Victor Policheri - Like a Rolling Stone

Published: 20 April, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 198, May, 2011

Victor Policheri last appeared in Skin Deep over three years ago - a lot can change in three years that’s for sure. In Victor Policheri’s world - the man who lives five days to your one - that amounts to an awful lot of stuff...

"Indeed a lot has changed since the last feature. I was living in Seattle at the time. 

Now, I’ve spent four years living in Barcelona. It’s been a challenge, an adventure, and an amazing journey. Though I did a short piece of time in a shop in Barcelona, for the majority of the last four years I’ve worked as a guest in a variety of other shops in other countries including Boucherie Moderne in Brussels, Lost Highway in Tournai, Belgium,  Tatau Obscur in Berlin,  Art Corpus in Paris, Alpha Tattoo in Hattingen, Germany,  Individual Ink in Turku, Finland, Tattoos.No in Alesund, Norway,  Lucky 7 in Oslo, and Heidi Hay Tattoo in Gothenburg, Sweden. Actually, I may be leaving out one or two.  In addition I do between 6 and 12 conventions a year.”

That’s some serious moving around, but it obviously suits you.

“Yeah - I spend my time between trips in Barcelona where I very rarely tattoo. I have a painting studio here and try to get as much of that done as I can. Also, I am still very attached to my guitar and apparently, no matter how much I study, I will never be good at Spanish. It’s getting better though.  

I guess my biggest change, I would say it’s been a good one, has been to take my primary focus a bit away from tattooing and grow in some other ways.  I’ve learned and practiced oil painting in that time.  Though I had dabbled in painting before, I had never really focused on it, and that has been amazing. I love oil paint and hope to continue improving at it.  In addition I play as much guitar as I have time for, mostly acoustic solo style stuff.  Also, I’ve had much more time for drawing outside of just what I was going to tattoo.  I think the most surprising effect of all of that is that I have improved quite a bit in my tattooing.

I was always told and shared the belief with many of my friends who tattoo that to improve you need to tattoo constantly, as much as you can.  I’m not saying I don’t believe that working hard is a very important way to learn, but after a long period of it, stepping away and focusing elsewhere has proved to change the way I compose images and the technique I use.  I felt I had plateaued and now I feel like I’ve entered a new arena with different and better possibilities.”

Given that when you left Minnesota way back when, you considered your guitar an essential item to take with you, did you have designs on making it in a band back then? 

“I still have the same guitar my dad gave me when I was 16 years old. It has crossed the United States strapped to the back of my motorcycle. I still love to play. As far as a band, I’ve considered it before.  I’ve started practicing with different guys at different times, but it never seemed to work out.  My focus was always elsewhere, tattoo mostly. 

I play a lot of classical and finger picking stuff. I’ve written a good deal of my own music and I can say confidently that some of it doesn’t suck.  Though I was never really self assured in front of an audience, I used to do some solo shows and music was like pool for me.  Most days I was reasonable, but not exceptional. Some days you’d swear I was holding the cue/guitar in the wrong hand I was so bad, but on a few occasions I played shows where I was really dialed in and I will tell you that shit was damn good.  In a couple of open mics, where you KNOW nobody’s doing anything except waiting for their own turn, I actually got the whole bar to shut up, put down their beers and drop their jaws. 

Of course, I’ve been laughed off the stage too. Had I put more focus on it I believe I could’ve had a career in music, but I was focused happily elsewhere. I play best on an intimate basis, for a friend or two in my own living room.  And truly I play my optimum - and thank God for this - when I’m playing for a cute girl and I want to know what color her panties are.  I swear I’ve raised angels!”

You’re spending a lot of time these days in Europe - are you finding it a good place to work out of. I’ve seen incredible amounts of talent out here, and a lot of it that hasn’t been featured globally either. Are you finding the same and have you seen people at work that have made you raise your game?

“Holy shit - have I had the pleasure and privilege to work with some seriously amazing artists!  Many of them are recognized globally, as I meet many of them at conventions, but more times than I could tell you I’ve been working with someone who I’ve never heard of who and who is not trying to make any sort of name for themselves who put out some of the most original and fucking amazing work I’ve come across.  

There is no shortage of talent in Europe, but to name a few, working with Jef of Boucherie Moderne - wow! He has been featured in many places since I first met him and worked with him, but there is some seriously original and great work and before we met I didn’t know his name or his style.  Also Stina Nyman of Sweden.  I met her when we shared a booth at Stockholm convention.  Her book just blew my mind! Incredible colour and her incorporation of art nouveau in a graphic style are magnificent!  There are so many others really.  It wasn’t so long ago the first time I flipped through the portfolios of the Buena Vista Crew either. They completely redefined everything! Graphic collage and use of space I had not previously seen in tattoos.  Plus, they’re all cool as hell and great company to boot. 

