One quiet Sunday afternoon, (an occurrence that doesn’t happen too often in our house), I was lurking around Facebook when I saw an old school tattoo of an owl. It was one of the best tattoos I had ever seen. The colours were bright and distinctive, the lines straight and bold - the tattoo literally jumped right out of the computer screen it was that good. I can honestly say, it took my breath away. The artist was Samez.
I immediately contacted Samez, rambling on about how great her work was and a while later she got back to me and we started chatting. We talked about the tattoo on her profile and she “oh so casually” informed me that it was actually a cover-up of an old tribal design. Quickly I flipped back to the picture and for the life of me I couldn’t see where the old tattoo used to be. I still can’t and she’s told me. Yes, Samez is good! Hell, she’s brilliant.
Samez didn’t start her working life as a tattooist, her first job was in an office, a far cry from the world she lives in now. It was in 2004 that she decided, a well paid job might be nice and safe but you can’t ignore the call of the tattoo. It was time to enter the world of tattooing.
Samez spent the first three years in the field, working an apprenticeship in a shop her boyfriend had recently opened. Her tutor was a Venezuelan tattooist, who was in residence at Cherry Tattoo at the time. Then in 2007, Samez decided it was time to improve her style and technique and she headed out to America to go and see the great tattoo artists she loved, doing what they do best. Basing herself at Sid Stankovits of Sid’s Tattoo Parlour in Santa Ana, Samez did various guest spots at different studios and rode the convention circuit, building a base of good friends and regular clients. About meeting Sid she says, “He has been my guide, he gave me a lot of tricks and suggestions. He improved my tattooing techniques.”
Or as Sid puts it, “Samez and I met through a mutual friend, she came by my shop. She was a quick learner, what I would call a natural. She’s always had her own style, I helped her tackle some bold and solid colours and lines. I helped her to refine her tattooing skills but her artwork has always been her own and really cool. I’d have Samez work for me full-time in a heartbeat. She’s a good tattoo artist, a good person and one hell of a gal! I like her bold, solid clean work, the kind of tattoos that will last a lifetime.”
A month later and Samez was back in Monterotondo, Rome at Cherry Tattoo and the fifties American style studio she co-owns with her boyfriend, body piercer Daniel Sedan.
“Being together twenty-four hours, it’s not easy for anyone but I think we must be doing something right as we’ve been together ten years now! I think the biggest problem with us is that we have very different but very strong personalities. It‘s like we both want to be top of the class!”
But Samez is quick to point out that Daniel does have his good points too. “He’s really patient with the more difficult customers… and I am not!
Being a piercer, he is a hygiene maniac which is always really good for a tattoo shop,” and then quickly with a laugh she adds, “but at the same time he stresses me a lot. He always wants everything to be perfect. I think very few people would get along with him in the workplace, I’m more easy going.”
And maybe that’s what makes the studio work so well. A dividing of roles to reach a common goal and a little bit of rivalry along the way. There are no other resident tattooists at Cherry Tattoo either, it’s just Samez doing the ink and Daniel the body shots. But Samez is quick to point out that they have a continuous run of guest tattooists working the studio. Big guns in the tattoo world like her old friend Sid from Santa Ana and Uncle Allan of Copenhagen.
That’s the thing I like about Samez, she knows where she’s going and what she wants. She has strong ideals and is not scared to share them.
“Nowadays, the tattoo business makes me a little upset. A lot of people are starting to tattoo without knowing anything about it. You know, nothing about the old school rules. There’s no passion for the art and they know nothing about drawing. These people, they think it is a cool fucking way to make money and these people are damaging our world, a world we should try and preserve in every way.”
I tend to agree with Samez on this thorny point. I often wonder if programmes like Miami Ink have glamorised the industry. Don’t get me wrong, they have done brilliant work at bringing the art form to the fore but at the same time attracting a lot of fly-by-nighters.
I put the question to Samez to see if she agrees. “I think they are a positive thing for tattooing but I also think that they have to show more what the real tattoo artist’s life is like. It’s not all about parties and making money. There’s the endless research. It’s a way of life, you never stop working. It’s not as easy as they show on TV.”
But Samez doesn’t sit back and let this “damage” as she sees it, get out of control. That’s just not her style.
“For this reason, I founded the Proud Crew, a group of artists that want to keep the old school rules alive. So far we have my friends Federica (Marsh Mallow Tattoo), Davide (Plastic Surgery Tattoo) and Phil Kyle and Adrian Willard (Magnum Opus Tattoo).”
It might be a small group at the moment but it is a respectable group, clearly showing that Samez has made her mark on some important tattooists. Samez explains her concept of Proud, the passion evident in her words.
