escaping Criticism by Pere Borrell del Caso. Fans of art in architecture will recognise the perspective fooling mechanism as it is also widely used in 16th and 17th churches to give depth where there is none.
Tattooz by Design
2B Waterloo Road
Tel: 02380 322486