Stephane Chaudesaigues - The Human Beast

Published: 29 March, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 161, June, 2008

Stephane Chaudesaigues is a man with an incredible talent. His work has graced the pages of pretty much every tattoo magazine on the planet. There is just something about his tattoo work that just seems to jump off the page and bite the readers right between the eyes.

Stephane’s talent and passion lies in realism and portraiture work; many artists specialising in these genres will stick with a monochromatic palette but Stephane is a man not afraid to add huge swathes of colour to a realistic piece; giving it even more depth and vibrancy. Welcome to the world of Stephane Chaudesaigues and La Bete Humaine...

Tell us about yourself and how you started to tattoo?

"I was born in 1968 and have 6 children. My two boys, Steven & Wesley are now working full time with me and I am very proud of them. I myself started to tattoo when I was 19, it was much harder then than it is now. The majority of people, who come to get a tattoo nowadays, do it because of a “fashion craze”. These types of people are the ones who were belittling us 20 years ago, because tattoos were the culture of yobs. I love tattooing and the identity that goes with it. I discovered it when I was a child. It was a tattoo, which was not very artistic, but I think it was very powerful and symbolic. I think it scared the honest people. The tattoos that I am referring to were bold and inartistic; they were (for the most part) pictures issued from an institution, and a mark of brotherhood. These tattoos were very controversial; they gave me insight and sentiment of being alive, to have an identity. 

These marks on the skin permitted me to grow into myself, and then I claimed the right to tattoo - a sense of belonging to myself, a self-fulfilment, but at the same time, I became an outcast in the eyes of the French society. This is the price you pay when you fulfil yourself.

I am self-taught; I observed from what I saw and applied various techniques. I started to tattoo myself when I was thirteen with some sewing needles tied with string and dipped in ink.

It’s a small room without a single penny and with an empty stomach. And this misery brings him down; the painter can’t reap the rewards of his labour. When you have a family to feed, being a painter is not practical.

So when I became a tattoo artist, I was only preoccupied with the technical aspect of it, coming into it quite quickly and without acquiring the basics of the tattoo artist. Something else was driving me. That drive was an image, more alive with emotions and sensibility. Yes, my sensibility, an enormous jewel to carry, and so heavy that I dragged it about all my youth, a time in my life where it was better to become an adult so no one could tell me what to do and not to do anymore.

A child cannot always express himself and is quite often told to just shut up. Later on, when that child grows up, he will already have a mindset to just shut up. So it is impossible to express yourself and become limited communicating in that micro society which is your family. As a result, there will be not many opportunities but maybe violence, mutilation and self-destruction.

On the other hand, if you are encouraged at this early age and become an artist, anything is possible.

You are allowed to dream, to express with words, with jokes, what you really think and perhaps be considered by people as a liberator or a genius."

What was your motivation?

"My motivation was to be a tattoo artist. I was eighteen then and discovered electric tattooing. The first tattoos that I had on myself were by done by Elvis, who was located in Rue de la Roquette in Paris and Bruno, from Rue Germain Pilon in Paris.

I really started to tattoo as a professional in 1987, when I opened my first shop in the south of France in Avignon, Place Pignotte.

I named the shop “Art Tattoo” then two years later I changed it to “Graphicaderme”."

Did you find it difficult when you first started?

"Yes of course. But in those days, the references I had let me think that I could find my place in the tattoo world. The standards in tattooing were limited, and my limited technical side of things made me do a lot of mistakes.

But I did not give up. I strived to improve the quality of each tattoo. With each new client, I would make new discoveries. And deep inside, I was terrified!"

Who are/were your idols?

"The first artist who really impressed me was Tin-Tin, which was in 1989. It opened my eyes and gave me a new perception that until then I never realised was possible. I was influenced by Kari Barba, Jack Rudy, Bernie Luther and Paul Jeffries.

I want to give thanks to the old-timer tattooists and tattooed people who’d allow me to learn from their experiences and allowed me to look at their tattoos. My style is realism, and I like to reassure myself to tattoo a nose as I see it. By perfecting the realistic technique, people approach me to tattoo their cherished loved ones on them and appreciate the outcome. I admire those people who contribute to the tattooing world. I want to mention, Tim Kern, Shane O’Neill, Vyvyn Lazonga, Bill Funk and his wife Anna Paige, who sometimes come to my workshop."

Did somebody help you or are you a self-made man?

"I am a self-made man. But of course, you meet people in life, and those people helped me to evolve. Some tattoo artists revealed to me tricks of the trade and my understanding of tattooing widens and improved.

