The fall of communism meant the uprising of an exciting counterculture in the Czech Republic. One particular Prague-based tattoo studio was there from the beginning and helped lead the way for a tattoo republic...
Before Elvis, there was nothing. So a great man once said of the pre-Presley era for popular music, and certainly, a similar dictum could be applied to a pre-89 Czech Republic and its absence of a vibrant counterculture: a tattoo culture.
Though a very young country, the Czech Republic has grown, evolved and flourished since the ‘Velvet Revolution’ in 1989, which saw half a million protestors bringing about the end of the communist Czechoslovakia. Since the fall of the communist regime, a freer and wholly independent Czech Republic has seen its fair share of changes, from the paranoid state it once was, to a diverse, exciting and culturally rich society. Within a couple of short years of relinquishing the communist grip, the Czech Republic has witnessed its own counterculture emerging in the form of alternative artistic expression. Though the idea of a tattoo culture in Prague would have been impossible just a few years previous, the new Czech Republic allowed for such a counter cultural phenomenon to flourish, and leading the way for this new ‘tattoo republic’ was a little studio which still sits proudly in Klimentská 2, Prague 1.
Initially focusing on the production and distribution of piercing jewellery, Tribo opened up its first tattoo parlour during the mid-90s and hasn’t looked back since. As well as running a tattoo and piercing studio in the centre of Prague, Tribo represent the Czech and Slovakia market for the oldest body piercing jewellery producer - Wildcat, from Brighton, UK. Like the outbreak of Punk during ’77 in the UK, the tattoo counterculture arrived and took Prague by storm, sending it into a whirlwind of frenzied excitement and creative flair - and Michal Burda, Tribo’s founder, trail-blazed his way to notoriety when he set up the tattoo studio during 1996, kick-starting the tattoo republic revolution. However, Burda remembers a very different Czech Republic then, when a certain amount of circumspection and prejudice still surrounded the tattoo culture.
“We opened our first shop in 1996 with a friend and tattoo artist from a small city outside of Prague. We were one of the first body art shops in the Czech Republic, so the general attitude was that we were total freaks. It was really unusual at that time - things like stretched earlobes and multiple piercings, people mainly associated tattoos with criminals.”
Certainly, the brand new phenomenon has come a long way since the early days of the Czech Republic’s tattoo culture, and the tattoo scene now remains in stark contrast to what it was just 15 years ago. Burda’s tattoo shop wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms when it first dared to take Prague and its frustrated counterculture disciples in scary new directions. With the authorities breathing down their necks, sceptical and resistant to the burgeoning tattoo scene, it wasn’t easy for Burda and his band of rebel artists to pioneer a new tattoo movement.
“The tattoo history started in the 90’s. You could count the shops on one hand, and now there are hundreds of them, but very few are good enough to compete on an international level. It was really hard with the authorities while opening the shop. They put a close eye on us and it took lot of energy and paperwork to prove to them that we could do it in a clean and safe way, and that we weren’t planning on killing someone or spreading some deadly infection throughout Prague.”
Now, 11 years into the new millennium, things have changed dramatically for Tribo and the European tattoo market. While the Czech Republic has changed both politically and culturally during the past decade and a half, the tattoo industry in general has skyrocketed in popularity, infiltrating the mainstream and spreading like wildfire the world over. With various publications, books and websites rife with information on all things ink, it’s now almost unfathomable that Michal and Tribo once had to rely on a few publications that had to be trucked over from Berlin in order to obtain their next tattoo fix. Michal explains:
“It was really hard to get useful information in the Czech Republic in that time. There was no internet and no books published. From time to time a truck driver friend of ours brought us tattoo magazines bought at petrol stations in Western Europe. I was travelling also. Berlin was always a big source for information and inspiration for me.”
While the communist era now remains far behind them, and despite tattoos enjoying a newfound popularity with a diverse demographic, it’s still far from plain sailing for Tribo, but with new challenges lurking around every corner, the Prague-based studio are well equipped for the brave new world of tattooing. Luckily, Michal Burda has a whole slew of talent on tap at the Tribo studio, and Tribo’s band of talented tattoo artists - complete with an array of varied talents - remains key to the studio’s broad and diverse appeal.
Situated and hard at work behind the doors of the Tribo studio is super-versatile Peter Bobek, an artist who has become renowned for his realism and black and grey, and has since brought colour to the mix which has taken his work to a whole new level. Musa, Peter’s apprentice, is a young-gun who has been working professionally for just one and half year.
“Musa came out with his really unique abstract aquarelle style, which has attracted many people from all over the world”, says Michal. “After attending a few conventions in Western Europe, his work is now becoming very popular and there are many people travelling from abroad to Prague just to be tattooed by him.”
Bara, a female artist with more than 10 years of experience, specializes in traditional, Japanese and art nouveau tattoos, while Szabi focuses on new school designs. Tereza attracts the punk and rock ‘n’ roll clientele with her own unique take on feminine, primitive and traditional tattoos, and Ondrash is currently Tribo’s guest artist, of which there have been many.
