After The Morning... - NOON

Published: 20 September, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 203, September, 2011

Flip to ‘noon’ in a dictionary and you will find it defined as ‘the highest, brightest or finest point or part’,which seems surprisingly fitting for French artist NOON. Although the man himself won’t reveal what’s behind the nickname, one gets a suspicious feeling it could stem from his work, the height of artistic expression

Juggling most of his tattoo appointments between three shops – Tattoo Culture (New York City), AKA (Berlin) and Mo Coppoletta’s Family Business (London) – and his home in Troyes, France, NOON’s simple, attention grabbing and instantly recognizable work places him at the forefront of modern day tattooing.

With a style he has sometimes described as ‘boucherie traditionnelle’, NOON has managed to grab the attention of colleagues, collectors and media alike with his glorious traditional butchery.  
Yet, although his capabilities seem rather endless and his takes on why a tattooer is more of an illustrator by nature can be, dare I say it, revolutionary, the French tattooer comes from rather humble and unexpected beginnings.

“For as long as I can remember, I was always around it and was always fascinated by tattooing,” says NOON. “As a child, I grew up in a world of tattooed men. Of course, they were not tattoos like we see today. I speak of tattoos mostly done in prison, all done by hand. I remember as a child, and my parents remind me of this often, when we went to the beach, I had eyes for nothing but the tattoos revealed by undressed bodies.”

Focusing most of his work on simple, strong lines and stripping away all the extra details that can sometimes become overwhelming, NOON’s style is reflective of the work he was surrounded and inspired by in his youth.

“The town where I grew up, and where I still live, was what we then called an open city, which meant that convicts who had been expelled from other cities found asylum here. And, of course, from their time in prison, these men were heavily tattooed,” recounts NOON.

“On the other hand, my city was also a haven for travellers and many families settled there, bringing with them their shared tattooed currency. From ‘mort aux vaches’ to ‘live free or die’, passing by the anthology of religious representations alongside the femmes fatales. In such an environment, it was hard for me not to get excited very quickly about this ‘art’, which was far from being one at the time.”

Captivated, NOON began devoting his time to drawing copies of the tattoos he saw on the elders around him. His hands-on introduction to the then much more mysterious world of tattooing was all about self-instruction.  

“I am 100 per cent self-taught, like many tattoo artists who began at that time,” explains NOON. “It must be said that tattooing was not really developed, we felt that it was going to explode but that was not the case then and tattooing was still underground and still considered bad and associated with delinquents. Tattooers were not a legion and kept their secrets to themselves as if they had treasures! The Internet didn’t exist. More than one tattooer would have given anything to get the address of Micky Scharpz or Huck and Spaulding.”

Recounting memories about learning to weld, assembling his needles with superglue, lacing needles onto ballpoint pens and making magnums with phone cards and razor blades, NOON quickly makes it evident that tattooing was truly something else when he was starting out all those years ago. And apprenticeships? What apprenticeships?

“I found out everything step by step, error after error,” he says. “It took me five years to tattoo a line that was almost correct. I studied all styles, tattooed heads of Indians that squinted, dolphins with a vengeance, pseudo Japanese, portraits – basically, I worked the techniques one by one, trying  1,001 methods.”

Before he was even a teenager, NOON was testing out his tattooing skills on himself, before moving on to the flesh of his friends, giving them all a bit of extra street cred. “We acted like the ‘grands’, the oldest guys that commanded respect in the neighborhood,” says NOON. “There was also a lot of code and the most respected were those who surrounded themselves with the most beautiful girls, who had the inside of their eyelids blackened, tattooed with the help of a small spoon to protect the eye.”

As the years rolled on, NOON’s greatest dream – “to one day have a real machine” – finally came true in 1996 when he got his first tattoo machine from Micky Scharpz, “which I still work with from time to time,” he says.

Somewhere between consciously striving to develop a signature style and letting natural instinct guide him, NOON arrived at “a learned combination of my development through the world of tattooing so, through my life.”

Listening to NOON’s own, and very adequate, description of his influences and resulting tattoos gives a sense that he is acutely tuned in to his craft. “I feel closer to freer art, such as street art, and more expressive art, such as art brut or art singulier. We thus find that freedom of expression in my work,” he says. “However, my work is very respectful of traditional tattooing. It is not art transposed into tattoos, which does not work.”

 Then there’s also his greatest childhood influence. “We find the simplicity of tattoos done in prison,” continues NOON. “At that time, they had to tell simple stories with only the line because there was no question of making gradations or heavy fillings. In addition, most designs were very basic as most tattoo artists had absolutely no artistic culture. We thus find this search for simplicity, basicity in my line. I could easily stop my tattoos after the trace as they already have finitude at that stage. All that I add subsequently is not obligarory. Personally, I really feel trapped or stifled by classic tattooing.”