Then you have guys like Fat (Iker Ruiz).  This fucking guy - I remember when Damon Konklin of Seattle and I were discussing the future of tattooing being color realism. This was about 6 or 7 years ago.  I was pretty good at it, if I busted my ass and worked long, slow sessions.  Now I watch Fat work and in a minimum of time, this fucker shits out masterpieces!  Absolutely beautiful work with original and cool composition and acts like it might have been an accident - Hijo de Puta! To boot, he is a great guy too.  There is a ton of other talent out here and I love the inspiration they have to offer - and damn straight it raises my game!” 

Do you find yourself undergoing different kinds of cultural osmosis by getting around so much? Is it easy to be inspired from country to country or does it simply blur after a little while?

“I am absolutely inspired by all the places and cultures I’ve seen. At the same time, there is certainly some blur too.  After four years I’ve soaked in quite a bit of Spain and the life here.  I’ve also spent a lot of time in Scandinavia and growing up in Minnesota, then moving to Seattle (both full of Scandinavians), something about being up there feels very familiar, even apart from the seriously shitty weather.  

I am a cook and it’s something I really love doing.  As well as having learned from the art and lifestyles in different places, I’ve picked up hints and cooking styles in different cities and countries.  Being in Europe has also offered me access to culture far older than the country I’ve come here from.  Everywhere I travel I walk on streets that have been around longer than the birth of the United States. The word ‘old’ takes on a new meaning.

In different cities, I always love to enter the cathedrals to see the architecture and artwork inside.  The cathedral in Tournai, Belgium is between 900 and 1000 years old. In its millennia in existence the dreary gray skies and regular rain have made the grand building look like they do.  Inside, the ceilings vault majestically high and challenge the imagination as to how you could construct such a place, especially 1000 years ago! 

My other favorite is that I’ve gotten to see the museums of many of my favorite artists.  The Van Gogh in Amsterdam, the Mucha museum in Prague, the Dali museum in Figueres, the Miro museum here in Barcelona, as well as some of the great old museums of Europe; The Louvre, the Prado, the Uffize, the Natural History Museum in London, and traveling shows of other classic artists.  It is always amazing to see in person paintings I’ve known all my life.”  

Are you a driver or a flyer? Do you get to see the real parts of the cities you end up in, the real underbelly? Does anything surprise you still or do you see the same kinds of underground things going on wherever you are?

“These days I am a flyer.  I hope to change that. I used to tour parts of the US with my gear on my motorcycle and that has always been my goal in Europe.  I hope in the next year or two to be attending some of the summer conventions on motorcycle. I love to road trip, more than I can say.  For now though airplanes it is.  

If I were only doing conventions, I would not have had the experiences with different cities I’ve had. If I’ve never been to a city I try and add a day or two to a convention trip, but it is never enough to get to know a place. My guest spots have really offered me a chance to know the life of different cities.  I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Berlin and Oslo. Also in Paris, which I loved, and perhaps strangely, a little town called Alesund, Norway. It’s a small fishing town on the west coast of Norway that I’m quite acquainted with.  

As far as the undergrounds go, sure, there is often some similarity among places, but certainly different places have their own flares and specialties.  Berlin is a huge artistic city with all kinds of cool shit going on all the time.  It seems like most other places, over time the cool factor given by the art scene will raise the price of living and push out the art scene, but that just seems to be the way. For now it is still alive, diverse, and interesting! Oslo is a great city too, with it’s midnight sun, shitty weather, and the variety of inspired stuff going on there. I went to their annual fetish party last year. Trust me, no shortage of freaks in that town!” 

Let’s talk painting - what happens to them? Do you exhibit and sell or do you simply like having them around as part of your portfolio at the studio? Is it just something that’s inside that has to come out, so it doesn’t really matter where they end up? I know quite a few artists who don’t really care simply because ‘the art was only there to be created’.

"The painting is coming along.  I am actually having my first exhibition in about two months at Mao & Kathy’s new tattoo shop in Barcelona.  I’m very excited about it.

For now, as far as what happens to them, well - they decorate my house. I have high hopes for them though.  I hope in the future to balance my work between painting and tattooing.  As I get older I suspect I will lean more towards canvas, actually.  Honestly I cannot say that I paint only for its own sake. I love doing it, but I do hope for some kind of recognition/success at it someday.  I’m in no hurry though.

Painting is another type of exploration for me.  Really, I don’t have nearly the experience I need with it and I feel like I’m still trying to catch up with tattooing, technique-wise. As I do it brings another wonderful new dimension to expression.”

Is there something in your heart that you’d really like to get involved in - like say, a huge international event graphic - something like that - if they would give you total artistic control?

“I would like to become more in the art world.  I want to do exhibitions and publish my paintings to the world.  What I really seek and hope to find is my own niche in that world; to define my own style and explore in it and also find an audience for it. It’s much easier/more motivating to create when you know there is somebody waiting to see what you will come up with. 

Apart from that, I have expressed my interest in designing some of the posters and flyers for conventions, but haven’t had the opportunity yet.”

