Roey Pentagram

Published: 06 February, 2010 - Featured in Skin Deep 136, August, 2006


Roey Pentagram takes the time to talk to Skin Deep magazine.

Can you tell us a little about your childhood?
I was born in Israel, 29 years ago, to a religious Jewish family. From the moment I learnt how to hold a pencil in my hand, it was clear to everyone that I was going to be an artist. I used to draw on every white surface that was available to me. In high school I started making money from my hobby, painting shirts, guitars and cars for my friends. The main influences for my paintings were album covers of heavy metal bands, such as Iron Maiden, Megadeath, Judas Priest and others like that. I loved their music then and still listen to it now.

How did you become interested in tattoos? 
As I said before, I was raised in a religious household and attended a very strict, religious school. Even at that time, and despite my religious education, I remember being strongly attracted to the tattoo world. Tattoos are forbidden by the Jewish religion, so I had to hide my tattoo mags from my parents and teachers as if they were pornography. Tattoo designs also constituted great reference material for my paintings, and I used to draw ‘mock tattoos’, with felt tip pens, on friends at Purim (the Jewish version of Halloween) parties and other similar events.

As a religious child, I knew tattoos were nothing more for me than inspirations for my artwork. I never thought that some day I would actually get one on my body, let alone work as a tattooist myself! But much has changed in my life over the last few years. Israel is a small country, surrounded by enemies. It’s really not exactly as it is portrayed on CNN and BBC news, and for most of the time, in most of the country, life is not so different from that of any other place in the western world. However, by law every Israeli civilian must join the army for a period of three years, directly after he or she finishes high school. So, at the age of 19, I proceeded to pay my dues to my country and joined a combat unit of the Israeli army. During that period of time, I saw too much of the shit this world has to offer, and found myself loosing my religion more and more. The more I moved away from God - the closer I got to the real leader of this world, the devil. It is my understanding of this fact that has gradually impacted on the subject matter I have chosen to represent in my paintings, and has made them appear more evil.

Later on during my military service, I was transferred to serve on a week-to-week basis and it was at that time that I decided to make art my profession. I put up ads in the papers and on bill-boards, and during my free weeks I worked as a painter of murals, doing commissioned work for private houses, pubs and stores and generally making good money!

What was your first foray into the world of tattooing?
When I was 20, I got my first tattoo. At the time I was still a soldier, and it was quite a small tattoo, but the whole concept really turned me on and so I decided that I was going to become a tattoo artist. And, in retrospect, I had always had one big problem when working on the murals. Basically, I just couldn’t help getting attached to my creations, it didn’t matter how much I was getting paid for them. The worst thing for me was to see a piece of my artwork erased. I knew that as a tattooist-hopefully my creations would live forever!

How did you finally become a tattooist?
That was nine years ago now, long before the Internet revolution, so I bought stacks of tattoo magazines in an endeavour to discover more information about the tattoo community. As is often the case, I got addicted, getting another tattoo approximately once a month. The tattoo artist who did a lot of the work, David Mosko, had been the first tattooist working in Israel. At the time he was in his 50’s and had been working for well over 20 years. He was always full of personal recollections about tattoos and tattoo artists from every corner of the globe, so I used to sit in his studio for days on end, watching him work and listening to very word of his stories. At some point in time, after having spent all of my savings on tattoos, I convinced Mosko to give me tattoos in exchange for a mural which I would do in his studio, and later on for other work there. For me, that was like a gift, because I often used to crash at his studio anyway, helping him to take care of the customers or designing their tattoos.

Mosko, being the first tattooist in the country, believed that tattooing is not something that just anybody should learn, so he told me that he wouldn’t teach me to be a tattoo artist. There were some artists in Israel who did agree to teach, but in return demanded unreasonable sums of money. So I initially learnt to become a piercer and began working at Mosko’s studio in that capacity, hoping that as long as I was officially working in a tattoo studio, then at least theoretically, I could learn from Mosko how to tattoo. However, after piercing for a period of time, I realised that you can never become a driver if you remain sitting in the back seat…Then one day I went to David Moreno’s tattoo studio. I really just went in to say, ‘hi’. David had been the tattooist who did my first tattoo and since that time we had remained on good terms. He knew my dream was to become a tattooist and told me that he was planning to open a new branch and was moving his apprentice there, so was looking for somebody talented to replace him. I didn’t hesitate for one moment. For me, this was the realisation of a dream! I didn’t care that in return he demanded my total commitment to the work in the studio for the next 6 years, and on November 1997, I finally started to learn how to tattoo! 

What is your favourite style?
During that period in time there weren’t a lot of studios in Israel and ‘Studio Moreno’ was already quite well established. Our staff consisted of a piercer and three tattoo artists. David, who did most of the large tattoos or tattoos that were still too complicated for me to do, another junior tattooist who did small tattoos, and myself, which meant basically that I did most of the work in the studio, and there was a lot of work coming through the door. We used to work from 10am often until 1am, which meant that I could progress very quickly. Actually, I would say, David gave me the basic knowledge surrounding the art of tattooing, but my real teachers along the way were the greatest artists in the world. Among them I would count Anil Gupta, Guy Aitchison, Tom Renshaw, Robert Hernandez and Bob Tyrrell, but the one who influenced me the most, is Paul Booth. In his work I’ve found the style I personally feel most comfortable with, in terms of concept and appearance. Therefore, the style I decided to specialise in is realistic black and grey work.