Flipping through NOON’s portfolio, all of his work seems beautifully unified, a constant NOON-esque theme running through every piece he creates. Which makes one think his clients must surely be handing over complete control to him. Faced with this theory, NOON disputes it with a unique take on the meaning of artist versus illustrator.

“The freedom that my clients give me is in the carrying out, but nevertheless, it remains contained by their plans, their ideas,” says NOON. “In this sense, I think tattooing is more a matter of illustrators than artists. I do not like this notion of a ‘tattoo artist’. I find this a bit pretentious for people who have so little space for expression. The work of a tattooer is primarily a matter of illustrations and in that sense I think we should be talking more about ‘tattoo illustrator’ than ‘tattoo artist’, no?”

If you’re interested in getting your very own NOON tattoo, the last is a point worth noting. It’s no surprise that he prefers concrete descriptions and ideas from his clients and hopes they approach him prepared, homework done, and with a clear head.

“I like for a tattoo to say something. Sometimes I accept projects that are completely free but I find that a bit more difficult, and more risky for the person,” admits NOON. And he holds the same standards to himself, ensuring every drop of ink that goes under his skin has a reason, a story.

“My personal tattoos develop over the course of my meetings; exchanges with other tattoo artists, personal friends. Many of my tattoos were done by people who never held a machine before,” says NOON. “As a general rule, I don’t offer but a small part of my body and I don’t allow anything but traces. I’m getting older – it hurts!”

On a quest to compose an exciting, ever-changing history for himself, NOON just can’t sit still and seems to always be on the road, or about to get on it. Although continuously working in a changing environment is something he has been doing for years, he admits to still being fazed by the unknown on occasion. “You get used to it and I love meeting new people, [discovering] new ways of thinking, watching people work. On the other hand, starting with a new shop always stresses me a little. I’m always a little anxious and I must admit that sometimes I only wait for one thing: the end the session.”

Travelling, exploring new cities and discovering new clients are some of the positives NOON runs through when asked about what it’s like to be a guest artist in a shop, but it’s not always easy. “The main negative point is having to adapt your working methods to each environment,” he says. “Even if shops seem to all resemble each other, few really work in the same way.”
Also regularly taking appointments in his home in Troyes, France, that’s where, when it really comes down to it, NOON feels most comfortable. As he explains it, it’s the only environment that allows him to provide a truly unrivalled tattoo experience. “I don’t take more than one appointment per day, which really gives me time to take care of my clients. It’s really a different rhythm than that of a shop. When I’m in a shop, I have very little time to devote other than that allotted for the tattoo. At home, I can take the time for a coffee, I often dine with them; it’s really a different approach. It’s much more relational than commercial.”

Taking a look back at his career, the master of lines, who was the 2010 inductee into Bob Baxter’s Hall of Fame dedicated to the 101 most influential people in the tattoo world, comes to a simple conclusion: “If I had to start over, I think I would do the same thing.”

Continuing, NOON explains, “I am easily able to develop a technique if it is necessary to me and I don’t think I would be able to do the same if I started today as an apprentice. Today, most people don’t know how to weld and everyone is content with the needles present on the market, which is what limits creativity. Few know how to tweak their machines, and many don’t know that a tattoo is made to last and not only to look good in a photo.”

His roots may have been unconventional – just think of NOON growing up surrounded and inspired by jail tattoos and building his own ‘machines’ as a teenager to practice on himself – but who could possibly argue with the results? In the words of the artist himself, NOON is “passionate certainly, poetic maybe, amorous for sure”.

Why NOON?

“I am going to keep a bit of mystery about my nickname, but it’s a nickname that I’ve had since adolescence. With time it’s become a real name, as only my parents still use the one they gave me at birth: Christophe.”

What’s the origin of ‘boucherie traditionnelle’?

“I had a shop for a few years that was located on Boucherat Street and I was sort of the butcher of Boucherat Street. I used this image to associate my work with the concept of traditional ‘boucherie.’ I know it’s a bit convoluted, but it’s the truth! I swear.”

What makes you proud of a tattoo?

“My achievements are full-fledged tattoos. They were thought of for the body and they would not work the same way on a canvas as they were not thought of like that. They play with the body and they respect the criteria of durability of traditional tattoos. They are thought of for time, to be readable in 10 years like in 30 years.”

For an appointment e-mail NOON at: noon.bt@free.fr

For more info on NOON, visit: boucherie-traditionnelle.com

Credits

Text: Barbara Pavone; Photography: NOON

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