“We are proud to have had a number of great foreign guest artists coming back regularly to Tribo, and they are a big inspiration to all of us”, says Michal. “They include Lionel Fahy (‘Out Of Step’), Jef Kostek, Lea Nahon (‘Boucherie Moderne’), Sara Rosenbaum, Steven Burlton, Scott Ellis and George Bardadim.
Michal is also particularly proud of acquiring the expertise of one Herbert Hoffman:
“I am very proud that Herbert Hoffman was tattooing at a Tribo booth in Berlin in 2006 for a while, and he tattooed his legendary anchor with date on my arm.” He adds, “There is a new school Japanese influenced sleeve that Peter did on our friend Nina. We did photo-shoot with Bet Orten then, and many fashion magazines published these photos and the sleeve has been inspiration for many others. Now Peter is working on her back-piece. After two sessions it’s obvious it is going to be bad ass.”
Being one of the first studios to open in the Czech Republic, Tribo has had plenty of time to learn the ropes and establish itself as a leader within the field, and the studio is constantly raising the bar in any way possible. In order to keep a close eye on the competition and stay up to date with the latest progressions, advancements and trends taking place around the globe, the Tribo tribe embrace the convention circuit, travelling to all corners of the globe in order to stay on top.
“I think we started to do the right things early on and we have always been many steps ahead of others within our territory. We started to travel a lot to many tattoo conventions with Peter in 2006 and it opened new doors for all of us. We’ve met many friends and interesting people, and guest tattoo artists have come to us and took us to new level. We are trying to do good and original tattoos for life. We respect the tattoo tradition a lot but we are also open to new ideas.”
With every country following and developing its own style, pursuing its own fashions and motivated by its own individual inspirations, the lessons learnt on the road are invaluable.
“Every country or place has its own specifics. In Eastern Europe there are still popular dark subjects like demons and realistic tattoos, and people are still a little afraid of colours, especially in smaller cities. In Scandinavia, I saw a very Japanese influence. We love to go back to France every year to Nantes and Paris. What Peter does, the French people find very unusual and exotic, which is weird for us! They have different tattoo traditions than we do.”
But travelling also functions as a major eye-opener for the tattooist. Not every convention the world over suggests total professionalism and excellence, and the more you experience, the more you begin to notice the cracks.
“If you travel too much for the conventions you could get easily bored and tired from it. There are a lot of them nowadays and sometimes they can be really bad. Since last year we have slowed down a bit and we are doing only few carefully selected conventions: Doncaster, Paris, Nantes, Brussels and Berlin. We were at Tattoo Freeze and Tattoo Jam last year for the first time and it was great success for us, everything was good and that’s why we decided to come back in 2011.”
Certainly, the escalating popularity of the industry doesn’t equate to consistent quality, as the Tribo team have discovered during the past 15 years in the business. An over-saturated market has hindered the tattoo business in many ways, with the focus on quick money-making enterprises sacrificing quality for quantity.
“The popularity of tattoos and body art brings a lot of people to the business who just want to make money from it and nothing else. They don’t have any relationship with body art and they don’t respect tradition: it’s just money-making for them and they are doing a lot of stupid things that’s killing the tattoo and piercing industry.”
While Michal and Tribo hope that the industry continues to prosper, there is a concern for the business, for the tattooist and for the customer, but Michal hopes that the heedful punter will always opt for experience and quality over speed and inferior art, and that those businesses hoping to make a quick buck will buckle under the watchful eye of the vigilant tattoo enthusiast.
“People will continue getting tattooed with the level and quality of equipment and colours getting higher, and they will have even more freedom of choice. It’s really up to them if they prefer cheap prices for shitty tattoos, or if they choose top quality for life. Now there are too many shops everywhere. I hope that the bad ones will disappear.”
Emerging from a former communist state and beating out all odds to successfully help to launch a tattoo uprising and managing to stay on top in such a competitive and packed market has been no easy feat for Tribo, but the studio’s success is a result of Tribo’s simple but effective philosophy: a philosophy that will inevitably see them tattooing productively and successfully for another 15 years and beyond:
“We aim to keep our work at the highest possible level and to educate the new generation of tattoo artists in our shop. I am not talking just about artistic skills but also about personal integrity, loyalty, respect and friendship. We will continue to do the best tattoos that we can as always.”
So finally, what does the future hold for a studio like Tribo? What does Michal have up his sleeve to ensure his studio’s well-being and continued popularity?
“I am focused on our shop, gallery and wholesale distribution, and I want to do some good art shows and projects. I am also thinking that in five years or something I want to buy some old industrial space instead of paying expensive rents and build a tattoo ateliers, gallery, shop, maybe a small cafe with a garden, skate mini-ramp, bike workshop; something like a community centre for all of us. We will see.”
Tribo TattooLidická 8
150 00 Praha 5
Otevírací doba: Po -Pá: 9:00 - 17:00 Tel: 736689472