Pro Tatuiroffki

Published: 16 February, 2010 - Featured in Skin Deep 136, August, 2006

St. Petersburg, Russia. I go there every summer to see my family and friends and for the past five years it looks, sounds and tastes almost the same: car stereos blasting full volume, clubs packed to the rafters, DJs sweating it out, smokes that rips your lungs apart and drinks that spare no liver.


Something however, is different, this summer it’s tattoos, they are everywhere, lads have their arms covered and girls are wearing them on their backs. The town’s got two major retail options that are truly blossoming: mobile phone shops and beauticians and there more of them than you can shake your pierced dick at. Most of the beauty parlours look interesting, take for example a place called “Forcemajor”, where they’re into the full body makeover thing: they’ll do your hair and your nails and paint a fake tan on you and you can also get a tattoo there. They’re also going to be getting someone in to do teeth and implants, so it’s a good place.

I suppose I could try them all and I would if somebody would pay me to do that sort of thing, but nobody has come forward so far, so I am doing a little legwork of my own. This means going into as many clubs at night as possible and watching the dance floor to see who has got the best ink. My eyes have looked at some very impressive stuff and it’s mostly done by the same four or five people and the same names keep coming up in conversation. I have spoken to three of the most popular artists, trying to get a mixture of their different personalities. Apologies if the piece appears to be short on biographical details but this was done at the artists’ request.

I agree, in the end it does not make any difference how long they have been around and what their influences are. Most of them don’t really have any influences; they’re just doing it for themselves. So this piece is a mixed bunch but you should get some insight on their work and some impression of what it’s like for them to be independent tattoo artists in St. Petersburg. 

 

BABAKHIM
On the other hand some people are no problem to catch up with. Every afternoon Babakhin can be found in the studio where he is the in-house tattooist. There he works all the hours God sends him trying to crack the scene, as he is one of the new-ish kids on the block. The place where he works is called “New Graphic”. You should find it with just a little difficulty on the embankment of the Fontanka - right off the main street. Despite its posh postcode, you can’t call it a high street place as it is hidden from prying eyes in the labyrinth of the courtyard. Still, they do advertise their location and I have been an admirer of the advertising campaign of the owner for quite some time. Here is the deal: if you want to buy advertising space around those parts of town it will cost you an astronomical amount. So the guy that owns the place put his add on a bright yellow Trabant (car) and plants it on the side street about fifteen meters from the main junction (a specified clearance as per the Russian Highway Code), and since there isn’t a double or single yellow it has been parked there for three years already and I see it every time I walk the main drag or take a bus. I guess so do other people – the place is doing all right or so I hear. Which makes Babakhin a very busy man. I guess tattooing lots of people is one of the strategies you have to use when you’re trying to build a reputation for yourself. “Yeah, basically the best thing is to do as much work as you possibly can. Try and do conventions if possible, go to places like Germany or Holland and try and meet some people, you know, build personal contacts and stuff. It is also a good thing to do people that are in the public eye. If they like what you do they might spread the word. I do a lot of musicians, like design their lettering and then some get it tattooed or just use it on the album. Some of them I don’t charge and do it in my spare time, these are like friends. Some I do have to charge, but the price can be negotiable. Of course I will do any walk-ins too, it’s a priority, and those are the customers who actually make the bulk of this studio’s income.” Since the lettering is mentioned I must say that it is really good. Unfortunately he has not got many lettering designs in his portfolio, but as I flip through his photo album, I notice some interesting stuff. I guess most of the work is done on metal or hardcore kids, but there are some very funny ones too. Two of them are even done in Cyrillic, which is highly unusual, as people prefer to use the Latin alphabet purely because of its international recognition. So, what’s the story with these ones then? “Oh, this is an American couple, they wanted to have something to remember Russia by. So he had “Good Luck” and she had “Best Wishes”, on the front, and they wanted it to be adorned with flowers too. They loved it.” Both chests look like wedding cakes. So, how hard is to be the new boy? “It’s a lot harder to make a name for yourself now, many artists who would never have considered tattooing an art form are moving into the scene. Ten years ago they would have been like working in pencils or oils. And there is money in tattooing now as well; one can make a pretty good living out of it. Which all adds to the competition. Before most of them would never have bothered in the fist place.” What about current trends in body art then? How many upper arms and lower backs tribal did you do this summer? “Too many. I have lost count. And ladies ankles too. Lower backs need a bigger design, which means it will be more expensive. The ankle is just as easily exposed or covered up, but the design is a lot smaller. Popular with the young female office workers.” True, working in the office means you have to be careful in what you do expose and to whom. How about tattooing for someone else? Does it mean that you have to do whatever the customer wants? “Basically yes, although I am trying not to do anything that might look bad, which is sort of common sense. Keep the client happy and do a quality job. If somebody wants just some tedious tribal on their upper arm I shall sit down, shut up and colour it in. I might try and talk some people out of really bad ideas, but most of them are pretty settled on their choice and it’s mostly ok anyway. Still, I’d rather do conventions and stuff.” Fair do. Being an in-house tattooist sure is tough. When it is the season (late spring to early autumn), some of these guys don’t get any days off. Here is a tip to anyone who wants a tattoo done in St. Petersburg: try and book it in around Christmas, when business is a lot slower, otherwise any of the top guys will struggle to fit you in. Oh, yeah, and you can write to Babakhin on babakhin.tat2@mail.ru or check the info on his website www.babakhintattoo.com

