Yann Black - Black Knight

Published: 18 March, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 192, November, 2010

I shouldn’t have heroes in the art world. There should only be artists that I respect and admire whose work I appreciate, but if I was going to have a hero, Yann Black would be it – there’s nobody else on the face of the planet that could even tempt me into suggesting we conduct this interview in French:

There’s a quote by Frank Miller that I have painted onto my kitchen wall that goes: “The noir hero is a knight in blood caked armour. He’s dirty and he does his best to deny the fact that he’s a hero the whole time.” I don’t know why I did this – I just liked it, went through the motions of spending a lot of time and effort getting it onto the wall and there it still is today. 

I can say the same about my reasons for really being engrossed in Yann Black’s art as well. I don’t know why I rate it so highly but I do. Is it the maverick approach? Maybe. The individuality? Of course. Throw those things in with an unmistakeable talent and those are what makes an icon in my book – the first thing that needs addressing is why there is so much confusion in the public acceptance of Black’s work, although why the general populace feel a need to have to categorise things has always been beyond me:

“Me too, but it doesn’t really bother me. I do my own thing and people make what they want of it – and I wouldn’t say other tattoo artists have really influenced me, but people like Alex Binnie and Xed Le Hed definitely made me want to start tattooing and I think the same things were said about them also.”

And I’ve heard those very same people often describe your work as being simple or even child-like – which is really just a simple lack of understanding don’t you think?

“Compared to more traditional tattoos, my work could I suppose, be considered too simplistic or naif, but working with minimalistic and purified line work doesn’t leave a single margin for error. I like to think that my work is constantly progressing, technically and graphically speaking.

Although some clients come to me asking for designs I’ve already dabbled in, it’s actually when people bring new ideas to me that I’ve never worked with before that allows me to push my work forwards.”

With a customer waiting list stretching well into 2011, if you like what you see here, you’d better get your name added to it pretty quickly – talking of which, how does the initial work get started between Yann and the customer?

In this relatively new world of preparing the tattoo as art and not strictly as a tattoo, how much input can the customer put in before you have to take over?

“The customer’s input is vital. Without the exchange between the artist and the client, there wouldn’t be a tattoo. People come to me because they like the graphic style, so they know what to expect. They come with an idea and I adapt it with my style, but if one of us isn’t happy, we simply don’t do the tattoo.”

And although the form itself seems simple, am I right in thinking that it’s far from it – especially trying to create the illusion of a ‘messy’ style out of very clean lines – and while we’re on the subject, is that something that others have ever tried to replicate?

“Definitely. Be it the clean, straight lines, or the dirty, ephemeral, sketchy lines, both are technically as demanding as each other - and it’s all freehand, except for the occasional reproduction of a work of art.

The black and red that I use have become synonymous with my work – I’ve tried other colour combinations, but it doesn’t really work for me. 

Occasionally, I have seen ‘copies’ of my art and generally it doesn’t work because of that lack of understanding, but effectively, I guess it has opened the doors for other artists to try out new ideas. Some artists have even adapted the style, and have brought something new to the table, exploring terrain that I would have never ventured into.”

..and Montreal? Is she still being good to you?

“All in all, if I compare it to France, it suits me much better, in the sense that people here are open to newer ideas and don’t really think too much of having tattoos on more visible areas. The kind of work I did when I was in France has become somewhat more common, seeing how more and more artists are leaning towards the graphic aspect of tattooing. So being here for me is like a breath of fresh air.”

And on that note, we must go our separate ways. What’s that old Adam and the Ants song lyric? ‘You may not like it now but you will…’

I think that wraps it up squarely.


Art Brut

Art Brut (raw art or rough art) is a term plucked out of thin air by the French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art that is created outside of the norm. Dubuffet’s original statement was actually made with regards to inmates of insane asylums and the art they produced but later, as the phrase was brought into the mainstream and newly termed ‘outsider art’ by Roger Cardinal, it came to describe any art that was outside of the mainstream and without formal qualification – which let’s face it, isn’t half as cool to be associated with.

The best example of true Art Brut seeping into pop culture is the work of William Kurelek whose madness induced “The Maze” (1953) was used for the cover of Van Halen’s 1981 album Fair Warning.

While Dubuffet may have coined the phrase, there is nothing raw about Yann Black’s art. Study it carefully and you will find the most exacting of lines and curves – it is probably the closest you will ever get to freehand technical drawing and requires no small amount of skill. He is not alone in his delivery either – if you’re interested in investigating further, check out the work of Noon at Tattoo Culture and Jef at Boucherie Moderne as well.

Our advice at this point? Don’t bother calling these unique styles anything at all – it just is what it is. It doesn’t have to have a name to be enjoyed.



4411 Notre Dame Ouest

H4C 1S2 





Text: Sion Smith; Photography: Yann Black