In each family, there is an artist, always standing out amongst the crowd. His talent enables him to properly find his place in society. The art is his best ally to talk whilst keeping his mouth shut, like an actor on a stage in front of an audience.

I love art. I associate words with strong emotions and fabricate images - my images, and my message. It may not be interesting, but whatever it is - is my message. A small trace of my passage."

What is your favourite subject?

I like realism. I like to tattoo realistic images and most of all, Photo-realism. I like to work with black and white and experiment with the gray scale and the colours.

I also like to work with the natural shape of the body."

Many of your tattoos are quite dark; is this a conscious decision?

"Yes, I regret that too often these images are sad. I would have liked to have a better childhood and then maybe I would be at peace with the questions in my mind. There are certain things I can say with words, some with body language, and I can also communicate with images that trigger questions or bring responses."

Who were your first clients?

"I used to live in the French Ghetto, and by word of mouth, the message that I was tattooing spread quickly I had a friend in those days, “Max”, he was a barfly. He used to bring clients for me and I would pay him a commission."

What is your favourite tattoo?

"Maybe the ones I did on my sons (Steven & Wesley) who are now working with me."

How do you compare tattooing then and now?

"I think it’s easier now than in the old days. It is easier to get information and it’s more open. Today’s tattooing standards are extraordinary, with so many excellent tattoo artists out there. If I were to start today, I would not make the mark. Competition is stiff.

I like to see work of art on the skin, and to recognise the style of the artist. I don’t know really if there is a tattoo scene in France, and I’m not aware of any activities taking place."

How do you see yourself in the future?

"Every now and then, I wanted to stop and do something else. But I cannot stop. This is my destiny, my life. Fortunately, I have very good clients and there’s always a feeling of fulfilment if clients are happy and satisfied. At this time, I spend time between my two shops - the one in the south of France and the one in Paris.

It’s my own sanctuary where I can be free to create in solitude. I do not need to have a street shop because most of the time I am fully booked with appointments. But from time to time I get back to my roots, to my street shops in the south of France, in Orange and in Avignon.

I would like to escape to a new concept of incorporating colour to my work. But I am afraid that by experimenting, I may not get the same technique as I am used to, and that technique is so important to get a look-a-like result. Some of the tattoos that I did tell their stories and are in relation with my past life, or seeking the essence of one’s existence and our society.

To be or not to be a tattoo artist would mean not to give in and hypocrisy smiling to the spoilt copycat consumers. The tattoo scene seems to change a little bit...but we must ask ourselves to which directions?

Now, I am reclaiming the endless path of freedom to express what I think and draw; it may not appeal to everyone but I will not shut up anymore.

The fact that I have opened a workshop in Paris allows me to invite over some friends, some people that I admire and most of them are tattoo artists."

What is your favourite trophy or award?

"The one that really touched me deeply without a doubt was the one I won at my first national tattoo association convention in 1992. It’s not the one I particularly cherish the most, but it’s the one which made me realise that my emotional life was pitiful, because I had invested all my time and energy into tattooing. There was no other exit; I was obsessed with succeeding. At present, I’ve put all the past behind me and just live life."

What is your vision of tattooing in France?

"I sincerely believe that the standards in France are excellent for such a small country, with big variations in styles. The problem might be the client; they are getting younger and younger - very impulsive too. As a country, France is very conservative and tattooing is not yet easily accepted."

Do you think that the time has come where there are too many tattooists and maybe too many people wanting to become tattooists?

"I think that people jump on the bandwagon and see it as an easy way to make a quick buck, tattooing foreign characters rather than being “a true artist” with a personal touch. I think that the term “artist” or “tattoo artist” is corrupted and it as becomes an industry where consumers are becoming fashion victims.

I chose to become a tattoo artist because when I first started tattooing it was simple and uncorrupted. The education that I had when I was young would not allow me to go into the art school, because often the painter dies alone."

Who are the tattoo artists who inspire you?

"Too many to mention. But I would give credits to the ones I can relate to. To start with: Shane O’Neill, Tim and James Kern, Liorcifer, Nikko, Mike de Macis, Joe Capobianco, Mike Devries, Joshua Carlton, Guy Aitchison, Robert Hernandez, Boris Zalaszam, and too many others to mention.

I sincerely respect those entire artists who bring a new dimension into our art, the tattooing art.

All my best regards, long live tattooing Art."


Text & Photography: Paulo Cruzes at For Your Eyes Digital


Skin Deep 161 1 June 2008 161