Ettore Bechis - An Alien In New York

Published: 25 July, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 201, July, 2011

It seems, that the days of getting an apprenticeship being the only route in, has well and truly gone – these days a passion to tattoo, determination, hard graft and most importantly an ability to draw artistically can get you far. And in the case of Ettore Bechis, it seems it can get you very far.

Every time I interview a tattoo artist, I seem to find yet another story of how a fresh young artist first got into the tattoo world. From humble beginnings in Turin, to Miami via Brazil, then back to Italy again, Ettore has had a crazy ride to the top.

“I started tattooing in Brazil in 2002. The first time I went to Brazil, I was there for about three months. I was in Pernambuco with my girlfriend Sara. I was there to make all the sets for the resort theatres. We went back to Italy for two weeks and then returned to Brazil again for four months. This time we were in Recife, in Alagoas. I was doing the sets again while Sara was making all the costumes for the theatres. It was while I was here that I saw an advert in a tattoo magazine selling basic tattooing kits by mail order. I was curious and so I ordered one. When the parcel arrived, a Brazilian painter/tattoo artist showed me how to put the machine together and fix the needles. He just showed me how to assemble the machine but not how to use it, that I had to learn on my own. It didn’t take long and I was inundated with requests from the staff (bartenders, waiters and so on) to tattoo. So I started tattooing for free. They were happy and I got some practice.

“I did my first tattoo with my mentor watching, but it didn’t go very well. I did all the lining and when I came to clean the tattoo, there was nothing but a thick bloody line. Thankfully the tattoo was on the customers back so I had time to step back, take a breath and then carry on until it started to take shape and look good. All this without worrying the customer.”

With his passion for tattooing ignited, Ettore headed back to Italy to see if he could find a teacher to help him along his tattooing path. It was here he met Alessandro Doria and things really started taking off.

“Alessandro was the one who really taught me the basics of tattooing, I absolutely consider him as my teacher. He even gave me my first grips and tips for free and he really helped me to make my first steps in tattooing. When I returned to Italy I didn’t know anyone in the field, but I’d seen his work in a magazine and really liked it. His studio was also really close to my house so I went to see him. That first meeting was not very pleasant though. I actually thought that it would be the first and the last time we would meet. But I’m really stubborn and so I kept at him, insisting, till he gave me an opportunity. I worked at his studio for quite a few months and, thankfully, he was a really nice guy – unlike the first impression I had of him. 

“I learnt so much in that time; about traditional tattoos, Japanese styles and lots more. But the truth was there was not a lot of work for both of us in the studio, so I began to look for other studios to work at. After a long search I found a little studio in the centre of Italy. It was quite far from my house but I really wanted to have a career in tattooing and I needed to gain experience before going to America, which was my plan. But Alessandro and I have been friends ever since and his advice has really helped me to improve my style and technique.

“After a year and a half, I decided that it was time for me to go to America and so I contacted a tattoo studio in New York. This was to be the beginning of an awesome adventure! When I arrived in New York, I immediately realised that I loved this country. But the surprise was not over, not yet. I was in New York in November and business was very slow, so after two weeks without earnings and with a lot of snow, I decided to head for the warmth and my girlfriend, so I took a plane and headed out to Miami. That was absolutely one of the best decisions of my life. The best thing about working in America was that it allowed me to do the kind of tattoos I love; realistic pieces, portraits and beautiful subjects – which is usually impossible to tattoo here in Italy. What is brilliant about America is that people seem to co-exist with tattoos; it is not just a fad. In America, people love big bright colours and the old school style like Davy Jones and this gives you the opportunity to learn so much more about tattoo art.

“But tattoos and tattooing aside, the beauty about living and working in Miami is that it is exactly how you see it on TV or in the movies. You think that the media exaggerates everything when it shows the American way of life, but if you go there, you understand that everything is really an exaggeration itself. From the girls with big boobs to the innumerable limousines…even the fire department siren is exaggerated! One day while I was at the gym I met Hulk Hogan and another time we had Jim Carrey at the Salvation tattoo shop. It was all a bit crazy!”

After spending some time travelling around America, Ettore decided to move back to Italy and open his own studio, Absolution Tattoo Lounge, on Valentine’s Day 2010.

“I opened Absolution with my two business partners, Simone Cassinelli and Francesco Ferraiolo. I first met Francesco at a tattoo convention and when I went to work at Salvation Tattoo Lounge in Miami for six months, I got him to come over to America for a couple of weeks to share that amazing experience with me. Simone ended up coming over with him and that’s how we came up with the idea to set up a studio together.”

Even though his first tattoo might have been a trial by fire, it has paid off for Ettore and since opening the studio, he has gone from strength to strength. And with heroes like Nikko Hurtado, Mike deVries and Jeff Gogue to look to for inspiration, he is making waves in the field of realism.

“I love realistic style tattoos and I think light and shade, and if possible colour, are essential. For example, if I have to do a Japanese dragon it will never have flat colours as tradition would dictate, but if possible there would be highlights and strong shaded contrasts. I feel this really makes it as three-dimensional as is possible.

“Let’s take, for example, a job that I did not long ago. The client wanted a portrait but the subject was completely flat, there was no shading because it was a photo taken at night with a flash! Then I remembered seeing a gorgeous portrait of Elvis Presley with perfect light and shade. At that point all I had to do was apply the atmosphere of the Elvis painting to the tattoo in hand. Recreating the same light, shade and colour isn’t easy but in the end it gives you such satisfaction. I think it’s essential to have references and pictures at all times so you can go back to them when you prepare the design. I never leave things to chance.

“When I first started tattooing, I approached in a very traditional way; shadows with black or sumi and lights with white. One day I watched a Joshua Carlton and Mike De Vries DVD and instantly I understood that I can use many painting techniques in tattoo art as well. Funny enough, recently I have been doing the opposite, using tattoo techniques in painting. I guess you could say it is never over, the learning and evolving.

“I love to paint. I’ve always done it since I was a child and I always try and paint when I have free time. I think I have painted on every kind of surface you can think of. I feel that if you are a painter and a tattooist, the two mediums though separate, compliment each other. Saying that though, for me, it is still a completely different approach even though the end product might be the same.

“In painting, you've got more time to think what to do or how to do it and you can go back, but for tattooing, I try to plan everything before starting. This is a little bit more difficult and time consuming, but if I'd have to choose, I prefer to tattoo. Maybe one day, when I am a very, very good tattoo artist I'll think about changing my job and concentrate on painting but for now, I am very happy.”

Slightly Wierd

In Miami, a unique accent, commonly called the 'Miami accent', is widely spoken. It developed mostly by second- or third-generation Hispanics whose first language was English. It is very similar to accents in the North-east, but contains a rhythm and pronunciation heavily influenced by Spanish. However, a Miami accent is not Spanish-accented English, as many Miami residents who are not Hispanic, or do not speak Spanish, speak with the Miami accent as well.

Random Colour Facts!

Color is the perceptual characteristic of light described by a color name. Specifically, color is light, and light is composed of many colors — those we see are the colors of the visual spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Objects absorb certain wavelengths and reflect others back to the viewer.


Absolution Tattoo Lounge 

Corso Unità d'Italia,
7 - 22063 Cantù 
+39 3480 851689
+39 3920 856840 


Text: Trent Aitken-Smith; Photography: Ettore Bechis


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