You must have a good story to pitch at me about your trip to Monkey Temple. I’ll be really disappointed if you haven’t.

“The Monkey Temple is an amazing place in the center of Bali, in a town called Ubud. It is beautiful and appears to be some mythical oriental temple watched over by the meanest little monkeys you’ve ever seen.  

You do not enter the monkey temple with hanging jewelry, sunglasses on your face or head, or God-forbid, bananas clearly in your hand.  The monkeys know it’s their temple and all that enters is fair game.  They will climb you and take what they want.  If you don’t give it freely, you will be bitten.  The Balinese sell cut bananas so the tourists can feed the monkeys. It can be really cool, but the monkeys rarely have the patience to be fed.  The more that they get around you, the more the little bastards raise up their courage, until you are a jungle gym. Just give up the bananas! 

Mostly though they just chill, assuming you don’t have anything they want and are not afraid of them - they can smell it like dogs and will taunt you!  

The statues there take you back to an older religion and you have to wonder about its origins and what practices might have been involved all those thousands of years ago.”

Do you think the same as me, that after you get around the world a little, you see what humans are capable of on a grand scale when no time constraints are applied - the real old school method. Modern stuff is so lame in comparison… 

“No - I don’t think I do think that way. While I will say that I’ve had the opportunity to witness first hand some of the amazing feats and artistic heights of the past of mankind, I believe they took it where it was going; it reached a pinnacle.  Classical art fulfilled itself and mankind moved on.  Classical architecture is mind blowing and at times, yeah, I’m quite unimpressed with what they build these days, but where else was that going? How much higher do we need to stack stone?  Indeed the disposable architecture of our time is unfulfilling, but that is not going to be the legacy of now.  

Mankind is exploding in other directions now.  It is the age of information and we are constantly expanding, learning, and truly finding new dimensions to existence. Just the other day I saw something that has been a long time dream of my own.  A company has build the first robotic bird. It looks a bit like a seagull. It gains lift and thrust by flapping its wings and it flies, steering by turning its head.  That shit baffles the imagination and I find it completely inspiring... as well as a bit disappointing actually as I’ve been working on my own mechanical wings design for some time. 

We are encroaching on artificial intelligence and nearly human animatronix.  With an exoskeleton, a man can do the work of an elephant. A computer has just beaten the world champions of Jeopardy, and my hand-held cell phone - a miracle in itself - has more computing power and memory than anything that existed a generation ago.”

Is that mentality something you bring into your tattooing?

“These are absolutely things that enter into my creativity, as both an inspiring and very real part of my process.  I have no way to measure what photoshop has done for the way I design and approach tattooing.  Once I have the concept for a painting or tattoo, I first start with google images for my reference material.  Once I’ve compiled a stack of imagery, I can arrange it, resize it, and recolor it in photoshop.  With the ability to do all that first, my final drawing and paintings take on new dimensions and break into new realms of possibility. It’s like adding turbo-nitrous , or maybe warp drive to your imagination.  Now, without that imagination, it’s just the spinning of big, useless wheels. But with it, it’s like adding wings to a cheetah. I like the sounds of that. I think I shall have to tattoo that on someone!

Apart from the very real world applications, the frontiers of science, medicine, art, and our understanding of the workings of the universe and the nature of existence are constantly awe-inspiring and influential for me. 

Obviously as a whole mankind can be barbaric and hopelessly ignorant, conniving, ruthless, and often appear beyond redemption, but at the same time we live in amazing times.  It takes the whole spectrum.  Mankind is not doing what it was doing 1000, 2000, or 200 years ago. That is not to say we don’t live in an age different than any other that is no less incredible than it is dire.  To let one overpower the other too much is not to know the world we live in.  It is a time and a place worth living in and knowing.”

Thus endeth the conversation with Mr Policheri, who, as he promised me when we began, talked far too much and ran us out of any room to dicuss Dali (“remains one of my favorites, which I believe is apparent in my canvases”), Escher (“I’ve always had a love for math and that man married math and imagery seemlessly”), Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Caravaggio, and Rembrandt.  Lest we forget, also on his list is Giger (“No one will ever be able to measure the effect he has had on the world of tattoo and I need to get my ass to his museum”). However, I will leave you with these words of wisdom that he threw after me as I was walking out of the door:

“We need to mention Guy Aitchison! People don’t pay so much attention to him anymore, but fuck, few artists in any medium have affected me more.  Oh - and  I discovered the work of both Shige and Robert Hernandez on my first trip to Europe in 2005.  That was somewhere between absolutely breathtaking and completely destroying at the same time. Two big fat reminders that I’m not working hard enough!”

Want more?

If you want to continue the threads of this on your own time - and you will need a fair old whack of it - book a slot with Victor at the Jam!  Mr Policheri will be more than happy to make your acquaintance!



Text: Sion Smith; Photography: Victor Policheri