HENDRIKSON
Hendrikson is a little fella. You know the type: short skinny guys that are wiry as well and they always talk fast and loud and seem to have an opinion on everything. Only Hendrikson does not talk fast nor loud, he hardly talks at all which is an extremely pleasant mannerism but kinda makes it hard to do an interview. He sure has a lot of opinions, but he is not too bothered about letting other people in on them. Still, however arrogant he might come across, all you need to do is take a look at his work and you will know: the guy is pure gold. We sit in the nicest coffee place in the most weathered part of town and watch the dolphins on the TV screen. It’s looped up so after about fifteen minutes you have to start talking otherwise you risk falling asleep! I start the ball rolling by asking if Hendrikson would consider himself a part of any particular art movement – a daft question, I know, but it should get him going. “No, I don’t belong to any art movement or group, I work alone. I suppose you could call me an individualist. If there’s a school of individualism than that’s where I belong. All my life I wanted to make it hard for people to pigeon hole me, but if you want you can call me an individualist. Oh yeah, and a hedonist too.” 

Is it all done privately then, the tattooing? “Basically yes, although at the moment I don’t work at home, I kind of rent a chair in a studio.” Rent a chair? “ Yes, that is what you do. They know me so they let me use their place to bring my own clients to and I give them a percentage of what I made after the job’s done. It could be as much as 20% or it can be just some nominal value, depending on how well off I am at the time.” So it isn’t really renting, is it? “No, it isn’t. I just phone in when I’ve got a customer and sort the time out and stuff. I know the owner.” 

What about the tattoos, any preferences there like size, design, and colour? “No, not really. I will do anything that I feel is in harmony with the person who’s getting it. I know it sounds like a damn cliché but if there is a disharmony between a personality and a design I will design my own. Of course I have to know people a little beforehand so it’s a long process getting a tattoo with me. Size wise I am not worried. I know some don’t like doing small pieces but I will do a really small one if it feels right. A small piece can look very nice. I like ones that look like little cartoons, they just suit certain people, you know?” 

Hendrikson is also involved in some other creative activities like body painting and airbrushing but he is mainly recognised for his tattooing. All his stuff, including designs and latest info, is on his web page: www.hendrikson.spb.ru and if this is not enough here is his e-mail address: pincode@inbox.ru. Feel free to e-mail if you want to have a chat about design or you want to get any work done. And remember, once you get over that initial part of “getting to know you” Hendrikson should turn into a quite amiable chap, just like he did with me. Honest.

IGNAT
I heard about Ignat a long time ago but this summer was the first time I’ve actually seen his work. No, hang on, Antonius (Skin Deep issue 123) has a piece done by this guy and I’ve see it dozens of times before, but it’s in black’n’grey and you need to see Ignat’s colour to realize how great he actually is. It is not just the quality of his work he is simply unorthodox. Weird how some people have the ability to be eccentric and get away with it. Just how do they do it? Recently I heard a drunk expressing his opinion on the subject outside of a bar. “You gotta have faith!” shouted the drunk. Bollocks, you ‘gotta have talent. 

There is a snag though: asking somebody like Ignat to get some photographs together, put them on disk, add a picture of his bad self and show up at a certain place at a certain time is a tall order. To add to the situation he is always on the go and does not stay in town for more than a fortnight, apparently. However, when we finally meet everything is easy: he is a truly charming bloke and he will answer anything you want to know and I wanted to know why is he so difficult to catch around. “Uh. I don’t know. I guess I was just born this way. I have to be travelling all the time otherwise I start losing it. Call it whatever: searching, free spirit, recharging, looking for a new energy, I have not got a name for it. There is a pattern though: for example all my travelling is done in the East. I go to places like India, Thailand, Tibet and China so I guess it’s a spiritual thing primarily. And after I am done running about, I can do some creative work: painting, carving wood, tattooing. I can stay put for a while and after that I need to go again. If I can’t go to one of those places I will just go over the Urals, for a week or so.” There must be a medical condition that Ignat fits right into, but as far as it does not interfere with his work… Or does it? ” No, I do a lot of tattooing while travelling. I have my kit with me, it’s like a machine and some ink and if somebody wants a tattoo – no problem. It will get done right there and then.” Cool. And another cool thing: although in the eyes of many people his lifestyle makes him pretty much unemployable the guy has got one of the coolest jobs ever. “For the past five or six years I have been working for the film studios in Moscow doing fake tattoos on the actors. They use quite a bit of it when they do a movie about the mafia or want to have a cool dude in there. It pays the bills and gives me a chance to get out of town too.” Interesting how far can you go design wise on the actors? Must be pretty wild. “Actually no, they mostly want horrible stuff like old prison tats or tribal work, mostly gang related too. I get off more when am doing real work. Can’t remember now when was the last time somebody asked me to do a particular design. Usually people just turn themselves over to me and I do my thing.” 

Now, honestly, I have not got many contacts on Ignat. His home number has an answer phone, but personally, I would suggest a contact e-mail address, which I use myself: piposse@rednet.ruIt isn’t his, but your message will get to Ignat eventually and you might even get a reply…

Credits

Text: Sasha Skvortsov

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Skin Deep 136 1 August 2006 136
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