Andy - Mystery Touch Tattoo

Published: 28 November, 2009 - Featured in Skin Deep 143, March, 2007

A geisha girl tattooed against a background of water in clear New School-colours. A mix of Japanese and New School influences tattooed by Andy of Mystery Touch Tattoo from Gleisdorf, Austria. Andy is an incredible all-round tattoo artist who was taught the profession of tattooing by Mario Barth from New Jersey. His outstanding tattoos attracted lots of attention during the last convention in Amsterdam, which is where I managed to catch up with him and his wife Yvon.

 

“I think tattooing is a mysterious occupation”. This is how Andy explained the birth name of his studio. “As an artist you have a unique and special contact with the skin. With the touch of the needle, a good artist makes something mysterious. This was the inspiration behind his studio name: Mystery Touch Tattoo. During a convention Andy worked in Los Angeles some customers only wanted a tattoo done by him because his studio name attracted their attention. Then after looking at his portfolio this gave them that extra push into getting a piece of ‘Mystery Touch ink’.   

The studio is located on a busy street in Gleisdorf, which is a town with about 2000 inhabitants, not far from Graz in Austria. Andy is a big fan of rock & roll and rockabilly. He has equipped his studio in a fifties café rock & roll style. “For us it’s important that customers feel at ease when they come through the door. We are grateful that they choose to come and visit us. Every tattoo is made with love” hostess Yvon says. “In our studio there are two other artists working: Mario and Christina. Christina tattoos mainly in Andy’s other studio in Fürstenfeld, which is 50 kilometres from Graz and a guy called Jürgen is the apprentice. All the tattooists are great all-rounders. The piercing ladies are Simone and Eva. Andy prides himself in only having artists of a very high standard in his studios with many of them having won prizes at tattoo conventions and are already fully booked months in advance. Andy has personally trained most of the working artists at ‘Mystery’. 

Mario Barth • Starlight Tattoo

Many people consider Andy as a New School artist, not only in Austria but also in Germany where he often works at conventions. In Austria, Mystery Touch is well known as well as in Switzerland, Germany and the USA. “He has won several prizes at the Inkslingers Ball in Hollywood and at ‘The biggest tattoo show on earth’, organized by Mario Barth” Yvon tells me. Mario Barth is originally from Austria and has made a name for himself as a celebrity artist tattooing the likes of Lenny Kravitz, Wu Tang Clan, Motley Crüe and many others. 

“Before I started to tattoo, I was a piercer. In 2002 I went to Mario Barth’s Starlight Tattoo studio in New Jersey” Andy tells me. “Mario taught me everything. He is an incredible all-round artist in every style. In the two weeks that I was his guest, I spent hours watching how he was working, what his technique was and how he puts the colours into the skin. It was my goal to become a versatile and competent tattoo artist because I didn’t just want to make the same kind of tattoos all the time. I prefer to tattoo freehand, so you can see how the tattoo will look on the skin”.   

“After visiting Mario, I decided I wanted to tattoo mainly New School work” Andy adds. But after tattooing 20 sacred hearts, I realized that it’s boring to tattoo constantly in the same style. Now I tattoo black & grey one-day, the next realistic, New School, then Polynesian or Old School. It all varies, which is much better for me as an artist”.

A mix of Japanese and New School

“I like to tattoo Japanese art but not only Japanese” Andy tells me. “I tell my customers that you can mix many different styles together. In Austria a mix of Japanese and New School styles is very popular at the moment. I tattoo Japanese designs but in the New School style, for example dragons with big eyes. Or a geisha girl with a water background, tattooed in New School colours with a three dimensional effect. When a customer wants a Japanese design, I ask: do you want it traditional or with a New School twist? If they want it traditional, then I will suggest that they go to a Japanese artist. I never try to force something onto a person. But I like it when a customer tells me what his idea about the tattoo is. If they don’t know what they want exactly, I tell them to go away for a bit and think about the design long and hard and to come back when they know for sure. A tattoo is a decision for your whole life, so it’s important that you know what you want”.   

It’s Yvons task to talk with the customers about the tattoo they want. “I talk with them about the style they like. We try to convince everyone to be tattooed freehand and not from the flash. If they want a certain piece of flash, then we make a special one-off design from it. That’s our speciality”.


