Sometimes, weird stuff happens and works out great. I bumped into Jake Attridge a while back and we got to talking about his ink and how he thought he had a great story to tell having been mostly tattooed by the brilliant but totally elusive Diego Azaldegui. Rather flippantly perhaps, I told him if he really meant it, he should get the hell on with it and mail it in to me. Turns out, it was pretty good – Mr Smith puts his pages where his mouth is...
The first time I met Diego I knew there was something different about him. Not just his incredible repertoire of skilful creativity in tattooing but the passionate, humble and inspiring way he carries out his trade. Despite the popularity which led him to leave studio Ultimate Skin in Leeds and begin tattooing from his home in the same city he was no ego monster. He was clearly an original. He believed in his art and never compromised his style or beliefs to hitch a ride on the next ‘big thing’. From day one in his studio I was hooked, completely absorbed by the atmosphere and calm of Diego’s aura and approach. I was ready to start building my collection with him.
My name is Jake and I live above the pub I manage (The White Hart) in South London. I have four passions in life: my girlfriend Laurel, my family, running pubs and tattoos – Diego’s tattoos. I first encountered him in The Dry Dock pub in Leeds where I worked whilst a student. The Dock is a grimy alternative hub for Leeds kids into their music and skinny jeans. Diego occasionally came in with his wife Sol. I had no clue who the man I was serving was but the air of effortless cool and serenity that surrounded him and his wife had me spellbound. Something had begun.
I moved to a new flat in Hyde Park (that would be Hyde Park, Leeds. Ed.) the following week and began noticing people emerging from the house a few doors down with some of the most beautiful tattoos I had ever seen. I was intrigued, curious, becoming hooked. Beautifully defined lines, colours that sing. I was 19 and only had one tattoo on my right arm. Some simple stars and swallows acquired without a great deal of thought. There was something special coming from that house and I wanted a piece of it. I walked down the street and knocked on the door. Diego quietly beckoned me in and I sat down whilst he worked on a huge Japanese back piece on a large heavily tattooed man. I laugh when I look back at myself nervously sitting, trying to fit in with the two seriously tattooed men next to me chatting away. For half an hour or so I flicked through his portfolios, itching to be the one in then chair. The other man left and Diego asked me what I had in mind. Should have thought about that really. I was just glad to be there.
‘What do you love?’ Diego said. ‘What do you really genuinely love?’ My mind went blank. Then, predictably, I said, ‘Girls’. I love tattoos of beautiful girls, sailor girls, gypsy girls, mermaids… that kind of thing.’
A few days later Diego was ready with two stunning designs. It was as if he could read thoughts, sense what people are about and want, and translate that into images. Nine hours of tattooing in one day, completing both pieces accompanied by the fitting gypsy sounds of Gogol Bordello. Sol tattooed another guy literally inches from me all day. Uncomfortable picture in theory but in reality the feeling of calm between the four of us was soothing. Tattooing is painful; anyone who says it isn’t is just trying to pretentiously impress you. But there was something about being tattooed by Diego that just relaxed me. The studio was a small room in the house covered with beautiful artwork and tattoo designs and littered with gifts given to the couple over the years in thanks for their amazing work. Sol was pregnant and I joked with Diego over teaching his child the trade the moment he could grip a tattoo machine. Later on, Sol used to wander through with the studio with the baby, chatting to me. Tattooing was a family affair in the Azaldegui house. That day I left exhausted but hungry for more.
All I could think about was my next appointment with Diego. First, a beautiful burlesque girl with long flowing thick black hair on my left forearm, then a mermaid entwined with an anchor on my right forearm shortly after. I now had four stunning female pieces on me and wanted to try something a little different. I became inspired by old school tattoo art; timeless classical simple pieces which would exhaust all fashions, phases and fads. Diego loved old school but hadn’t tattooed it as much in recent years. After a bit of persuasion he designed two beautiful pieces for the other side of my forearms: a dagger running through a yellow rose and a burning candle in a gold candle holder. Then on my chest: the head of a Second World War nurse; the fire and smoke of war burning above her and a bed of roses symbolising the end of war beneath her. A single god eye looked over the whole tattoo close to my throat. I completed both my sleeves with a black winged panther, two black and red old school swallows and an owl sitting amid the flames on a burning torch. Every tattoo I added was born out of passion, love, discussion and inspiration, not picked from a book or chosen just because it was the latest fad.
I am planning more tattoos with Diego. Before I met him I was a teenager going through a difficult period in life. My love and passion for tattoos and my encounters with Diego helped build my strength and identity and they certainly shaped the person I am today. The photos of me featured were taken in my flat above The White Hart, where I am in my element. I have lived all over the world, America, Greece, Leeds, Nottingham, London, but wherever I go Diego’s tattoos stay with me, reminders of all the journeys I have been on and the way I felt at the time. Each one makes me feel that bit more alive and I love the fact they will remain with me through all the great things I want to go on to. I don’t attach silly clichéd meanings to why I had each individual tattoo. They are beautiful pieces of art that I love as much today on my skin as I did when I first saw the design on paper. Let’s leave it at that.