“Proud is not about being the best artist around or bullshit like that. It’s about having respect for what we are doing, trying to give our best contribution to the tattoo world. It’s about spreading the pride we feel and making our customers understand that getting a tattoo is a very important thing in your life. It’s not about fashion!”
And then comes the big point, the one that seems to rile most old school tattooists but seems to becoming more and more evident these days:
“It’s important to be able to draw your own stuff. No tracing! A tattoo artist has to have their own style. Be recognisable. Then a customer can choose them for that important reason.”
It’s clear that Samez loves her work, that she is passionate about it and when I ask Samez about her style, the words come quick and easy once again.
“It’s always difficult to put ones personal style in a category. I do traditional but traditional according to me. And sometimes I get a little close to the new school stuff. So it’s neo-traditional? Anyway I have a changeable mind and at the moment I’m trying to make my own stuff more traditional. I love tattooing in general and trying to be a versatile artist is really important to me.
“I take influences everywhere to tell the truth, in art and in other tattooing. One of my favourite artists has always been Chris Conn and I will never stop following him as an illustrator”
The more I talk to Samez, the more I start to see that tattooing is her life, it’s in her soul. She takes her work and her art seriously and wont let anyone forget it. Her enthusiasm and pride is catchy and it is easy to see why she is respected as a tattooist and a friend.
I ask Samez, if she could chose one person to tattoo, who would it be? And as I am coming to expect from her, her answer is not one I expected to hear.
“I really want to tattoo Robbie Williams before I die. He’s always been my sex symbol since I was about thirteen.”
Samez laughs but quickly gets serious again, a trait that I am now beginning to see as very Samez. “And you know, I was really near doing it once. I was in California one time and met him at a football match. He’s not so recognisable in America as he is in Europe, so it was very easy to speak to him. We even got some pictures together!”
I can sense Samez’s excitement as she tells the story and it’s quite infectious. “I knew he really loves tattoos so I told him I was a tattoo artist and invited him to come to the Ink & Iron Tattoo Convention that was happening in a few days in Long Beach. He told me that if had some free time he would come along…but it didn’t happen! I am still waiting for his phone call…”
On the other side of the coin, I ask Samez if there is anything she wouldn’t tattoo and from the short silence, I can tell that this is going to be as big a revelation as the Robbie William crush a moment before.
“You know, I believe in God but I am against the church. So I really wanted to tattoo a nun with a penis on their hand.” I had to stop Samez at this point to clarify her answer. Did she actually tattoo a penis on a nun or is this an image she created? She tells me it was the latter and a part of me is a little disappointed.
And that is Samez in a nutshell, willing to push the boundaries of the art form while staying to true to herself. I think her mentor Sid sums her up better than I ever could:
“One time Samez came over to my house and cooked a huge Italian meal for my family and I! It was so good! That girl’s got skills in tattooing and cooking. So if you’re ever in Rome, stop by her shop and get a tattoo and then invite yourself over to her house for dinner! Samez reminds me of an old tattoo soul - she has respect for the industry, respect for other artists, and always gives credit where credit is due. She has respectfully worked her way to being the artist she is, which is difficult to find these days in our industry.”
If you want to catch Samez on the circuit in early 2011, she will be tattooing in January at the Star of Texas Tattoo Convention in Austin, then she is over to the UK for the Brighton Convention (her first time at Brighton), back over to Italy for the Milan Tattoo Convention in February and then the one convention she will never miss, the Rome Tattoo Expo in May.
Chris Conn Askew, is another whole story in himself.
Born and raised in California, Conn grew up drawing to the point of obsession. Having no formal training, he single handedly and extremely successfully turned his hand to tattooing. Then, at the height of his career he shocked everyone by retiring from the inking world at the very, very young age of thirty-six. Based in San Francisco, he now plies his trade as an illustrator and artist, using primarily watercolour, ink, graphite, gouache and gold leaf. Running through his prints he features on his website, you can see why Samez name drops this guy. Chris Conn is an artistic force to be reckoned with.
That phone call can’t come soon enough for Samez. Robbie might not appeal to everyone but he knows his tattoos. He has around fourteen tattoos in total, ranging from lettering to celtic crosses and religious imagery. His left arm sports a partial sleeve, a Maori tribal tattoo by Te Rangitu Netana, which tells the story of William’s life. The tattoo was done in the studio of famous Dutch tattooist, Henk Schiffmacher. I kinda get the feeling Williams will be kicking himself for passing up the opportunity that day he
Cherry Tattoo & PiercingVia Kennedy 62°