Versatile All-rounder

Yvon and Andy know that traditional styles are wanted more often nowadays. But artists who are good all-rounders, must not be forgotten, they say. Yvon: “Our big influence is Mario Barth. He is currently employing 27 tattoo artists at the moment. He is the only Western artist who could open a studio in Japan, in Tokyo. He is a superb artist who can draw beautiful designs both on the skin and on paper in freehand. We think it’s a choice: you either decide to specialize or you become an all-rounder. Nowadays there are many tattoo artists specializing in a distinct style. And when you are specializing, it’s easier to make a name for yourself”.

Andy: “A good tattoo artist tattoos what a customer imagines himself and even more beautiful”.   

Andy gives an example of a customer who visited him during the convention in Amsterdam. “He didn’t know what he wanted at all. But he was completely overwhelmed by my colour work. He said: “I want something with a heart and jungle flowers in the background, something big”. So I tattooed a Tiki-house with New School influences, with colours in it. He had never imagined that it would become so beautiful. When the tattoo was finished, he was so happy. That’s one of the nicest things of tattooing: when customers are really happy about their tattoo”.

Colours, contrast and light effects

Many customers visit Andy because of his colours. They don’t seem to fade after a few years but stay beautiful. “I work with Mario Barths’ own brand of inks, colours that Mario has developed himself. I have a special technique to put the colours into the skin,” he says. “You can work with the best colours of the world but if you don’t know how to put them well into the skin, then it doesn’t work. It’s a matter of mixing the colours and composition. I work a lot with contrast as well. When I use blue colours, I use a yellow contrast. I tattoo between a light and a dark blue level a yellow line. Every tattoo needs a different approach. Tattooing flames doesn’t mean putting standard flames on the skin like everybody has. I want to make them as if they turn and move. With lines and shadows I try to make the tattoo into a three dimensional effect”.   
 
Light and shade

Andy: “For me the effects of light and shade are very important in a tattoo. In this way the tattoo gets a perspective. I admire the way Guy Atchison is doing that. I like to make the tattoo as perfect as possible just like he does. If you don’t give it depth, the tattoo will not be good. Lines and colours have to be brought into the skin in a way that it also looks good after 10 years. When you make a tattoo without lines, the first year it will stay good but thereafter, I don’t know if the tattoo still will be fine”.     

For Andy the eyes are very important in a tattoo. “I tattoo them as realistically as possible. In a way that they really look at you, if it is a koi or a pin-up. Eyes are very important, you can express a lot with them. I made for example, on a koi with a dragon; the dragon I give angry eyes, and the koi frightened ones.”

Drawing on the skin

Andy admires such tattoo artists as Bernie Luther, TinTin, Marco Bratt and Bugs. Andy: “I’ve known Bugs for a long time. During the years he has developed his style from Celtic to Cubism, which looks fantastic. He also does a lot of paintings and many of them are beautiful. But I am not inspired by art. I paint only on the skin. For me it’s difficult to draw or to paint on paper. It doesn’t inspire me. I can only draw directly onto the skin, and then I find it easy. The direct contact with the human skin, the shape of the body, gives me ideas. With Mario Barth it’s the same. He can’t draw on paper, he even doesn’t want to do that. But on peoples’ the skin he makes beautiful designs”.


Self-criticism

Yvon is tattooed by Andy. “I have little nice cheerful tattoos,” she says. “My underarm is totally New School. For many non-tattooed people tattoos have an eerie reputation. When you show people cheerful and colourful tattoos, they see that there is a positive and happy side to tattooing too. I like sweet cheerful tattoos, nice colours, New School. In the New School style you don’t have borders, anything’s possible.”   

Andy is mainly tattooed by Mario Barth. “On my breast, belly and back I wear a portrait of my daughter. On my feet I have portraits of rock & roll stars from the fifties: Bill Haley, Buddy Holly and Elvis. With these feet tattoos I have won many prizes. But winning prizes is not so important for me. You see so many beautiful tattoos. Once I was member of a tattoo jury. It was difficult to judge them individually because every tattoo has something special. The personal taste of the jury plays an important role”.   

“I am very critical on the tattoos I make myself,” Andy adds. “I haven’t made many tattoos that I am content with completely. Self-criticism is good, it will improve the quality of the tattoo. I always want to learn more, ask other tattoo artists for advice. You can always learn from them, even if they have only been tattooing for say, two years. But I gave up the quest to make the perfect tattoo because I don’t believe that the perfect tattoo exists, but I always do the very best I can”.

Credits

Text: Rik Van Boeckel Photographs: Mystery Touch Tattoo

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Skin Deep 143 1 March 2007 143
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