After six months of apprenticing, and an additional two years working in a studio, David offered me a partnership in a new studio he wanted to establish. In this studio, which was named, ‘Pentagram Tattoo’, I worked alone for two years, as a tattooist and body piercer. Both my studio and David’s were situated in a mall in the south part of Tel-Aviv city. Later we decided to once again join forces, and subsequently opened the ‘Moreno Pentagram’ tattoo studio for business in the city centre.  These days our staff is comprised of David and myself as tattooists and body piercers and Shrek, who has worked as a tattooist for only a year and a half, but already shows remarkable potential. In addition, we have Haim, our assistant.

What sort of view does Israel have on tattoos and tattooists?
Israel is constantly becoming more developed with regard to hi-tech and science, and is now recognised as one of the world’s leading exponents in those fields. But, when it comes to body modification, the average Israeli is still quite conservative. Maybe it’s because of the fact that tattoos are considered to be a sin by the Jewish religion, or because some people are reminded of the number tattoos that hundreds of thousands of Jews got in the Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust, which was, after all, only 60 years ago! By the way, that’s why I would never agree to tattoo a swastika symbol onto anyone. I realise that in certain cultures it has positive connotations, but after the Nazi’s appropriated it, its first association is negative! 

Are the youths in Israel becoming more aware of tattoos and Western culture?
The younger population in Israel is more liberal. Like in any other country they are influenced by the world’s fashion or MTV, and this is reflected in the designs they choose for their tattoos. For example, Hebrew words became very popular shortly after Madonna had one on her shoulder, which was shown in a video clip. I would say that the average age of my clients is around 20, the law here allows anyone over the age of 16 to get a tattoo without parental consent. The majority of my clients are female, which I put down to the fact that women are more aware of their appearance than are men. The average size of tattoos people tend to choose here is quite small, probably about the size of a CD. A lot of my clients have confessed that they would like larger pieces but are afraid of the negative reactions of their family or society in general. 

Are there many tattoo studios in Israel now?
In Israel, we have something like 30-40 tattoo studios, plus a few dozen tattooists who work from home, this is pretty good for a country with a population of only 7 million. Due to the recent popularity of tattoos, you see more and more people with large tattoos such as sleeves and back pieces. In addition, tattoos are being widely used in advertisements, commercials on TV, etc. I expect it will be some time before the prejudice against tattoos completely disappears, but at least we are on the right track. Ten years ago they tried to organise a tattoo convention here, they even brought Tom Ptolomey over as guest of honour, this was before my time, so I didn’t attend, but heard it was a big disappointment…

Have you been to any foreign conventions yourself?
Due to the distance, I have only attended 2 conventions so far (shame on me) the first was the 2nd Mantra festival in 2003. It was great! I got tattooed by Paul Booth, which was the realisation of a dream, and was also placed first in a competition for a portrait of Ozzy Osbourne that I did on a very good friend of mine, Simon, (see Skin Deep, issue122 July ‘05). Simon and myself had attended a strict, religious school together many years ago and after leaving we had lost touch for several years, it was interesting when we finally met up again years later to discover that we were both working in the same industry. Simon is a body piercer, and together we put on the first ever suspension show here in Israel last year. The 2nd convention that I have attended was the London convention in 2005, which was a three-day event, full of attractions, including a lot of leading artists, as well as great shows. A major advantage was that the convention was held in the city centre, so there was no need to travel out of town. However, I do believe that there were a few organisational problems, such as conflicts between what was advertised on the website timetable and what actually took place. Also, I wonder why there were only five categories in the competition. I hope that next year they will correct these mistakes.

The main reason that I personally attended the London convention was to enlarge the tattoo that Paul Booth had done for me at Mantra. I put my name down on his list, but unfortunately he was sick, and I found myself spending almost all of the entire three days sitting by his booth, in the hope that he might be able to do the work. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t fully enjoy the event… 

The root creature Paul did on my forearm was designed by him after I just told him to do whatever he wanted. On my left arm I also have portraits of Paul Booth and H.R. Geiger, two of my biggest influences, these were done for me by David Moreno, my business partner and I have a picture from Iron Maiden’s album, (my favourite band), this was done by David Mosko. On my body I have a few old tattoos, which I designed, done by Moreno and Mosko. In addition, on my legs I have two tattoos I did myself: one is of an M. C. Asher design, and Lady Justice from a Metallica album, ‘and justice for all’, which I did because my zodiac sign is Libra, as I like this album very much too.

Do you get any free time and if so, what do you do to relax?
During my free time I draw a lot and also play bass guitar. I have a nice collection of stuffed animals, which I did myself. In the near future I hope to establish a studio of my own where I can concentrate on doing work in my chosen style, without the need to do just any tattoo a client may request. After my win at the Mantra convention, I received two job offers in London. I would really like to accept one of them but maybe this would be easier for me if I had my own studio. In Israel clients tend to be very loyal and I am aware that if I leave for a year or two, I take the risk that they may find another artist and stick with him. If I had artists working for me, they could maintain the contact with my clients, so I wouldn’t be so scared of making this move, which I know could really enhance my career. Today, I am considered as one of the best tattooists in my country, but that is really not enough for me. Maybe after I move to London I could work at conventions more easily and practice more tattoos in my own preferred style, without feeling the need to do small Kanji’s and hearts just in order to make a living… 

But my real dream aside from being a tattooist, is to attain a degree in one of my other interests, namely medicine and psychology, the only problem is lack of time. I hope that in ten years time, the sign on my studio door will read: ‘Dr Roey Pentagram, Tattoo Artist’.
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Photographs: Ashley Photographer’s assistant: Michelle Martinoli


Skin Deep 136 1 August 2006 136